Bobby and Janice Jucker, owners of Houston's Three Brothers Bakery, have long been dubbed the "King and Queen of Disasters" after their business survived four floods, a fire, and a hurricane. But for a moment in March, the 71-year-old bakery — founded by three Polish brothers who survived the Holocaust to pursue the American Dream in Texas — faced down its biggest challenge yet with the COVID-19 pandemic.
An abrupt shutdown with no end in sight left the Juckers holding the bag for rent at three locations and wages for 60 full- and part-time employees, not to mention other costs like insurance and utilities. The path forward felt unclear, if nonexistent.
Then Janice reached out to ABC13, the local affiliate, which produced a segment highlighting the bakery's precarious position. A flood of customer traffic crashed the Three Brothers website within minutes of the 10 o'clock news. "That piece of coverage saved us," says Jucker. "From that, people started giving us money to give away to people who need it."
The bakery decided to spread the love through a Mitzvah fund that channels customer donations to local aid groups. Later came the Buy 1 Pie, Employ a Village program that promoted sales of Three Brothers' famous pecan pie by centering the box makers, pecan growers, graphic designers, and other small businesses that rely on the bakery to survive.
But as the months wore on and the initial CARES Act funding for small business owners ran out, Jucker realized that even more must be done to help her fellow entrepreneurs. So she called her congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), to bring up an idea.
Adding her voice to a national conversation, Jucker spoke with Rep. Fletcher and fellow lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Ted Olson (TX-22) and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to share the concerns facing small business owners. The result is a piece of legislation called the Loan Interest Forgiveness for Taxpayers Under a Pandemic (LIFT UP) Act. Now introduced in both chambers of Congress, the bipartisan legislation would expand the eligibility for debt forgiveness provided by the CARES Act to owners who received Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans. Supporters hope to include the LIFT UP Act in the next round of stimulus funding and urge small business owners to call their representative.
"They've written in press releases that this will help help something like 22,000 businesses, and it may have started with me," Jucker says. "The thing that that showed me — and I kinda knew it already — is that one small voice can make a difference."
Jucker first learned this in 2017 after the last major disaster, Hurricane Harvey, when their flagship location was inundated by floodwaters. Three Brothers promptly applied for an SBA disaster loan and put urgent expenses on its credit card while Jucker waited for the loan disbursement. Weeks passed without any movement until a case manager recommended that she reach out to her elected official for assistance.
"I sent an email to the local chief of staff to our congressman, and I got a phone call from her the same day," Jucker says. "Two days later it was in our account."
The civic lesson? Ask and you shall receive!
It's notable that each of these efforts — from lobbying her elected officials to attending summits in D.C. — has involved members of both major parties. Jucker believes that most representatives, regardless of party allegiance, will bend over backward to help their constituents, especially when they're asked point-blank. "Your lawmaker works for you," says Jucker. "You don’t have to agree with their political views. You just need to know them so when you need them, they know you."
That's why civic engagement is part of the Three Brothers Bakery business model, with a series of nonpartisan efforts tied to election season. This year they will hold a voter registration drive on Sept. 22 at the bakery's Braeswood location, and Jucker is contemplating a special cake product tied to Election Day on Nov. 3.
And of course, Three Brothers continues its quadrennial Presidential Cookie Poll where customers can buy one of three limited-edition gingerbread cookies to choose the winner of the "election." So far, the race is a deadlock between Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Gingy the Gingerbread Man.
Asked her preference, Jucker remained impartial, save one piece of advice: "Vote your taste buds."