A1 A1
breaking top story
Canadian bakery owners buying Koffee Kup, Vermont Bread Co.
  • Updated

BRATTLEBORO — The owners of a Canadian commercial bakery plan to purchase Koffee Kup Bakery, they announced Thursday, just over a month after the Vermont-based company abruptly closed.

Blair and Rosalyn Hyslop, who own Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery in New Brunswick, intend to restart operations at Koffee Kup and one of its subsidiaries — the Brattleboro-based Vermont Bread Co. — after acquiring it, they said in a news release.

“Despite the recent history, Koffee Kup Bakery and The Vermont Bread Company have a strong brand presence throughout New England,” Blair Hyslop said in the release. “... We intend to continue their tradition of delivering high quality breads, rolls, English muffins and donuts to our loyal customers, while at the same time helping the company meet its full potential.”

The couple has formed a new company, called North Atlantic Baking Co., that intends to buy Koffee Kup. Based in Burlington, Vt., it would sell the same baked goods that Koffee Kup and Vermont Bread Co. made, they said in the release.

North Atlantic Baking Co. plans to hire about 180 people over two years between the Burlington and Brattleboro locations, Blair Hyslop said Thursday evening. He said he hopes all of them will be former Koffee Kup workers, adding that “having baking experience is of great value to us.”

In addition to the Vermont facilities, the Hyslops also plan to acquire Superior Bakery in North Grosvenordale, Conn., another Koffee Kup subsidiary. They intend to sell that bakery, however, they announced in the news release.

All three facilities closed April 26, just weeks after American Industrial Acquisition Corp. (AIAC), a New York-based investment firm, bought Koffee Kup.

AIAC adviser Jeff Sands said in a news release the next day that Koffee Kup had suffered financial losses in each of the past four years. The bakery had been unable to find a new investor “willing to commit the resources necessary to bring the company back to health,” he said.

Nearly 250 people were laid off in Vermont, including 91 at the Vermont Bread Co. plant on Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro, due to the closure.

North Atlantic Baking Co. hopes to finalize a lease for Koffee Kup with Ronald Teplitsky — whom a Vermont court tapped earlier this month to manage the bakery’s financial assets — within a few days, the Hyslops said Thursday. That agreement would allow the company to get workers back into Koffee Kup facilities and begin producing baked goods while a formal sale is finalized.

Many former Koffee Kup workers were paid in early May for their unused time off, but that money — which totaled nearly $800,000 — was quickly pulled from their bank accounts, with AIAC and Teplitsky both refusing to issue the compensation.

That dispute has become the recent focus of a lawsuit KeyBank filed April 30 in the Vermont Superior Court’s Chittenden County branch, in which it claims Koffee Kup had not repaid more than $7 million in loans from the bank and which led to Teplitsky’s appointment. Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan got involved in the case last week, arguing in a legal brief that Teplitsky and KeyBank must pay Koffee Kup workers’ unused time off.

The workers still have not been paid for those hours, KeyBank spokeswoman Karen Crane said Friday.

Koffee Kup’s closure also prompted a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Vermont alleging the bakery and AIAC did not give employees sufficient notice of its mass layoffs.

That suit — which seeks to recover wages and benefits for former workers — claims the layoffs violated a federal law requiring employers to give workers, states and municipalities 60 days’ notice before plant closures or mass layoffs. AIAC has cited an exception to the reporting requirement, however, claiming that it couldn’t provide earlier notice about the closure because it was exploring ways to continue operating.

It was not immediately clear how Koffee Kup’s sale to North Atlantic Baking Co. would affect either case. Crane said Friday that KeyBank's lawsuit against Koffee Kup remains open, though she declined to comment further on the case.

"[We] are very pleased with the progress that is being made toward the company’s new ownership and planned reopening," she told The Sentinel in an email.

While the sale has not yet been finalized, Blair Hyslop said Thursday that Teplitsky informed the couple they are the “preferred purchaser” for the bakery and its assets.

On Thursday, the Vermont Economic Progress Council — an independent state board — approved up to $1.8 million in cash incentives for Mrs. Dunster’s to buy Koffee Kup, according to the council’s executive director, Megan Sullivan.

The Hyslops acquired Mrs. Dunster’s — which claims to be the largest family-owned commercial bakery in Atlantic Canada — in 2014, their news release stated. That company is headquartered in Sussex, New Brunswick, and last fall opened a 40,000-square-foot facility in Moncton, New Brunswick.

