WINCHESTER — Barring a Hail Mary pass in the game’s final seconds, Firefly Cafe and Bakery will close permanently at the end of the month.
The restaurant at 3035 Valley Ave., which is operated by the Winchester-based nonprofit NW Works Inc. and used by the organization to train and employ adults with developmental difficulties, will become the latest victim of COVID-19 unless a new financial partner steps in before Sept. 30.
“On Friday, we talked to all of the employees individually,” NW Works CEO Debera Taylor said on Monday morning as tears welled in her eyes. “A couple of our clients are having a difficult time understanding why we are closing.”
Firefly Cafe and Bakery opened in 2015 in the Creekside Shopping Center and underwent an expansion in 2017. More than 60 NW Works clients have benefited from the cafe, either as employees or trainees. Taylor said she’s actively looking for new firms willing to offer jobs to the restaurant’s current employees, but if they’re out of work for a period of time, NW Works will fold them back into its training and service programs until the right opportunities come along.
“We want to find jobs for everyone who works here,” Taylor said. “That’s my promise to them.”
Closing Firefly Cafe was the last thing Taylor wanted to do, but financially her hands were tied. NW Works is contracted by Trex, HP Hood and dozens of other area firms to assist with manufacturing, distribution and support services. But the nonprofit had to close its manufacturing facility and program headquarters at 3085 Shawnee Drive on March 13 to protect clients and staff from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, monthly revenues have dropped.
At the same time, federal funding for NW Works and Firefly Cafe has been reduced. Appropriations from the pandemic-related CARES Act helped, Taylor said, but not enough to make up for all the revenues Firefly has lost due to the pandemic.
The closing of Firefly Cafe will have a profound impact on the lives of the NW Works clients who work there. For example, Taylor mentioned a young man named Josh who was brought in as a dishwasher and was promoted to prep cook as he improved his skills, and a young woman named Annie who is an exceptional baker that enjoys making lemon bars, cookies and other sweet treats for Firefly’s customers.
“They love coming in here every day and feeling a sense of purpose,” Taylor said. “It’s not about the money they receive; it’s about the purpose.”
Although the closing of Firefly Cafe and Bakery has been publicly announced, it’s not necessarily a done deal. Taylor said the business could remain open if a new owner/operator comes forward to purchase the restaurant. The only caveat is that NW Works would have to remain a partner in the operation so its clients could continue to find jobs and training opportunities at the cafe.
Taylor said Firefly, which is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, pulls in an average of $600 to $700 a day for its breakfast and lunch services, but that isn’t enough to cover NW Works’s overhead. With the proper guidance, though, it could become a moneymaker for a new investor.
“A lot of business meetings and networking take place here,” she said.
For the next month, Taylor will be balancing the search for a new owner/operator with making preparations for Firefly’s closure. If someone steps in soon enough, the restaurant could potentially remain open without a hiccup. Otherwise, Taylor said she’ll retain Firefly’s managers and a few NW Works clients for an additional 30 days or so to help liquidate the cafe’s assets.
Even if Firefly closes, donations from the public will still be needed to help NW Works cover expenses. For example, Taylor said Firefly is tied into a three-year service contract for its recently acquired cash-register system.
“We’ll need to pay a little over $12,000 to get out of the contract,” she said.
Taylor, who was named CEO of NW Works in October, said she never dreamed she would be the one to announce the permanent closure of the nonprofit’s popular Firefly Cafe and Bakery.
“I didn’t take this job to close a restaurant; I took this job to help people,” she said. “We looked at other options, and we came to the conclusion that we really don’t have any other options.”