Tribeca Treats Is Closing

I’m extremely sorry to report that Tribeca Treats is closing after 11 and a half years. (It’s open for business as usual through March 25, so if you have a gift certificate, such as one donated to a school of charity, use it soon.) Founder Rachel Thebault and I had an email exchange about the closing that I thought was informative—so many people shutter their businesses as if they shouldn’t be damn proud of what they accomplished—so we built it out in to this Q&A.

How and when did you decide it was time?
The decision actually really caught me by surprise, as business has been great, and the high price of rent was definitely a contributing factor, but not the reason. Basically, when I extended my lease a couple years ago, I thought I could handle the price increase, but I did so by neglecting some repairs and improvements I should have been making to our physical space and equipment. Unfortunately, this has all seemed to catch up with me at once in the last few weeks, and, when coupled with rapidly increasing labor costs, I just can’t figure out how to make it all work. It’s been a tough couple weeks for me in getting to this decision, but now that I’m starting to say it out loud to people it’s a little cathartic. When I started the business I thought the difference between success and failure would be really clear cut. I never imagined that it was possible to feel both at the same time.

I know exactly what you mean. What have some of the challenges been?
Ultimately, I think it’s been a really good business—we have a great product and a lot of clients who love us—but the business model itself is faulty. More than half of our sales involves customizing things for clients, which is a really labor intense aspect (from responding to inquiries to walking people through orders to individually creating what they want), and one that I never quite figured out how to price properly into the product. Now minimum wage is increasing 10-15% per year, which I agree with intellectually, but it has a ripple effect up through all my employees, as they’ve become accustomed to making x% more than that rate. Additionally, I’ve had a really hard time finding part-time counter staff that provide an acceptable level of customer service and productivity, let alone are reliable about showing up for work at all. I attribute this to college kids having more opportunities to make money through “side hustles,” as well as us not being able to offer a starting rate higher than minimum wage, like we used to.

What will you miss about it?
I will probably miss the creative aspect of it the most.  We’ve made tens of thousands of cakes in the last decade, many for the same families year after year, and I will miss seeing those names in our order book and the look on people’s faces when they pick up a cake or cookies that they absolutely love. I’ll even miss the insane times (especially Valentine’s Day)—I thrive on stress. I will definitely miss the everyday interactions with people who support us and especially miss the people who took the time to send us positive feedback or photos of our treats at their events. Often in the day-to-day, it’s easy to let one negative customer experience drown out the last 20 good ones, but now, looking back, I’m overwhelmed by all the good. It’s a reminder to me to be more generous with compliments.

What’s next for you?
I haven’t ruled out retooling the model a bit and opening in a different location, but I also have another business idea I’d like to explore as well, and I’m excited about that. In the mean time, I might set my sights on another “Jeopardy!” appearance (side note: I was a contestant in the 1996 college tournament. I did not win.) I will definitely bake at home more with my kids.

22 Comments

  1. This is sad news. Tribeca Treats is a great friend to Taste of Tribeca, to PS 150 and to PS 234. It’s also a favorite place to stop for a cupcake or cookie, and of course the birthday cakes! Thanks for everything, Rachel. We will miss you!

  2. We have had many delicious cakes and cookies from Tribeca Treats and you will be missed. Great exchange with Rachel on the complexities of running a small business in New York. Best of luck to you Rachel!!

  3. They made my daughter’s birthday cake every year for the past 3 years. The most delicious and beautiful cakes. The neighborhood will miss you…good luck.

  4. Thank you for making this a Q&A. We will miss Tribeca Treats greatly.

  5. I’m so sad to hear this! Me and my girls love TriBeCa Treats

  6. Best snickerdoodle cookie I have ever had.

  7. I have lived in Tribeca for over 20 years and it’s a shamed to see so many Mom and pop stores close. Tribeca has become the new empty store front waste land. I agree with a poster that once mentioned. Maybe if building owners get fined for empty store fronts they won’t be so quick to raise the rents on so many stores Owners

    • It’s too bad that Tribeca Citizen wasn’t around in 2006. Had it been, you could have bemoaned–as a then 10+ year Tribeca resident–the closing of the longtime Tribeca Lighting store and its replacement by an upscale bakery.