The Hyslops will continue running Mrs. Dunster’s after acquiring Koffee Kup and will also serve as co-CEOs of North Atlantic Baking Co., they announced.

“We are excited to see the company once again become family owned,” Rosalyn Hyslop said in the release. After founding Koffee Kup in 1940, the Roberge family owned it until 2011, according to the bakery’s website.

Mrs. Dunster’s covers several Canadian provinces and Maine, Rosalyn Hyslop said, adding that the couple has “dreamed for many years of expanding our reach to the rest of New England.”

This article has been updated with information from KeyBank spokeswoman Karen Crane.

A parade of some 30 emergency vehicles from about a dozen local communities rolled through downtown Walpole Thursday afternoon to honor Mike Paquette, who is retiring Monday after 22 years with the Walpole Police Department, the last 10 as chief. Paquette, a Walpole resident who wiped away tears as the parade went by, officially stepped down as chief at the end of March, but has continued working for the department part time. Justin Sanctuary, formerly a lieutenant with the department, has succeeded Paquette as police chief.

Jack Rooney / Sentinel Staff

A parade of some 30 emergency vehicles from about a dozen local communities rolled through downtown Walpole Thursday afternoon to honor Mike Paquette, who is retiring Monday after 22 years with the Walpole Police Department, the last 10 as chief. Paquette, a Walpole resident who wiped away tears as the parade went by, officially stepped down as chief at the end of March, but has continued working for the department part-time. Justin Sanctuary, formerly a lieutenant with the department, has succeeded Paquette as police chief.

Unemployment benefits
Checks to end for half of NH unemployment recipients
  • Updated

Much has been made of the fact that unemployment compensation checks will be reduced by $300 per week in New Hampshire on June 19 because Gov. Chris Sununu is joining other Republican governors in opting out of a federal pandemic aid program.

But what might not be so well known is that about 15,000 people — nearly half of those receiving unemployment in the state — will lose all unemployment benefits as of that day because the governor is also taking the state out of other federal programs that expand and extend unemployment benefits.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is one of those programs. It covers 8,600 people in the state who would not otherwise be eligible to receive unemployment compensation, some of them self-employed.

This includes those who have COVID-19, people living in a household where someone has it, those providing care to a family member who has it, people who have become the main support for a household because the breadwinner has died of the disease and those who had to quit a job as a direct result of the disease.

Another 6,500 people will lose their benefits because they were covered under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which expanded the length of time for receiving benefits. Normal state coverage lasts for six months. Extensions under the federal program boosted this to about a year.

About 32,000 people are receiving unemployment compensation in New Hampshire, and about half of these can continue to receive benefits through the state program.

Sununu’s decision to cut back on unemployment benefits came at the urging of business groups that feel overly generous compensation is discouraging people from rejoining the workforce at a time when employers are struggling to fill openings.

This struggle is particularly acute as the tourist season begins in earnest.

On Monday, Florida became the 23rd GOP-led state to opt out of federally enhanced unemployment compensation.

Proponents of continued participation in these enhancements say low wages, lack of affordable child care and fear of contracting COVID-19 have more to do with keeping people jobless than unemployment benefits do.

For his part, Sununu said it makes sense to encourage people to rejoin the workforce since vaccination numbers are up and new cases are down. He also started a program providing a bonus of up to $1,000 for people who return to work.

Before his decision to end the $300 weekly boost in unemployment compensation next month, it had been set to end in September.

On Thursday, the state announced 62 new positive COVID-19 test results and 494 people with current cases of the disease. At the height of the pandemic in December, more than 1,000 new cases were being reported daily. About 46 percent of New Hampshire’s population is fully vaccinated, and 58 percent have received at least their first vaccination, according to a state dashboard.

With workforce shortages that predated the pandemic and a current unemployment rate of 2.8 percent — tied for lowest in the nation — easing unemployment benefits certainly won’t solve all of the state’s labor issues. But state officials say it is a step in the right direction.

Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security, said the state has also restored the requirement that people look for work in order to keep receiving benefits. Virtual job fairs are being held across the state. Some employers are offering hiring bonuses.

“People are starting to realize the historic nature of the abundant opportunities available,” Lavers said. “It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. There is a trucking company in town that has a sign out offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus.”

In April, 736,000 people were employed in New Hampshire, 15,000 fewer than a year ago.

Lavers doesn’t think the state’s minimum wage, the lowest in the region at $7.50, is dissuading people from taking jobs since most companies are paying well over that amount.

Mindi Messmer, of the N.H. Science and Public Health Task Force, said prematurely ending federal unemployment programs in the state could have an effect on public health.

