Vaughan Rising Blog: Vaughan’s Restaurant Industry Maximizes the Moments of Opportunity
On March 17, 2020, the Government of Ontario declared a state of emergency to combat COVID-19. Measures included prohibiting organized events of more than 50 people, shutting down schools, and closing bars and restaurants.
The government offered restaurants lifelines along the way:
- Takeout and delivery from the beginning,
- Patio service in June, and
- Socially distanced dining room service in July.
Unfortunately, despite these measures, a Restaurants Canada survey conducted in July revealed that most restaurants were still losing money and could take a year or more to return to profitability.
In Vaughan, some restaurants have chosen to close either temporarily or permanently, but many have made adjustments to keep operating under the new rules. Other restaurants have taken a bolder approach. Not only have they stayed open, they maximized every opportunity to develop new products and services. Giro d’Italia, an Italian restaurant in Concord, is one example of the latter and they were willing to share their experience.
Five ways Giro D’Italia found opportunities amid pandemic uncertainty
1. Keeping up with world events and industry pivots
“We had expected something like the lockdown as several countries in Europe, including Spain, France and England, had already gone into lockdown. So, we had a feeling that it was coming to Canada too,” says Michele Pellegrini, Head Chef at Giro D’Italia Ristorante.
Yet the lockdown was still a pretty dramatic moment, filled with doubts and a cloudy future. Nobody really knew what was going to happen, whether the restaurant could survive, and even if the staff would decide to stay. The lockdown created a lot of questions.
The restaurant closed down with no end in sight, but Giro was not ready to give up. He confesses, “I’d been home for 10 days, but honestly after three days I was already very agitated. I am a very active person. I have to have something to do.”
About 15 to 20 days after the start of the lockdown, Michele spoke with a friend of his in Italy, at a restaurant where he used to work, and heard that they had started doing some takeout and catering.
2. Adapting current offerings to changing circumstances
Giro D’Italia also had clients asking why they weren’t doing takeout, saying, “We miss all your food.” The team decided to quickly come up with a short menu to fall in line with what many other restaurants were doing and to offer loyal clients the chance to have some of their dishes.
“I’m blessed because I have a fantastic staff,” explains Michele. He talked his takeout ideas over with them and asked how they felt. A few decided to give it a try.
Giro D’Italia had never done takeout before, and the staff didn’t know if their dishes could survive the delivery window. They experimented. Michele tells the story, “Every customer loves our shrimp and calamari. One day, we made a few portions and I drove around for 15 to 20 minutes with the fish in my car. It was completely soggy. Obviously, when you eat the food at home it must be the same. This is the first thing I discussed with the staff. We need to come up with some dishes that will be decent after being picked up or driven 20 minutes for delivery.”
They worried that if it wasn’t the same, they would lose their long-time customers. After some experimentation, they were able to create a selection of dishes that remained consistent after 15 to 20 minutes. Customers loved the new takeout-proof menu. Michele and his staff even expanded it to include new products such as family-sized meals and make-your-own pizza and pasta boxes.
3. Creating new offerings to meet emerging demand
In addition, Giro D’Italia staff started up Giro Mercato to meet the demand for Italian grocery staples. Giro Mercato evolved out of the existing takeout to accommodate requests from customers for grocery items. People were phoning and asking if Giro could provide yeast or a bottle of wine with their takeout order.
Instead of waiting for people to ask for additional products, they decided to offer the Giro Mercato service. “We came up with a list of groceries. Honestly, it was very good in terms of cost for the customers, because we’re not a market or grocery store, we only added about 10 cents to every product such as herbs and pasta. We started to sell our own pasta, which is something I’m really happy about. We made nice packages with homemade pasta and it started to sell,” shares Michele. “At the moment the ideas come from the request of the customers. We just adjusted our business idea around the situation.”
All of these steps were enough to hold on to core clients and keep the restaurant afloat, but, compared to before, business was still slow. However, this rare stretch of quiet time did have a silver lining. They developed a new supplier list, an inventory system, and experimented with new dishes.
4. Restructuring physical space to stay relevant and inviting
Then, as lockdown lifted, patio service became a possibility. Giro D’Italia didn’t have a patio, but they built one in the parking lot to maximize the opportunity. “We never had the chance to have a patio. Now the city has allowed us to have a patio for a few months. The first weekend was very successful, and the people enjoyed staying until late. Now we’re working on a lounge area, where people can chill out.”
With a lounge, people won’t need to come just to eat a full meal. They can also come after eating at home to sit and have a drink with appetizers and lounge music. It’s important to Michele to give people a chance to enjoy life in this situation that is new for all of us.
