How Kayuh Bicycles & Cafe Shifted Into High Gear Despite Pandemic Challenges

Henry Sam knew it would be a challenge when he became the owner of Kayuh Bicycles & Cafe at the age of 20. But nothing could have prepared him for the pandemic hitting Philadelphia only a few months later. 

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Henry Sam, owner of Kayuh Bicycles & Cafe, admits the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic was not at all ideal for his business.

“When I took over Kayuh, I was 20 at the time,” Sam said. “To be completely honest, I wasn’t super sure what I was doing. So when the pandemic hit in March 2020, just a few months into my ownership, I was just like, ’Oh man, are you kidding me?’” 

Kayuh is part of Rebound, a digital documentary series created by NBC Owned Television Stations and NBCLX that tells the stories of how small businesses are bouncing back from the pandemic. 

Sam shut down Kayuh’s cafe but kept the bike shop, which was deemed an essential service, open. He saw a surge in popularity as “people started to venture out into outdoor recreation a lot more” during the pandemic.

Kayuh hired more apprentice mechanics, which created different challenges for Sam.

“A big problem I had was this new staff, during the day they don’t really know what they’re doing, and so I spent all my time training them,” he said. “So once the day’s over and they go home, that’s when I finally actually get to crank out bikes and get the job done. I was pretty much working 20-hour days. The longest shift I had to work was 32 hours — and that’s just to keep up with the demand.”

That experience has given Sam a new perspective on running a small business.

“Definitely remember to take care of yourself, as well,” he said. “Take things one at a time. As long as you keep going, things will work out. Working yourself to death, that’s not going to help, because that’s going to do more damage than good. I just really wish I knew that before.”

This story is part of a series following small business owners through the pandemic. To view all stories part of NBC Local’s “Rebound” project, click here.

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