With half of the state not fully vaccinated, some people have legitimate health concerns about returning to work. “About 55 percent of New Hampshire is not fully vaccinated, leaving plenty of room for variants to spread and mutate in the state,” she said.

“What this hits hardest are front-line workers who make $10 an hour and have trouble surviving under normal conditions. The $1,000 signing bonus doesn’t begin to cover their costs. These people have suffered throughout the pandemic.”

On May 13, shortly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased facemask recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated, New Hampshire state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan expressed concern.

“There are still a lot of unvaccinated people who are susceptible to the disease and there continues to be a substantial level of community transmission of the virus,” he said.

“We’re still in this transition phase of the vaccine ramping up. There’s still a large percentage of the population that is susceptible to infection and unvaccinated and we’re still at a point where there’s still COVID-19 and risk in our communities.”

Unemployed women

During most of the pandemic, more women were unemployed than men.

Lavers said this appears to be because business sectors that were the hardest hit — hospitality and retail — have an abundance of female employees. Women were also sidelined because of child care responsibilities and the burden of caring for kids during remote learning.

Brian Gottlob, director of the Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau at the state Employment Security Department, said averages from April 2019 to March 2020 showed 55.5 percent of the unemployed were male and 44.5 percent were female. For the same months a year later, during the pandemic, the numbers swapped: 55.6 percent female and 44.4 percent male.

Unemployment numbers also increased for young people, again because the sectors of the economy that typically employ them were hard hit.

New Hampshire has a small racial or ethnic minority and those percentages changed little.

No specific numbers were available for the composition of the population receiving benefits under the expanded criteria and extended duration afforded by the federal programs.

Finding jobs

In any case, Lavers said the state is reaching out to those who will lose jobless benefits on June 19 and encouraging them to find work.

“Services in local employment offices are back open Monday through Friday,” he said. “There are a lot of available resources and tools to connect people to a new employer. People may find they are able to get a better job than they had before.”

He said long stays on unemployment tend not to be productive.

“It’s not good for the individual, and not good for the economy,” Lavers said.

“We don’t want people to pass up the opportunities that are out there. There are jobs available, there are incentives. We certainly don’t want to provide disincentives for people taking advantage of that.”

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

22-year-old becomes America's first vaccine millionaire

At first, Abbigail Bugenske thought it was a joke — maybe even a scam.

A man had called from a number she didn’t recognize and introduced himself as Mike DeWine, governor of Ohio.

“I thought it was a prank call,” Bugenske told The Washington Post on Thursday, one day after her phone lit up and her life changed. “To make it even crazier, he said I had won a million dollars, so I definitely thought it was a prank call.”

Turns out, he was serious: The caller was indeed DeWine, and Bugenske was one of the first winners of the state’s Vax-a-Million lottery, a plan devised to drum up more interest in coronavirus vaccines.

“That was my very first notification that I was about to be a millionaire,” said Bugenske, a 22-year-old resident of Silverton, near Cincinnati.

The lottery, one of a slew of vaccine incentive programs in cities and states across the country, also awarded on Wednesday a full-ride scholarship for an Ohio public university to eighth grader Joseph Costello. In all, the program will dole out $1 million prizes to five vaccinated adults and scholarships to five vaccinated teenagers.

At a virtual news conference Thursday morning, Costello, flanked by his parents, said he’s “very excited.” His mother, Colleen Costello, was stunned when she answered DeWine’s call.

“I was really thankful at that moment that there was a bench nearby,” she said, “because I needed to sit down.”

Ohio’s rollout started something of a trend as states seek to rejuvenate flagging inoculation rates — and perhaps engage in a bit of one-upmanship. California, the most recent to announce such a scheme, will hold 10 drawings of $1.5 million each. While some have balked at officials resorting to seven-figure prizes to convince Americans to take a potentially lifesaving vaccine, research has shown that cash incentives may make the unvaccinated more likely to get their shots.

“We’re more than happy with the results,” DeWine, a Republican, said at a news conference this week. “This was just so important to our future as a state, our immediate future and our long-term future. Having more people vaccinated really allows us to get back to normal.”

Costello’s parents said they were fully vaccinated and had planned to get their children vaccinated by the end of the month. The lottery announcement, they said, prompted them to move the appointments up.

Bugenske, however, signed up for her jab as soon as she was eligible. Registering for the lottery when it was announced was “a win-win” she said, but she forgot about the drawing soon after — that is, until about five minutes before it was announced on live TV, when DeWine called.

