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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.

 

Amazon opening two new delivery stations in Vaughan

Amazon.com, Inc. has announced plans to create 2,500 jobs across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, hundreds of which will be in Vaughan.

The company is opening two delivery stations in Vaughan. Amazon recently opened a 209,000-square foot station at 600 Tesma Way. A 193,000-square foot facility will open in 2021 at Keyes Court.

Delivery stations power the last mile of Amazon’s order fulfillment process. Packages are transported from fulfillment and sortation centres to delivery stations to be loaded onto delivery vehicles to reach the end customer.  These investments are part of the evolution of e-commerce that has given rise to new distribution centres such as Voila (Sobeys), article.com, FedEx, Home Depot, Costco and the Walmart distribution centre which broke ground this past August.

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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.

Governments help Vaughan food processors become more innovative and competitive

The Governments of Canada and Ontario are providing more than $5.4 million through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to help food processing businesses improve food safety, increase labour productivity and enable better access to markets.

Of the 75 funded projects, three are Vaughan-based:

  • Arla Foods will receive up to $200,000 to purchase and install a new Paneer processing and packaging line at their facility to improve overall product quality and consistency and to reduce labour costs and increase production capacity.
  • Leone Fine Foods will receive up to $23,937 to hire a consultant to develop a food safety program (HACCP) and to resurface the flooring to meet food safety requirements while working towards the HACCP certification.
  • Quality Cheese will receive up to $100,000 to implement a first-time ERP system, for greater business efficiency and better reporting for business decisions.

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Vision Profile Extrusions receives funding to integrate leading edge robotics and automation

Woodbridge-based Vision Profile Extrusions has received a $2.3-million repayable contribution from FedDev Ontario to adopt leading-edge processes, integrating first-in-Canada and first-in-industry capabilities in robotics and automation.

This will allow the company to increase capacity of its polymer and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) processing line, strengthening its position in key export markets including the United States and Latin America. Through this project, Vision Profile Extrusions expects to create 36 skilled jobs and maintain 30 jobs in Woodbridge.

Vision Profile Extrusions manufactures the world’s third-most produced synthetic PVC for use in the installation of windows and doors, primarily for construction. The company is a member of the Vision Group, an industry leader in North America, with more than 970 employees in Canada.

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The Vaughan Rising Podcast

Vaughan, Ontario is the place to be. The city’s prime location, business-friendly climate and bold approach to city-building are creating unprecedented opportunities for businesses and residents. Host Michelle Samson takes a deep dive into Vaughan’s most exciting projects and businesses with the leaders making sure Vaughan keeps rising.

Seasons

Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Subway Station with towers in the background

Season 1: City Building and Mega Developments

Vaughan is the commercial real estate market to watch. Mega developments, a business-friendly climate and a bold approach to city-building are creating unprecedented opportunities for businesses and residents.

Woman wearing a mask and visor

Season 2: COVID Adaptation Stories

We’re talking to Vaughan businesses that are getting creative during COVID. They’re pivoting. They’re innovating. They’re doing what it takes to make it through to the other side.

  • July 16, 2019

    Vaughan’s economy is booming, citizen and business satisfaction are at 97 per cent and 92 per cent respectively, and mega projects like a brand new downtown and Canada’s first smart hospital are rising from the ground. What made this community transform from a typical suburb to a leader in city-building? Vaughan’s formula for progress is revealed by the City’s chief spokesperson and champion: Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua.

    Read the blog

  • August 20, 2019

    Growth drives business and real estate, and Vaughan is booming. The city of Vaughan had the distinction of being Canada’s fastest-growing municipality between 1996 and 2006, and the people, companies and jobs just keep coming. Vaughan’s Director of Economic and Cultural Development, Dennis Cutajar, tells the story behind the growth and why this city’s location is such a sweet spot.

    Read the blog

  • September 3, 2019

    The Vaughan Enterprise Zone (VEZ) is 1,660 hectares (4,100 acres) of huge opportunity. It’s home to Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CP Rail) largest intermodal terminal, 607 hectares (1,500 acres) of developable land, and big names like Home Depot of Canada Inc., Longo Brothers Fruit Market Inc. and Adidas Canada – and that’s before the Highway 427 extension is built which will increase mobility (opening in 2020).

