Jenny Risner-Wade: Starting A Business in the Midst of COVID-19

Jenny Risner-Wade stands outside her newly opened business in downtown Albion, the Yellow Bird Chocolate Shop. The Shop opened in fall 2020, in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic (Photo Courtesy of Jenny Risner-Wade).

Jenny Risner-Wade, the owner of the Yellow Bird Chocolate Shop in downtown Albion, has always loved chocolate. Her passion began when she was a kid and has continued to grow into her adulthood. 

“When I became a mom, I learned how to bake and incorporate leftover Easter bunnies, broke them up into chips so you could make chocolate chip cookies,” said Risner-Wade. “I’ve always been fascinated with what chocolate can be and what it can do.” 

When one of her children needed a corn syrup free diet, Riser-Wade had to find a way to help her son enjoy the foods he could eat before.

“It was around Halloween time, and he was ten years old, so we had to figure out some substitutes,” said Risner-Wade. “Like, what could we do to make Halloween and Thanksgiving fun with this allergen-free diet that eliminated corn syrup and corn syrup is in 95% of products on store shelves? So, I researched how you can make chocolate at home.”

When trying to perfect the art of making chocolate, Risner-Wade found herself with more treats than she could eat.

“When I was making chocolate and learning how to make chocolate at home, you end up making five pounds at a time, and if you want to get good at it, you want to make more,” said Risner-Wade. “So, I kept having five pounds of chocolate, and you just really can’t consume that. So, I started doing pop-up sales at the french market, the bookstore, the brewery, [and] Schuler art studio that we have in town. I started doing pop-ups and selling the chocolate that way. I needed a name for the business.”

While brainstorming, Risner-Wade turned to her sisters for advice. Her sister Michelle, who still goes by the childhood nickname “Bird,” suggested that Risner-Wade use her childhood nickname, ”Yellow Bird.” That suggestion decided it. Risner-Wade went on to name her business Yellow Bird Chocolate Shop.

Impact of COVID-19

In the fall of 2020, Risner-Wade opened the Yellow Bird Chocolate Shop in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to say it was smooth sailing, but it really wasn’t. COVID-19 has impacted the number of customers I get for foot traffic because the other downtown businesses, entities, aren’t at their capacity so that impacts me,” said Risner-Wade.

Risner-Wade envisioned her chocolate shop as a place where customers would pop in for a candy bar after watching a movie at The Bohm or after dinner in one of the many restaurants on the downtown strip. But, due to COVID-19 shutting down movie theaters and restaurants, Risner-Wade isn’t getting the foot traffic she hoped to see. 

“I knew going into this particular storefront the foot traffic numbers for the surrounding businesses that are nearby me and I had anticipated picking up that foot traffic, but they have been shut down, so I don’t get that exposure,” said Risner-Wade

Risner-Wade, in addition to not getting the business she expected, had to deal with delayed shipments of the supplies to package her product. 

“While I can make the raw product here, I need to have it packaged,” said Risner-Wade. “I’m licensed under the Michigan Department of Agriculture as a food manufacturer, and it has to be packaged, so I need packaging material.”

Risner-Wade was able to get her raw materials from the 2018 harvest, but when she has to obtain more cocoa beans, she is uncertain of what to expect. 

“After I go through this wanton of beans, I’m not sure what price I will have to pay for the 2019 and 2020 harvest of beans,” said Risner-Wade. “Because this is a global pandemic, some ports have been closed. You know the international ports are closed. The shareholders on the farms don’t get to the cities where the ports are because they are afraid because COVID-19 is everywhere.”

During the construction phase of the store, Risner-Wade had to work around social distancing protocols. She planned for her contractors to come when no one was there, including herself, so they weren’t breaking any COVID-19 guidelines. 

“My sign just got installed last week for the building,” said Risner-Wade. “My sign maker, that business they’re also a family business and their household was also impacted by COVID-19, so that delayed my sign being produced and installed by a couple of months.”

The Yellow Bird Chocolate Shop is open in downtown Albion every week Tuesday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and is open certain Saturdays every month as well.

About Erin Lathrop 37 Articles
Erin is a junior from Saline, MI. She is on the Track, Cross Country, and Swim and Dive team. Erin is at Albion College studying to become a nurse. She is, also, the movie Trolls and Trolls 2: World Tours' number one fan.

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