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Publisher's note: Austonia has donated $100 to Crema's community sack lunch program, via their @cremabakerycafe Venmo. Feel free to join us in support of this community service.
Colorful paper hearts adorn the walls and meticulously decorated cookies proclaim adorable phrases like "Love you a latte."
At Crema Bakery and Café on Brodie Lane in South Austin, Valentine's Day is more than just the sweet shop's biggest holiday of the year. It's also a tribute to the love that co-owners Jessica and Janessa Tomberlin share for each other.
"We're really blessed in a lot of ways, but none of it would be happening if we didn't have each other," said Jessica Tomberlin. "I feel like our feelings for each other are reflected in our business and our product and our relationships with other people, too. A lot of partners are good cop, bad cop. We're not like that. We're just two halves of a whole."
Valentine's-themed cookies are among the offerings at Crema Bakery in South Austin. (Kristin Finan)
The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to local restaurants, and Crema is no exception; the Tomberlins credit loyal friends and customers with keeping the bakery's doors open. As a result, the Tomberlins have been able to support the local community through free sack lunches, which they make available to anyone who calls in to request one—no questions asked. Since March 2020, they've distributed more than 1,500 free lunches.
"We just saw a need," said Janessa Tomberlin. "It was just incredible the number of people that were like, 'I'm hungry.' Nobody should have to wonder where their next meal is coming from in this country of all places. We felt like it was the very least we could do to help our community and be a place for people to have a little bit of food security."
Jessica, 42, and Janessa, 37, met when Jessica opened Crema in 2013 and hired Janessa, who had a background in the corporate coffee world. The two quickly became friends and eventually began dating. In October 2017, they tied the knot at Tiny T Ranch in Garfield, on the outskirts of Austin. They didn't have a cake but instead opted for hand pies, which they made themselves. Jessica Tomberlin said the bakery relishes being part of all types of special occasions.
Janessa and Jessica Tomberlin and daughter, Molly. (Seduit Photography)
"We love that we can make somebody's engagement party cake and then do their wedding cake and then a baby shower and then a kid's first birthday," she said. "We love being part of people's lives and part of their families."
As business partners, Janessa runs the front of house, interacting with customers, while Jessica deals more with the product side, although, "being a small business, nothing is ever that simple," Jessica Tomberlin said.
"We teach our baristas how to decorate cupcakes because you never know who is going to need to do what," Jessica Tomberlin said. "That's the essence of a family-owned business–everybody does it for the good of the whole and doesn't really focus on themselves. That's the way Janessa and I have always been, too."
Jessica Tomberlin said 2020 brought challenges the small bakery, which is currently open for takeout and curbside, could never have ever anticipated.
"Any time you have a small business you're always on the edge of everything falling apart, so we've faced a lot of that, but in the last year it's just been a despair that I've never felt before in my life, just not knowing what's going to happen," Jessica Tomberlin said. "Every time I get down where I think I can't get any lower, Janessa picks me up. That's probably the thing I've come to appreciate the most is just that we complemented each other in that way. When one of us can't go on, the other one finds the strength to do it for both of us."
Janessa Tomberlin said Jessica "is like my backbone when I don't have one."
The two have also needed to stay strong for their daughter, Molly, 10, who they call the "littlest cremling" and who, despite not having any social media accounts, has a big following through Crema's social media.
"All these people recognize her, so every time she's up here people like, 'Hey, Molly!'" Jessica Tomberlin said. "She likes to run curbside because people always tip her."
Crema Bakery in South Austin offers a variety of baked goods for takeout and curbside service. (Kristin Finan)
In addition to the free lunch program, the Tomberlins have done fundraisers for causes they are passionate about, such as LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter.
"We love being the liberal, hippie, queer-owned bakery. We love being able to embrace those old Austin ideals and give people an outlet for being able to help wherever they can," Jessica Tomberlin said. "We put our politics and our positions out there, which a lot of businesses don't do to be safe, but we also feel like if you can be an advocate for the causes that matter, you should."
With its challenges, the past year has also brought some surprise hits, including a family meal program early in the pandemic and, currently, hot cocoa bombs, which frequently sell out. Once the world begins to open back up, Jessica Tomberlin said, she looks forward to eating out, having some date nights and hopefully resuming a new brunch restaurant project at South First and William Cannon that was in the works before the pandemic.
No matter what happens, though, Jessica Tomberlin said she knows she, Janessa and Molly will be able to weather it together.
"I feel hopeful right now in a way that I haven't in months and months," Jessica Tomberlin said. "There's been a lot of love this year. There's been a lot of sadness, but there's been a lot of love."
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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