Noticing Neighbors with Our Gathering
What does Gathering look like in 2021? That’s one big question to answer. In a year of pop-ups, masks, and very distanced lines, finding safe ways to gather has been anything but a sure-footed process. So it was a breath of fresh air to know I would be talking to Nicole, the owner of Our Gathering, at the coffee shop today. As an expert in catered baked goods and small get togethers, she’s definitely the one to ask: What does Gathering look like in 2021?
When I walk into the greenhouse at Cafe Equinox, it almost seems like I’ve found that answer. People are sitting at spread out tables, sipping their coffee and working on their laptops in a distanced, outdoor setting. “Hello!” She waves to me from her bright wicker couch. “I got here early just to make sure we got a spot!” Sitting beneath palm leaves, she has the kind of smile you can hear in her voice. Hayley: For those who may not know, can you explain what your business is?
Yes! It’s a virtual bake shop where I am able to deliver desserts to people's homes, which is really great during quarantine. It's been nice for people who want to send thoughtful, delicious gifts.
Hayley: What types of deliveries have you had? Nicole: So many. I've delivered cakes to new parents who were just getting home from the hospital. Also for weddings where people tell me, “Yeah, we can't do anything big.” Which is right in my niche. Everything I do is about intimate, small get-togethers.
Hayley: I think it's so cool that your name is Our Gathering, where it's all about people gathering. But then, that's exactly what's so different right now, right? Because of Covid, gathering is what has changed significantly.
Very true. Lately, a lot of my material has focused around asking: How do you gather with the people you live with? Because at this point, I think a lot of people are like: I have seen you every day for a year.
Every day. Exactly! There’s one thing you’ve provided in particular that really caught my eye, because it was so creative. You’ve created this intimate gathering space online through your IGTV (Instagram TV) videos called Late Night Bakes. Can you explain what it is? Nicole: It’s me and my sister, Evette. She comes over, and we bake together over Instagram Live so people can tune in and follow along with the recipe in real time. It’s called “Late Night Bakes” because we host it every Friday night in my kitchen starting at 9pm. Hayley:
There’s something about watching the episodes that’s so warm and cozy. Seeing you and your sister bake while your mom runs the camera is a pretty fun way to learn something new. The first one I saw was where you made scones. I’d never seen anybody talk about how to make scones in such an accessible way!
That’s exactly what I told my sister! I said we should start with recipes most people either don’t know or don't make on the regular.
It’s challenging in a fun way because I’m able to pass what I know on to her, but also to a much wider audience watching from home. It’s fun to feel like we're all learning together.
We need to talk about this: You did these cinnamon rolls that looked absolutely amazing. You showed how to caramelize the bottom and make a delicious cream cheese frosting. Nicole: I never want to do a typical thing! Hayley: It shows! How do you come up with these ideas?
Honestly, the majority of the time it's in that moment where I am eating. I could be trying a pastry and think to myself: ooh, pecans would go really good with this. Then I go try it, and it actually works! So I deliver them to friends and ask them to give me their honest feedback. They love that.
Hayley: Lucky friends.
I tell them to be really honest. I am always looking for real feedback, because it could go on my menu.
Right now, the crowd favorite is the s'mores cupcake. You have got to try this cupcake. We'll make it happen. It's a dark chocolate cupcake with ganache poured over it, graham crackers, and fresh meringue on top. But we’ve got to keep it like a classic s’more, so I use a torch to lightly toast the meringue.
How did Our Gathering get started? Nicole:
The first official Gathering event was a pop up on a friend's rooftop. It was so much fun. I remember thinking: this really is exactly what I’ve wanted this business to be. And that was of course, September 2019.
Wait, you started this right before everything shut down? Nicole: Yeah. Then all this happened!
Hayley: Well you've definitely pivoted with it. I did not know your business was so new.
Nicole: Last March, I hadn't been doing it long at all. It was a scary time. One of the biggest contributors to this success was Monarch Coffee. They helped me out in a very real way.
How so? Nicole: I woke up one morning in June to my phone blowing up! I had no idea why. A bunch of notifications were going off and I had no clue where the follows were coming from. Then I saw that Monarch had put out a list of locally black-owned businesses. The community definitely responded.
Monarch’s list was shared by countless others, my business even showed up in a travel magazine. This list has now been shared across the country! I was floored.
But what was really insane was when I saw Martha Stewart’s magazine wanted to talk to me. I got an email asking if I’d like to be quoted in her magazine, and I thought it was fake! So I googled the author’s name and sure enough, it was real.
So there I am: keeping to my bubble, baking one day after another—when suddenly all these people come in telling me they want to work with me.
You had a real ripple effect from Monarch sharing your name. Nicole: That's where the pivot of being able to do this successfully in 2020 really happened. The two big things were the list they released, and then also the cupcake pop-up event that the owner encouraged me to do outside their shop.
It was summer, it was August heat, and it was hot. So hot! But people still came, and we sold out of everything in 45 minutes! Every time I looked up, the line was to the street and people were still coming. They would buy coffee at the first window, stop with us, buy their cupcake, and then move on to the next window to pick up their coffee.
We were moving so fast, they could not keep up with the coffee orders! It was such a good day.
Hayley: Good for you!
I love hearing that you’ve been able to witness so much kindness and support. Nicole: I see it every day. People will literally surprise their family members with cakes. I had this delivery once, where I showed up at the house and the person who opened the door was confused because she hadn’t ordered a cake.
I checked to make sure I had the right address, and I did.
I asked for her name and she said, “Yeah, that's me.”
I told her someone had ordered her a cake, but she had no idea who would do that. So I checked my phone and told her the name of who had ordered it, and it turned out to be her brother!
Hayley: What! Her brother surprised her with a cake?
Nicole: Yes, and she had no idea! So then for his birthday, she contacted me and bought him one. I feel like I’ve gotten to have a front row seat to see how people are taking care of each other during this time.
Has it helped you see goodness during all of this?
Nicole: Yes, I love getting to drop off everyone’s thoughtful gifts they order.
It's so easy to live in your own world right now and settle into that place, but having someone deliver treats when you weren’t expecting it really disrupts that. I drive around the city and it's like I get a taste. I get to have a taste of the goodness, and the kindness of people.
All the birthday parties I've delivered to in front yards, people ordering for their older parents they haven’t been able to see. Maybe we haven’t been able to gather in the way we’d like, but we’ve decided to make this work just the same.