Hours before opening to hungry Black Friday customers, workers at Christopher Elbow’s Fairway Creamery were busy crafting decadent donuts and savory on-the-go breakfast favorites.
Salted caramel gingersnap cake. Strawberry rosé and chocolate blackout yeast raised. Avocado toast with a sunny side up egg on top.
The morning easily could go either way, staff members said: a slower-than-usual weekday morning because of pandemic disruptions to traditional shopping trends or a quick sell-out thanks to holiday crowds and families eager for a post-Thanksgiving treat.
Yet another unpredictable day in a year of uncertainty for the popular suburban Johnson County destination and small businesses like it across the metro.
“When your business model kind of relies on hundreds of people lining up in close proximity, it makes it pretty challenging,” said Elbow, renowned chocolatier and founder of Fairway Creamery, a neighborhood artisan eatery forced to pivot its operations — and front door — amid ongoing COVID-19 safety precautions.
Elbow opened the concept in the former Pizza 51 building at 60th Street and Mission Road in June 2019, hoping to provide the Fairway community with a family friendly sweets shop that transitions from donuts in the mornings to ice cream in the afternoon and evenings.
“I’ve always loved that little former gas station style building and thought it would be a great location to have kind of a neighborhood place,” he said, noting participation in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has helped keep the space afloat during the pandemic.
“That went a long way. I think without that we would have really been in a bad situation, potentially not even making it through the summer time,” Elbow said of COVID-baked challenges that linger — despite success with online ordering and curbside pickup. “For Fairway Creamery to survive, we hope that we can get back to some semblance of a normal business operation. We’re still not allowing customers inside the building, but we’re getting ready to make that transition.”
Work is under way to install plexiglass barriers and socially distant seating within the space as falling temperatures outdoors make the current setup — a covered area for in-person ordering and pickup, along with limited open-air seating — less appropriate for the season, he said.
Click here to view Fairway Creamery’s rotating menu of favorites, like the ‘Everything Spice’ cream cheese filled or donut on a stick, as well as sweet treats like the salted pretzel root beer float.
Perhaps best known for his namesake Christopher Elbow Chocolates, Elbow operates chocolate shops in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District and San Francisco. The gourmet treats also are sold online and to retailers like Made in KC via a massive wholesale operation. A new production facility opened along Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City in 2018.
Click here to explore Christopher Elbow Chocolates. (Select items are sold at Fairway Creamery.)
Local support for small businesses will be key to keeping ventures like Fairway Creamery and Christopher Elbow Chocolates serving as the pandemic persists, Elbow said.
A sister company, Glacé Artisan Ice Cream, froze its operations south of the Country Club Plaza Oct. 4 — a casualty of changing shopping and dining trends during the months since COVID-19 hit Kansas City, he confirmed.
The popular ice cream shop, launched in 2010 and featuring flavors ranging from goat cheese with honey to French lavender, had become a hot spot for local sweet tooths and marked Elbow’s first venture outside chocolate making.
Click here to get to know Christopher Elbow.
“[During COVID] that business had really been a struggle,” he continued, noting a second Glacé location closed its doors in Leawood’s Town Center Crossing in 2017 — the result of high rent and widespread success at the Plaza location.
Lease negotiations were again at play in the decision to close Glacé’s final location, Elbow noted.
“We just couldn’t make it, our lease was coming due, and I just didn’t feel comfortable signing a long-term lease right now, during this climate,” he said. “We got hit particularly hard with COVID and we were down significantly from last summer’s ice cream season. We just couldn’t jam people through the line like we normally could.”
Glacé could someday reemerge with enough customer demand, Elbow said, noting it’s too early to comment on whether or not the company has a future in a post-COVID world.
“We’re just going to hold tight to the vest and see what happens,” he said. “At this point, it’s kind of a waiting game. We don’t know if it’ll be three months until things are back to normal or six months or a year.”
“I think next year we’re in for a lot of the same challenges.”
Closing Glacé allows Elbow and his teams to double scoop their efforts at Fairway Creamery and the chocolate-making operations, he said.
“We’re essentially making the same great ice cream at Fairway that we did at Glacé, so those fans and customers still have an opportunity to get our products,” he said, adding they’ll also be given access to flavors exclusive to Fairway Creamery and its ever-changing case of handmade donuts, coffees and drinking chocolates.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.