Long before, Bugenske had urged her grandmother, who is in her 70s and lives in Michigan, to get the shot quickly as possible.

“She encouraged me all the time to get it,” Karen Bugenske said of her granddaughter. She added that she had never been opposed to the vaccine but “wasn’t in any hurry for it.”

“I would’ve gotten it,” she said, “but they wanted me to get it yesterday.”

In the end, she got both her Moderna shots and called her granddaughter with the good news.

“Having the deadlines for the Vax-a-Million is the same thing,” Bugenske said. “You just need someone to say, ‘Don’t put it off, just go and get it’.”

Abbigail Bugenske graduated from Michigan State in 2020 and began working at GE while studying for a graduate degree in aerospace engineering at Ohio State University. She has no plans to quit her job, she said, and after donating some of her winnings to charity, she’d like to invest.

“It’s been less than 24 hours,” she said. “This still hasn’t processed for me.”

She got the news while on her way to Cleveland to shop for a used car. She plans to go through with the purchase, rather than seek an upgrade.

“No, I’m not looking to buy a Ferrari,” she said.

Nationwide, the race to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible has taken on new urgency as more states continue to relax their pandemic-era public health measures.

About half the U.S. population has received at least one dose, but the average number of shots administered per day has fallen about 36 percent in the past month to 1.75 million.

In Ohio, 45 percent of residents have received at least one dose, a metric that slightly lags behind the nation overall. But officials insist the state would be in a worse place without DeWine’s high-profile giveaway initiative. Five days after its rollout, the Ohio Department of Health said the campaign had driven a 28 percent increase in the vaccination rate of those 16 and older.

However, in the past week, the state’s overall vaccination rate has fallen by about 3 percent.

The White House has praised the plan and during an appearance in Cleveland on Thursday, Biden applauded it again.

“Ohio has a new millionaire!” Biden said. “I tell you what, who wouldathunk it, a million bucks for getting a vaccine? But it’s working.”

breaking top story
Keene vaccination site moving to Maple Avenue
  • Updated

Keene’s COVID-19 vaccination site will move next week to an indoor facility on Maple Avenue, officials announced Thursday.

In addition, walk-in vaccinations — which have been available Mondays through Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m. — will end this weekend.

The current vaccination site on Krif Road, which is one of 11 state-run sites in New Hampshire, is an outdoor clinic with a drive-in-style setup.

Starting Tuesday, vaccinations will shift to 62 Maple Ave., formerly the Peerless Insurance Agency building. Signs will direct people where to park and to the building’s entrance.

Tricia Zahn, director of the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, which runs the site, said the indoor setup is ideal for the hot summer days ahead.

“It’s a lot easier to keep people warm than to keep them cool,” she said. “So moving indoors is very helpful for worker and volunteer safety, and also for vaccine safety. Since they are refrigerated, hot temperatures aren’t great for them.”

Anyone who has already made an appointment for Tuesday, June 1, or later will have their appointment at the new Maple Avenue site, according to a news release from Cheshire Medical Center, which is part of the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network.

Cheshire Medical recently bought the former Peerless property, with plans to establish a primary care residency program and house some clinical and administrative operations there.

At the new vaccination site, Zahn said, the setup will be similar to that of a blood drive.

People will be greeted at a registration desk to fill out their pre-vaccination questionnaire, just as they did before from their cars. Then, they’ll go to a vaccination station to be immunized and move to an observation area, where they’ll wait for 15 minutes to make sure they have no adverse reactions to the shot.

Staffing levels will be about what they are now, which is approximately 10 people from the National Guard and a handful of volunteers, according to Zahn.

Signs will be posted on Krif Road about the new location to alleviate confusion, Thursday’s news release from Cheshire Medical notes.

The Krif Road site opened in January, and had administered 68,638 doses of vaccine as of May 25, Zahn said.

The end of walk-in vaccinations Saturday comes two weeks after Gov. Chris Sununu announced that New Hampshire would open its state-run sites to walk-ins.

N.H. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Jake Leon said in an email Friday morning that this is because the state-run vaccination sites will no longer be administering first doses.

“All first doses scheduled for after June 1st will be administered at a participating healthcare provider or pharmacy,” he said. “With first doses no longer being administered at the State sites, they can no longer accept walk ins.”

This will not affect the Maple Avenue site’s operations, as it will continue to be run by the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network.

Anyone 12 and older can schedule a vaccination appointment at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling 2-1-1. In addition to the Maple Avenue site, people can also schedule appointments at participating local pharmacies.

This story has been updated with additional details.