At the moment, Giro D’Italia is able to open for dine-in service at 50% capacity but no one knows how long that will last as the cooler weather arrives and the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic looms.
5. Continuing to re-evaluate and respond as circumstances evolve
If a second wave comes, restrictions will return. But Giro isn’t necessarily going to rely on the initiatives that worked during the first wave.
Michele admits, “I don’t know how the people will react. In the first wave, we had this big boom of takeout, this big boom of everybody starting to bake, cook at home, order wine. But if this happens again in another couple of months, I don’t know what the general reaction will be. Because the first wave was completely new, a situation that nobody had ever lived through, the reaction was built in progress. For the second one, I personally don’t think in general the people will have the same reaction. It will be more frustrating and depressive. It will be more complicated and harder to handle. As a business, you can have all the ideas you want, but if it’s not the right moment, it doesn’t work.”
It was the right moment for Giro’s takeout, grocery, and patio. He advises, “You need to just be flexible and adjust your work to the situation.”
Maintaining resilience in the face of future challenges
So that’s what’s next for Giro D’Italia: watching for the right moments and rolling with them. Already, since the interview in July, they saw an opportunity for a catering business and for offering personal chef services for home-based private events. The team is also working on some other top-secret ideas, but we’ll have to watch and wait to see more examples of this resilient Vaughan business pivoting, innovating, and doing what it takes to get to the other side.
The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.
The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business. The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.
Vaughan Rising Blog: COVID-19 Leadership Lessons from the City of Vaughan’s Mayor
Three Simple, Innovative Ways to Help Your Business Rise
Business leaders and entrepreneurs are getting creative through the ever-evolving COVID-19 business restrictions, making pivots to ensure their businesses make it through. The new Vaughan Rising blog series will feature case studies of businesses at the forefront and practical guidance on operating under the ‘new normal.’ Each business has different challenges and a different way to tackle them. Hopefully, these insights will provide inspiration for your own business pivot.
To kick off the series, we are sharing lessons from the City of Vaughan’s own adaptation story. This municipal government, under the leadership of Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, moved quickly and nimbly, like a business would. By pivoting and innovating, the City is doing what it takes to continue the important task of city-building while delivering high quality public services. Collectively, Vaughan staff developed 125 innovations and process improvements in the first three months of the pandemic.
These strategies will work for businesses of any size, across a variety of industries. Try integrating them into your business plans to help your business rise too.
The Mayor’s formula to ensure Vaughan continues to rise
1. Create strong foundations and action plans
COVID-19 did not catch Vaughan’s municipal team off guard. Since January, when COVID-19 took hold in China and the first case landed in Canada, Vaughan was aware and kept informed of the situation surrounding the virus, and quickly created a plan.
“We were ready,” says Mayor Bevilacqua. “We invest a lot of time in the City of Vaughan for emergency preparedness and I think that work really paid off.”
On March 17, taking strong, decisive action, Mayor Bevilacqua made a bold move and Vaughan became the first city in Ontario to declare a state of emergency. The Mayor’s declaration was based on intensive research and analysis combined with the desire to impress upon his citizens the seriousness of the situation. In hindsight, given how the pandemic has unfolded, the Mayor stands by his decision, affirming that, “it was the right call, at the right time, for the right reasons. As the world watched during those initial weeks of uncertainty, the City of Vaughan acted with a great deal of certainty.”
The City created a well-thought-out action plan, executed in rapid succession over the next few weeks, including:
- suspending by-laws to allow for 24-hour delivery to stores in Vaughan with no restrictions on loading or unloading commercial vehicles, transport trucks and other vehicles.
- waiving late penalty charges on property tax bills.
- expanding waste collection services.
- closing City Hall, playgrounds and other city facilities to the public.
2. Find a way to continue delivering services and communications without interruption
While many of the City’s facilities shut down, the work of running the city certainly did not slow down. Vaughan needed to find a new way to do almost everything. Mayor Bevilacqua was not daunted by the task. He explains, “we always lead with innovation. This is at the heart of our city-building efforts and COVID-19 provided an opportunity for our team to get creative in thinking of different ways to deliver services, programs and communications during a global pandemic.”
Mayor Bevilacqua chairs the Ready, Resilient and Resourceful Committee of Council, which he created to deal with COVID-19 and the city’s economic recovery. At the committee’s inaugural meeting on June 23, staff reported on all the measures taken so far and the impact. “What you find is a lot of creativity and innovation did take place,” notes Mayor Bevilacqua.
Vaughan has adapted many of the City’s functions, such as:
- the launch of an online building permits portal.
- the switch to virtual electronic-participation committee and council meetings.
