North End Bakeries Staying Afloat During COVID-19

Mike's Pastry ( James Gatlin)
Four tourists exploring the North End bakeries and Salem street on a Sunday afternoon. (Photo by James Gatlin)

By Jamie Gatlin

North End Bakeries are breathing a sigh of relief now that customers are beginning to return for their favorite pastries and deserts.

For many owners in the North End, the shutdown came as business usually started to pick up with warmer weather. While many restaurants relied on takeout or closed altogether, bakeries such as Bova’s, Mike’s Pastry, and Modern Pastry operated as usual since they only offer takeout.

Bova’s Bakery, which usually stays open around the clock, choose to limit their hours to due to a lack of customers, “we are considered essential because we sell milk and juices. Pastries are not essential, but they do make people happy,” Said Kluse, one of the owners of Bova’s bakery.

The entrance to Bova’s on a quiet Sunday afternoon. (Photo by James Gatlin.)

Although restaurants have reopened, the nightlife in Boston that many North End business rely has been put on pause for the foreseeable future. TD Garden will remain empty for the rest of the summer as the NBA and NHL are planning to use Orlando, Edmonton, and Toronto as host cites for the playoffs. Other events such as the Boston Marathon, Saint Anthony’s Feast, and the fleet of tall ships that bring in tourists throughout the summer have also been canceled.

“In the beginning, it was horrible,” Kluse Said. “We depend on the night crowd, so it was hard at first without the Bruins, Celtics, and concert crowds. Then you add the curfew and no one was walking in the streets”, said Vicky.

Over the past few weeks, business has improved as the state has progressed through Gov. Charlie Baker’s four -phase plan to a new normal. The efficiency of containing the virus has been welcoming news for bakeries such as Bova’s and Modern Pastry as customers feel more comfortable returning.

Throughout the pandemic, Bova’s like other bakeries have come together to help out medical professionals who have been putting their lives on the line for others. The North End is located near Mass General Hospital, which has seen its resources and staff tested due to the virus.

“Little by little, the hospitals found out that we were open and would come in to get pastries. A lot of workers would come in late at night to get sweets and we were grateful for that and to help in some way,” said Kluse.

Modern Pastry in the early morning ( James Gatlin)

Additionally, outdoor dining has been allowed in the North End for the first time, which has given residents a reason to go out and increased foot traffic in the Italian neighborhood. It was a significant step for the state as until Phase two, only very few businesses were open.

“Outdoor dining has helped us a lot. Even if it’s just someone coming for a coffee, having the ability to seat people outside has helped bring back some business,” said JC Proia, a cashier at Modern Pastry.  We still have a long way to go, but we will take any victory we can get. “

Unfortunately, not every bakery will be doing patio seating, but it will bring people back to the neighborhood. For tourists who return to the city, the North End will look dramatically different as parking spots are now filled with tables.

“Business has improved over the past coupe weeks. We still have a long road ahead as we await a vaccine but the North End is slowly coming back to life and has a new look after a depressing couple of weeks”, said Kluse.

In recent weeks bakeries and business and the North End have been focusing on the positives after months of uncertainty. Many businesses in Massachusetts have had to close them permanently due to lost revenue and having to operate at a reduced capacity. While restrictions such as limited capacity, and social distancing make things harder  for owners Boston is in a good position to succeed.

“I can’t predict how each neighborhood will recover, but Boston has been one of the easiest cities to work with over the past few months,” said Steve Clark, Director of Government Affairs at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

“We are just happy to have survived, “said Bianca DeSouza a server at Modern Pastry.  I know a lot of people in the city that have had to close permanently. It feels good to be able to focus on making customers again when just a coupe weeks ago that seemed like we were far from that.”

Bova’s Cannoli’s waiting for a new home. ( Photo Credit: James Gatlin)

As the city begins to recover, it will be without the majority of its college student population. Boston is the home to 35 colleges and about 346,157 students. Most of which have had to do online learning as campuses have been now been closed for months to due to the virus. The North End, in particular, has felt the effects as Suffolk University and Emerson College are both a ten-minute walk from the iconic Boston neighborhood. Many schools, however, are expected to reopen their campuses in a limited capacity over the next few weeks.

“A lot of our business is young college kids who will be missed this summer. We will however be looking forward to welcoming some back in the fall and hopefully things have improved by then,” said Mark Dwyer, a longtime North End Resident.

Additionally, Massachusetts continues to see positive signs as cases have decreased more than two months into reopening. Bakeries are doing their part by requiring employees to wear masks and gloves. The number of employees inside bakeries such as Bova’s has also been limited to a maximum of four at time.

Bakeries are just happy to be back in business and hope that it stays that way despite an uncertain future.

“During a time like these being able to bring a smile to people’s faces means the world to us,” said Kluse

About James Gatlin 4 Articles
Originally from Framingham, Massachusetts, James has been living in Boston for the past four years. While pursuing his Master's Degree, James has freelanced for multiple media companies with the goal of becoming a sports reporter.