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Open/Close: Cinnaholic Owner Handles Tough Customers With Kindness


"It's really hard to be ugly to someone who's being really nice to you," said Holly Roe, owner of a Cinnaholic vegan bakery in Knoxville, Tennessee, who models for her employees what to say to customers.

"Cinnamon rolls are essential!" declared Holly Roe, owner of a Cinnaholic vegan bakery in Knoxville, Tennessee. She meant that literally, because her store was deemed an essential business and allowed to stay open during the state's lockdown orders, but also existentially—who wants to live without them?

Her actions during the pandemic, particularly how she trains employees to deal with difficult customers, are a model for other franchisees as businesses open and close during COVID-19.

Roe was a children's pastor and her husband is a full-time evangelist, so they've been in the people business for decades even though she is new to bakery ownership. She models how she wants employees to communicate with people when they come into the store.

"When the restrictions got lifted, they're allowing dine-in. However, our personal restrictions are more than the mandate states," Roe said. Customers can't enter her store until the person ahead is already seated, so she or her staff will call out: "Hey, find a red sticker if you don't mind."

Customers are required to wear masks, a point of contention in many places. Again, Roe advises a friendly approach. 

"I have told my staff, we're not law enforcement. Honestly, it's a fine line. I told them, our job is to de-escalate anything. Usually, if you're smiling and you're being overly nice, it's really hard to be ugly to someone who's being really nice to you.

"I give my employees examples of what it should sound like. You have to train your people to be customer service-oriented and be able to talk to people in a way that is not inflammatory.

"You will have people who will come in and say, 'Don't trample on my rights.' But 99.9 percent of the time, if you say it in a kind way, and not in a demanding way—'Hey, if you don't mind, we'd really appreciate it'—that's going to get a lot better response than, 'You have to wear this.'" 

When reached in late July, COVID cases were rising in the state. Each business is asked to name a COVID coordinator; Roe has that role at her Cinnaholic store. "We take it upon ourselves to keep up with those numbers," she said. "They send us detailed emails about what's going on. We can make those choices, like I said to go above and beyond what's recommended if we want to."

She said most people have been kind about the restrictions. "People are very understanding," she said. "We've had a whole lot more good reviews from people saying, 'They have it going on.' I would rather go overboard and take extra precautions, than to do the opposite and somebody ends up sick on my watch," she said. "Not on my watch."

She has a lease signed for a second location, in Pigeon Forge, which she hopes to open by the end of the year. "The Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge is the most visited national park in the country. It's kind of a no-brainer to focus on Pigeon Forge," she said.

Her first bakery opened in late 2018. This year her numbers have held up, on the strength of delivery and curbside pickup initially. "April we were down 4 percent from last year; 3 percent in May; and in June we're up 21 percent," she said. "The things we implemented were things that we could have done" before the pandemic. "You just have to adapt."

Read other stories in Open/Close, a new franchisetimescom series reporting how franchisees are navigating as business starts and stops amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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