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Spreading goodwill: Sweetbox Delivery and River City Kitchen owner Clay Cerna offers bagel loan and free business space

UPDATED: Wed., April 22, 2020

Clay Cerna, owner of River City Kitchen and Sweetbox Delivery, sits for a portrait in his spacious kitchen in downtown Spokane on April 15. Cerna is offering his own version of COVID-19 relief to Spokane in the form of free space in River City Kitchen to small businesses that need it along with an “Eat Now, Pay Later Bagel Loan,” plus 50% off all bagels. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Clay Cerna, owner of River City Kitchen and Sweetbox Delivery, sits for a portrait in his spacious kitchen in downtown Spokane on April 15. Cerna is offering his own version of COVID-19 relief to Spokane in the form of free space in River City Kitchen to small businesses that need it along with an “Eat Now, Pay Later Bagel Loan,” plus 50% off all bagels. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

For Clay Cerna, owner of Sweetbox Delivery and River City Kitchen in downtown Spokane, offering an “Eat Now, Pay Later Bagel Loan,” all bagels at 50% off and free rent in his new River City Kitchen commercial space through June, was a two-fold idea during this coronavirus pandemic.

“My main goal is to keep my people working,” Cerna said last week. “Since we’re under quarantine, going to work for a few shifts gets my employees out of the house, and it helps keep us all sane.

“Helping the community is very important, and, truth be told, people helped us when we were struggling, and we wanted to do the same.”

Cerna’s bagel delivery business Sweetbox has been operating for nearly six years, while River City Kitchen debuted in November. He said they kicked around a few ideas to continue to run, as well as aid the community, on the second floor of the Spokane Intermodal Center.

“This is a new landscape, and we have a lot of resources,” Cerna said. “The kitchen is set up for mass production. We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do?’ We have a lot of baking ability and storage. And we want to get bagels out there to people who need them.”

The Bagel Loan and 50% discount were launched at the end of March around the time Gov. Jay Inslee announced his stay-home order for the state. Cerna said the public response to the promotion was “pretty massive … we had well over 100 orders on the first day.”

Next up for Sweetbox is to offer bagel delivery nationwide, as it already delivers across the state. “We’ve been testing out shipping bagels across the country using flat-rate boxes, and it seems to be working,” Cerna said. “We want to help keep the postal service alive, too.”

Sweetbox Delivery bagels keep for three to five days or as long as a week, Cerna said, because each is individually wrapped and sealed, then refrigerated or frozen before shipping to give them extra shelf life.

Cerna said the No. 1 bestselling bagel by far, much to his surprise, are the raspberry cream cheese-stuffed bagels. The Cheddarpeno and pizza-stuffed bagels also are popular. His favorite is the pesto Parmesan, which contains no pine nuts, partly because he worked on the recipe for three months.

“The pesto Parmesan bagel recipe is tricky, which is part of the reason why it’s my favorite,” Cerna said. “I thought the cheese ones would be more popular. The blueberry cream cheese bagels are very popular, too. People like sweet bagels.”

Thinking about his newest business, River City Kitchen, which was “a culmination of five years of running my mouth on how to run a business,” offering rent-free space to struggling small businesses, including food trucks and caterers, in the spacious commercial area was a no-brainer because it was a way for him to pay it forward.

“We had a lot of people support us when we started up and were struggling,” Cerna said. “If a business doesn’t have to worry about overhead, then they divert costs to payroll and their employees. It’s the biggest impact we can make right now. We’re trying to keep people working and sane and give them a break from their computers.”

“I want to be part of the solution. Sustainable solutions happen on a local level,” Cerna summed up. “I want to help direct people to the right resources. We have a lot of resources in Spokane. My goal is to be one of those resources and to help people launch a company and keep it going.”

And those bagels, which Sweetbox was shipping at a rate of a palette, or 150 dozen, each week pre-pandemic? “This is for people who could use some bagels – to help keep people home and fed.”

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