    • Sandra, I appreciate your comment. Sadly, it’s not just rent—between real estate, labor, and other operating costs, it is very difficult to operate an independent business in this city, whether you’re a lighting store or an upscale bakery. I expect the landscape of retail in New York will drastically change in the next 10 years, but I really appreciate the support I have received in the last 10+ years. Thanks!

  8. So sad to hear this! You and the Whoopi pies will be missed!

  9. Sorry to read this!! My kids favorite spot in Tribeca, we love the whoppie pies…it had always been a sweet oasis of hapot delight on a busy afternoon.

  10. I am sorry to read this. I just opened a business around the block and was looking forward to eating your yummy treats! I have to say that I 100% agree… I also agree with the increasing the minimum wage but it does make it very hard to find and keep good employees. For me, I also feel that the cost of rent makes things difficult. It means that the money that could have gone to improving businesses is instead going to the landlord. As Sandra wrote, I wish the city fined landlords who kept empty storefronts.

  11. So right-on James. There was a great store there before for many, many years who was kicked out to make way for this business.
    I stopped going in there when a lovely young woman I know was fired from TriBeCa Treats for not being part of the gang. She was a hard worker, kind and shy. Praise to Duane Street Patisserie.
    We must prepare ourselves for many of these “new” business to end up struggling with the same issues the old timers did. It is the nature of the beast sadly.

  12. Wow Rachel, so sad to hear the news! My kids grew up in your shop. Your bakery especially the whoopie pies will be missed for sure! All the best to you with your next venture!

  13. You made my 50th b’day cake and the British flag cake for a dear friend who moving to London. I also have 4 Hillary Clinton cookies in the deep freeze that I plan to eat once tRump is gone. THANK YOU!!!

  14. Oh, Rachel! We got all our birthday cupcakes from you!
    And we supported the light store before you. To me it’s all about landlords. Sorry. They will be the death of this great community. City Council is working on some kind of Commercial Rent Control. NY City retail might be dead by the time any help arrives.

    • If it’s all about landlords to you, then you have missed the retail trends of consolidation, online shopping, the death of department stores and malls, the entrance of big box retailers into NYC (despite politicians’ best efforts), the shift from goods to experiences/services, etc.

    • … and the trend of retail minimum wage increases driving labor costs higher, as Rachel notes.

      The results were rather mixed in Seattle’s experience. (http://www.nber.org/papers/w23532) We have not heard so much about the political push behind minimum wage increases lately.

  15. Thank you for many years of delicious treats! You will be missed by our whole family.

  16. It’s so sad to see this. I know how hard you’ve worked and how hard it is to start and run a business. I will forever remember you leaving my camera in the front of your store so I could see I’d left it there, even after you closed on one of those crazy Halloween days. You didn’t know whose it was, but you knew they’d eventually come back for it, and saved me 12 hours of panic in the process. Just one of the many lovely touches of customer service in your store.

  17. So so sad to see you go. I have purchased a cake from you for virtually every important moment over the past eights years – kids birthdays, my parents 50th, my sister’s wedding. We will miss you so much! Thank you so much for making one-of-a-kind cakes for our celebrations. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors. You will be missed.

  18. Rachel, This is from Beth, who used to visit all the time when I worked around the corner — and who has made occasional trips there since then. I walked over last week for matzo meal cupcakes and was so sad to see that you’ve closed. I really appreciate this interesting and informative interview about the store’s closing. I’ll miss the wonderful people who served me there, and I’ll miss you and our talks about football. And, of course, I’ll miss the great coffee and delicious treats. I wish you and your staff the best always.
    xo, Beth H.

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