- the complete automation of procurement services.
- working with industry leaders to identify and prioritize capital projects that comply with provincial directives and essential workplaces.
City-building also continues. During the first quarter of 2020, Vaughan issued 656 permits valued at over $125 million. More than 12,300 inspections took place from January to March, well exceeding the same period for the last three years. The $1.8 billion Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital – Canada’s first smart technology hospital – continues to be built and is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021.
Keeping mental health, entertainment and self-care in mind, Vaughan Public Libraries was the first library service in Ontario to offer curbside pickup for residents – with more than 47,000 items taken out already. The number of people registering for a library card online is up by a remarkable 130 per cent, notes the Mayor. The first-ever virtual Canada Day celebration was a success.
Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development department also pivoted, shifting its resources to support the hardest-hit segments of the business community by:
- advising on the Vaughan Business Action Plan.
- launching a website to support Vaughan businesses (vaughanbusiness.ca) with a dedicated COVID-19 resources page.
- expanding email communications.
- putting all hands on deck to respond to a flood of inquiries from businesses.
Mayor Bevilacqua notes, “because we are really the front-line government, people knock on our door before anybody else’s door and so we found that we were helping people not only with our own municipal programs, but also with provincial and federal programs.”
In his 30-plus years of public service, Mayor Bevilacqua has rarely seen a time where such a high number of government programs were rolled out in such short order. He explains, “this creates some benefits, but also some challenges as well, as people try to figure out if they qualify. A thousand businesses approached the Vaughan Economic and Cultural Development department, and they were all helped. This means that we relieved a little bit of the stress that they were going through both financially and emotionally during this time.”
3. Take a long-term approach
What insights does the Mayor have for other business leaders? He listed several strategies he believes made the difference for Vaughan.
- Make sure the health of your customers (in Vaughan’s case: citizens) is first and foremost.
- Mitigate some of the risks.
- Be very clear about what you want to achieve.
- Take a long-term approach.
Mayor Bevilacqua recommends exercising a decision-making process that is informed by creating a variety of scenarios with different situations, circumstances and outcomes that may emerge. He adds, “I think one of the reasons we have been successful is because ours is a long-term approach. When psychologically you ready the team in that way, positive results occur. I am very proud of the way our team here at the City of Vaughan has responded and I see a light at the end of the tunnel. We were first in many areas of COVID-19 because we actually were prepared, and preparation is key in dealing with an emergency like COVID-19.”
Rising toward the future
The faith of Vaughan’s residents in the well-being of the community and economy, and the City’s comprehensive and holistic approach, have contributed greatly toward Vaughan’s success.
Mayor Bevilacqua is proud of the city: “It is amazing to see all the great things that we’ve been able to achieve, and how strong our economy has remained throughout this crisis. There’s no question about the fact that some businesses and individuals have been adversely affected by the crisis, but it could have been a lot worse. I think the fact that we have a very strong foundation here in the city gave us the strength to overcome.”
Learn more about how the City of Vaughan supports business resilience during COVID-19.
For help with your business, book a consultation with the Economic and Cultural Development (ECD) team.
The Vaughan Rising Blog
In a post-COVID world, businesses need to be nimble and creative to keep operating. For most, this means making changes to day-to-day operations. For some, this means rethinking the whole business model.
The Vaughan Rising Blog is a resource that aims to help Vaughan Businesses adapt to a post-COVID economy. The series will highlight bold and innovative ways that the Vaughan business community is demonstrating resilience and practical resources contributed by subject matter experts.
New blogs will be posted most Tuesdays through to January 2021.
Entrepreneurial Spirit Grows in Vaughan: Summer Company 2020
Each year, the City of Vaughan offers the Summer Company program in association with the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) to prepare young entrepreneurs with a pipeline of tools, skills, connections and resources required to succeed. Through the Summer Company program, Economic and Cultural Development has supported more than 220 students since the beginning of the program in 2002.
This year, four successful applicants were chosen to participate in this annual program, which provides students aged 15 to 29 years old with access to business advisory services and workshops to help them develop important skills, and mentorship from Vaughan’s business community. Participants will also receive up to $3,000 in provincial grant funding to invest in their businesses.
Due to COVID-19, Summer Company training will be available online through a web portal, which contains instructional videos, worksheets and resources developed by the City’s Economic and Cultural Development department in partnership with the City of Richmond Hill and Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs. Throughout the summer, students will also participate in Digital Boost workshops, meetings with mentors through the Vaughan Business Café and one-on-one business consultations with City staff.
2020 Summer Company Students
The selected student ventures for this year’s Summer Company program represent a number of industries including professional services, information and communications technology, and recreation.
