By Erin Lyons
The St. Augustine Amphitheater’s farmers market closed in March and vendors are struggling to get through this pandemic. Hugo’s muffins once drew crowds at the Market for his special vegan and gluten-free muffins. Now, he is one among many vendors waiting for the Saturday market to open. I caught up with Hugo Brache, the owner, baker, and operator of Hugo’s Muffins.
Fourteen years ago, a concentrated vegetarian cuisine cafe, the Present Moment needed a barista.
“I was able to make pretty pictures on the top of a latte, so they hired me,” Brache said.
Brache would bring in muffins for the staff. The muffins were so good his boss asked, if he could figure out how to make the muffins vegan to sell at the Present moment cafe. A couple weeks later, Brache brought in vegan muffins and sold 180 muffins a day. Once he started to make them gluten-free they sold close to 300 muffins a day. Two years later, seven other cafes began to ask for the muffins, so Brache decided to rent a commercial kitchen and get licensed.
The pandemic has caused a huge adjustment for Hugo’s Muffins. Brache admits he is not very versatile in today’s digital world, so trying to sell through social media has been complicated. When times have gotten rough before Brache has tried to get other jobs, but employers believe Brache to have a limited skillset. Once, an employer even called Brache a “ dinosaur,” while applying for a job.
“I mean with the market closing at the amphitheater that was a rough blow,” Brache said.
The Saturday Market is what paid most of Brache’s bills. Luckily, St. Johns county said markets could reopen again June 19. The Wednesday Market, at St. Augustine beach, took advantage of that and opened the first week of July. People have started to come out little by little and there has been some action for vendors. Most of the farmers market vendors are doing whatever they can to avoid being put on welfare.
Brache has taken several safety precautions during the Pandemic for his business. On top of wearing a mask at all times, he keeps six feet of table between him and customers, has plastic covering his complete display, and constantly uses hand sanitizer- this especially any time he touches money. While Brache sells at markets he uses a washing station with bleach water to wipe down the tables.
“New games and new rules. You just have to roll with it, and make the best of it,” Brache said. “I do miss being able to show my face, I feel I am hiding a lot of my humor and myself behind the mask. However, it is an absolute necessary evil at this point.”
Although times have been tough, Brache was able to find support from his community. His landlord has been very understanding throughout this whole process. Apparently, in Brache’s situation he is unable to get unemployment, and could not get food stamps because he had a few dollars in the bank. However, the county has offered a CARES grant for local residents and businesses. Applications were sent out the first week of June. Brache just received a reply from them last week approving him for $3,304. Eventually, Brache should get a grant which will be exactly what he owes in rent, electric, gas, and water.
Brache is hopeful that everything will get close to normal again. He plans to make the best out of whatever will result in the end.
“For some reason I am oddly optimistic,” said Brache. “I think it is going to turn out different but ok.”