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Mom's 'Random' Care Packages Inspire Bed-Stuy Bakery (Where No Tipping Is Allowed)

Instead of taking tips, Love, Nelly pays its employees a "living wage" of at least $20 per hour

Steph Gallardo's mom Nelly loves to send her "random" care packages.

"One time I just got two mangoes from her mango tree, wrapped in a plastic bag in a USPS box," she said.

While the contents of the packages may come as a surprise, one thing remains the same. Gallardo's mom always includes a note, signing off, "Love, Nelly."

Gallardo doesn't know why her mother signs off using her name, not "mom," but the sweet and familiar touch has come to be the name of her first bakery business in Bed-Stuy with co-owner Keavy Landreth.

Landreth is also a co-founder of Crown Heights' Butter and Scotch.

Steph Gallardo and Keavy Landreth. Photo: Instagram / @lovenellybk

Love, Nelly opened at 53 Rockaway Ave on July 22, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. Originally, Gallardo and Landreth planned to open in April.

The pandemic pushed opening back a couple of months, but it didn't stop their plans. "Fortunately, we didn't have to change the concept too much, as we were always going to be a grab-and-go space," Gallardo said.

Love, Nelly sells cakes, cookies, sweets and seven types of empanadas, with more in development. "We were joking that we should do an empanada for each astrological sign," Gallardo said.

Coffee and empanadas at Love, Nelly. Photo: Instagram / @lovenellybk

However, even more unique than offering star sign empanadas is Love, Nelly's policy of "no tipping."

Instead, it pays its employees a living wage, starting at $20 per hour. The minimum wage in New York is $15 per hour.

"Seeing how much employees rely on tips, and seeing the inequality that exists between front and back of house... we thought let's make things less stressful by paying a liveable wage," Gallardo said.

Photo: Instagram / @lovenellybk

The living wage is the local wage rate that allows residents to meet minimum standards of living. It estimates the cost of food, child care, health care, housing, transportation and other necessities.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculator estimates the living wage for a childless person in New York City is $20.42.

Love, Nelly increases its product prices by 15% "across the board" to pay for the higher hourly wage. While some customers might have "sticker shock," Gallardo said the items were still relatively priced for what they are.

Photo: Instagram / @lovenellybk

"Breaking the norm of what we're used to as a society for tipping has been a great move for us and one I'd recommend other businesses to think about doing as well," she said.

Like its name, the bakery's decor is inspired by Gallardo's South American parents, and childhood visits to Colombia and Chile.

In homage to her mother's care packages, Love, Nelly also offers a monthly "care package" of its own. They are filled with homemade sweets, passed-down recipes, projects and "make-ya-feel-good surprises." March's package retails for $59.95.

Meanwhile, Gallardo said Love, Nelly is finding its footing in its community, and has felt the love from its neighbors.

The bakery had partnered with a nearby community garden for composting and contributes to the community fridges. It now finds that 70% of its customers are regulars.

Gallardo said the experience of opening the store had been humbling.

"As a woman, as a minority, there are all these things you fight so hard to overcome and when it happens, it's a very strange feeling.

"I'm overjoyed by it, and at the end of the day I just wanna bake and keep providing love in food form."

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
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