Eric Pimentel | HIIT Excellence
HIIT Excellence is an Online Personal Training company focused on providing & developing increased body confidence for Women in their early – mid twenties through exercise, from the comfort of their own home.
Alan Nemirovski | Slingshot Media Solutions
Slingshot Media Solutions offers comprehensive, personalized social media consultation and management, as well as custom digital content creation, for small, local business and nonprofit organizations.
Anthony Tovbis | Best Press Printing
Best Press Printing manufactures custom designed t-shirts and other apparel for sale to local businesses to help them establish brand recognition and to support their promotional efforts.
Ananya Vishwanath | VQueues
VQueues is a virtual queueing platform that aims to eliminate the inconvenience of lineups by enabling businesses to create a virtual queue for customers to join remotely.
For more information on this year’s Summer Company students, browse the program directory here.
Vaughan Small Business Resiliency Program
Are you a local small business owner with a brick-and-mortar location? Gain access to training and mentorship to help move your business forward by growing your online presence.
Digital Boost supports local small business owners in finding new opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Scale your marketing efforts, strengthen your online presence and deliver compelling content that helps you keep in touch with your current customers and connects you with new business opportunities.
Participants will receive tailored training and mentorship in areas such as:
- Digital marketing skills and strategies
- Launching or improving an e-commerce store
- Developing new product lines or services
- Developing new revenue models, such as curbside pick-up or drop-shipping
- Using data to drive new business opportunities
- Developing financial resiliency
What you can expect to receive:
- Training tailored to help you adapt your business
- Access to free business advisory services
- Access to mentorship from a community of local small business owners
- Tools and resources to help improve your business’ digital presence
- Opportunity to apply for a grant of up to $5,000 in provincial and regional funding to implement your new business strategies
Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development Department has partnered with General Assembly, an internationally recognized provider of award-winning education specializing in today’s most in-demand skills, to provide expert training and instruction to help program participants reach their business goals, as well as mentorship opportunities to bring their new digital marketing strategies to life.
Digital Boost Vaughan Small Business Resiliency Program is powered by the Starter Company Plus program, which is funded by the Province of Ontario, along with an additional contribution from the Regional Municipality of York’s Innovation Investment Reserve Fund. We thank the Province of Ontario, York Region, program sponsor The Hub, General Assembly, and the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce for their support.
The Hub is an exclusive, shared office space in Vaughan where entrepreneurs and independent or mobile professionals work in an inspiring and productive co-working atmosphere. All Digital Boost program participants will receive the following offers from The Hub:
- 50% off storage for three months*
- 75% off showroom space for existing customers*
- free mailbox rental for one year when you become a customer at The Hub*
- Two weeks of free co-working for grant recipients
*terms and conditions may apply
Registration for the first cohort of Digital Boost is now open! Once your registration has been received, staff will get in touch to provide you with important program details, including dates for training and workshops. For more information on the Digital Boost Business Resiliency Program, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration closes on Friday, September 25th, 2020.
This program is powered by Starter Company Plus and the City of Vaughan.
**Please note: Not all program participants will receive a provincial grant, but all are eligible to participate in training.
Grant Eligibility Criteria
Eligible entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to apply for up to $5,000 in micro-grant funding to support the execution of their updated marketing and adaptation strategies.
Eligible businesses must:
- be located in and operate in Vaughan
- As of March 2020, have operated out of a commercial storefront or office space at a location other than the applicant’s principal residence
- have been in full operation as of March 2020
- have access to at least 3 months working capital as of February 1, 2020 (either cash savings or access to credit)
- have not previously received a Starter Company or Starter Company Plus grant
- be an independent business and operate at arm’s length from family business ventures
- have less than 10 full-time employees (or equivalents as of March 1, 2020)
Businesses not eligible to receive funding include:
- Businesses that are home-based or operate strictly online
- Entrepreneurs who have previously received a Starter Company or Starter Company Plus grant
- Incorporated businesses that are controlled directly or indirectly by a person who would not be eligible for a Starter Company Plus Award
- Commissioned sales
- Not-for-profit or charitable enterprises
- Multi-level marketing ventures
To read the complete grant eligibility criteria, and to learn more about the application process and program requirements, please refer to the program outline.
Test or demonstrate your innovative product or service in a real-life setting with help from these commercialization programs.
Build in Canada Innovation Program
The Build in Canada Innovation Program, an initiative of the federal government, is designed to help innovators land a first major reference sale, sell their innovation while keeping the intellectual property, get their innovation tested in a real-life setting, and gain feedback to help get products to market faster. The program also pays up to $500,000 for non-military innovations and up to $1 million for military innovations.