Viral Facebook post saves Starkville bakery from brink of closure

Kirk Hutchinson, owner and founder, Marlena Evans and Natalie Dessommes help run Power of the Almond’s Starkville storefront.

Tucked away in Suite 100 of 60 Technology Boulevard in Starkville sits Power of the Almond, the first low-carb, gluten-free and diabetic-friendly bakery in Mississippi.

A delectable aroma of freshly-baked lemon blueberry loaves and pecan chocolate chip cookies fills the air inside, while other baked goods, packaged with nutritional labels, line the shelves of the display cases. Kirk Hutchinson, the bakery’s founder, and Marlena Evans, a cook and deliverer, welcome each new and familiar patron with bright smiles and their Southern hospitality.

The Power of the Almond was founded in November 2020 after Hutchinson lost his eight yearlong career as a Harveys bartender due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bakery has had success over the years, but many pandemic-related issues have caused the Starkville storefront to risk closure.

The bakery formed from Hutchinson’s lifelong dream of owning a keto-friendly bakery due to his dietary restrictions. The pandemic allowed him to learn baking recipes through popular quarantine baking trends and food blogs.

After a change in Mississippi’s cottage food laws allowed businesses to advertise their services online, Hutchinson was able to advertise his allergen-friendly baked goods to earn enough money to open a physical storefront in Starkville.

“I launched (my business) to see if everyone would buy (these keto friendly options), and everybody loved it,” Hutchinson said. “I saved up enough money to be able to open up my own spot, and now we’re an allergen-friendly bakery.”

Power of the Almond saw a steady flow of income during its first year of service. Original recipes, such as Evans’ double chocolate chip cookie she helped put on the menu, and wholesale appearances in local grocery stores helped the Starkville storefront stay afloat. However, Hutchinson said the store’s hidden location was a major cause of the store’s declining sales.

“One of the problems we are facing right now is that we’re in a startup building, and people have kind of forgotten that we’re here because of our location,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not that we have a bad product; it’s just that our building has no foot traffic.”

Ongoing ingredient and supply chain issues, along with the location, have also led the bakery to be on the brink of closure.

Hutchinson said it was normal for certain supplies to take six to eight months to arrive before the pandemic began. Once the pandemic started, however, it became increasingly harder for Hutchinson to afford ingredients such as eggs, which have quadrupled in price, and find unique ingredients and supplies.

“It's weird ingredients people aren’t used to using, and I can’t just run to Walmart to get it. We have to order this stuff from specialty partners and overseas, so getting it in a timely manner and hoping that it's even in stock is a constant battle,” Hutchinson said.

The complications of inflation and ingredient supply issues led Hutchinson to reach out to the local community through the company’s Facebook page to ask for assistance.

“I was sitting on the couch at night stressing out about it. I said to myself, ‘I can’t even pay our rent this month. What are we going to do?’” Hutchinson said. “I told myself, ‘Let’s just post about it and tell the truth,’ and then the post went viral.”

Hutchinson published the Facebook post at 11:07 p.m. Jan. 12. He urged Starkville residents to visit the bakery and non-locals to order goods online that could be shipped nationally.

The post has now amassed over 2,000 shares and 500 comments, leading to an influx of business both online and offline.

“There are people that didn’t even know about us that have driven from all over the state to see and support us, especially gluten-free people because it’s hard finding quality gluten-free food in the state. They are so excited because they don’t have to look at the menu and think ‘What can I get?’ Instead, it's ‘What do I want?’” Hutchinson said.

Evans, a former personal care assistant who has been employed with Power of the Almond for around four months, said the viral Facebook post was one of the highlights of her week.

“On a typical day, we have two to three visitors. Today, we would’ve had over 20. So, we have been truly blessed with the viral post Kirk posted to send us where we are now,” Evans said.

Hutchinson’s appreciation for the post’s reception is evident through his interactions with each comment underneath it. Natalie Dessommes, a junior psychology major at Mississippi State University and baker at Power of the Almond, said this love can be felt every day at work.

“Kirk is truly the best person to work with, and I truly look forward to going to work every shift. I didn’t have much baking experience before working with Kirk, but he taught me everything he knows,” Dessommes said. “I’ve gotten pretty good, and he’s a great teacher.”

Dessommes said she is grateful to see a community come together to support a small business, especially during a difficult time.

“It was really heartwarming to see so many people show their love for the business and Kirk in a time of need,” Dessommes said.

The bakery now has a significant number of online orders to process as it manages to order new ingredients. Ultimately, Hutchinson said he hopes the customers with dietary restrictions he serves experience the tasty food options they normally do not get.

“I hope they realize that baking with an alternative flour is a possibility and getting to try new stuff is an experience. I’m so glad they are coming here to give us that experience to try it out and spread the word to their friends,” Hutchinson said.

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