    The City of Vaughan’s Director of Economic and Cultural Development, Dennis Cutajar, gives an overview while CP Rail’s Managing Director of Domestic Intermodal Sales and Marketing, Rob Nichols, connects the dots on the advantages of having an intermodal terminal within the VEZ.

    Read the blog

  • September 17, 2019

    In part two of our look at the Vaughan Enterprise Zone (VEZ) – home to Canadian Pacific Railway’s largest intermodal terminal, big lots, big buildings, and big names like Home Depot of Canada Inc., Longo Brothers Fruit Market Inc. and Adidas Canada – Craig Williamson, Gary Williamson and Pat Viele from CBRE break down the VEZ’s powerful value proposition for office and industrial users.

    Read the blog

  • October 3, 2019

    Niagara University is an American post-secondary institution that has been offering professional education programs in Ontario for more than 30 years. After a year-long searching process, the university found a permanent Canadian location within Vaughan’s emerging downtown – the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. Niagara University President Father James Maher gives us a lesson in site selection and why Vaughan was the place to be for the university.

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  • October 17, 2019

    Vaughan, a city of about 335,000 people, is welcoming the Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital in 2020. Back in 2004, the need for a hospital in the city was clear and work began to build York Region’s first new hospital in 30 years. President and CEO Altaf Stationwala shares how Mackenzie Health saw an opportunity to be on the vanguard of healthcare and become Canada’s first smart hospital.

    Read the blog

  • October 29, 2019

    Cortel Group was an early believer in the potential of Vaughan’s new downtown and got development in the area moving with two 37-storey residential towers. Cortel Group President and CEO Mario Cortellucci and Head of Design and Sales Romina Cortellucci share the backstory of how Expo City seemed like a sure bet when the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre was barely off the ground.

    Read the blog

  • November 12, 2019

    The British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI) has a 34-hectare (84-acre) parcel of land in the VMC, managed by its real estate arm, QuadReal. BCI recently revealed this parcel will become Revel Park, a master-planned community of diverse neighbourhoods designed to inspire creativity. QuadReal Vice President of Development Mike Reel makes the case for thinking beyond bricks and mortar.

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  • November 26, 2019

    The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is a new kind of downtown beckoning a new kind of community space. The City of Vaughan, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and SmartCentres put their heads together and came up with a state-of-the-art, urban community centre that will serve thousands of residents in Vaughan’s emerging downtown and beyond. The YMCA of Greater Toronto’s President and CEO, Medhat Mahdy, shares how it came together and what we can expect from the YMCA’s newest location.

    Read the blog

  • December 10, 2019

    SmartCentres is known for developing and operating big-box stores and plazas, but in the VMC, they’re working on a very different kind of vision: an urban mixed-use community called SmartVMC. SmartCentres founder Mitch Goldhar explains why he broke out of his low-rise comfort zone, and where he plans to take his legacy project.

    Read the blog

  • September 1, 2020

    For season 2 of the podcast, we’re talking to Vaughan business leaders and entrepreneurs who are getting creative through the ever-evolving COVID-19 restrictions.

    We kick off with the City of Vaughan’s own adaptation story. Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua explains how the City took a cautious approach yet still managed to thrive thanks to a culture of resourcefulness that resulted in 125 innovations and process improvements.

    Read the blog

  • September 15, 2020

    On March 17, 2020, the Government of Ontario declared a State of Emergency to combat COVID-19. Measures included closing bars and restaurants and while they have been offered lifelines like takeout and patio service, physical distancing restrictions are still in place.

    Some restaurants opted to temporarily or permanently close. Many made adjustments to keep business going under the new rules. Others, like Vaughan’s Giro D’Italia, took every opportunity and ran with it.

    Read the blog

Kontrol receives government grant to accelerate new COVID-19 testing technology

Kontrol Energy has received approval for an initial government grant of $50,000 from the National Research Council of Canada to accelerate its new COVID-19 testing technology, the Kontrol BioCloud® analyzer.

Drawing from its extensive industry experience in air emissions and air quality monitoring, Kontrol is developing a new technology designed to detect and alert for COVID-19, in real-time, through rapid on-site air sampling and detection of aerosol and droplet encapsulated viruses in indoor and outdoor environments.

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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.

LiUNA Local 183 building a new headquarters in Vaughan