Peter Pan Bistro treads the line between Queen Street’s past and a digital future Chef Noah Goldberg managed to clinch one of his dream spots for a restaurant, re-establishing the decades old establishment Peter Pan bistro in the heart of Queen West. Now his greatest challenge is preserving the past while embracing the future.
When Noah Goldberg returned overseas from his understudy in the renowned London kitchens of Wild Honey and St. John he had a shortlist of Toronto spaces in mind. Peter Pan bistro at the corner of Peter and Queen sat near the top.
“There are three or four spaces I dreamt about when I was moving back and was like if I could ever grab one of those locations...” says Chef Noah Goldberg.
“You can’t get rooms like this in Toronto, it needed to be preserved,” says the entrepreneur pointing out all the original elements – the tin ceiling, the moulding, the bar top, the bar back – all of it heirlooms to the days when this section of the city was, quite literally, Toronto. “It’s basically got a 2016 body with an 1890 shell.”
It’s been a two and a half years since Noah took over the space and a year and a half since Peter Pan Bistro was officially “re-established”– the apex of the chef’s 12 year career that has taken him from the kitchens of Susur
Lee in Toronto to working under Chef Daniel Boulud in New York and across the Atlantic to the U.K.
But while Toronto’s foodie environment begs certain forgetfulness amongst diners, a constantly mutating form with new eateries spiking out haphazardly in all neighbourhoods, Noah wanted something rooted in history.
Peter Pan Bistro has proved to be the perfect conduit, but Noah doesn’t plan on standing still.
“I think restaurants are living things, I think it’s hard to start with a restaurant in its natural form and make it profitable, it’s a lot of adjusting and working,” he admits. “ think that I completely underestimated the digital end of that – just the kinds of hats I would wear in here...that was sort of neglected.”
He points out that while the digital side has proved to be a lot of work, it’s a critical component of the business.
“It’s a job that needs to be taken seriously, it’s not just a sub-job for someone to do and jump on, it has to be a choreographed thing,” says Noah.
While the backend transactional side is still a mix of paperwork and cloud services, he’s focused his efforts on the frontend digital components using YP Dine, the Yellow Pages-run infrastructure – to host the website and keep the online elements in check. It also helps them keep the online menu consistent with what they’re offering. They have used loyalty programs in the past through Bookenda but the system is being updated by YP currently. The website is plugged into Google Analytics to get an idea of how visitors are finding and using the site.
But it’s social media that has proven to be one of the restaurant’s greatest digital assets.
“When I did my pop up and I talked about the idea of opening a restaurant for six months on the second floor of a bar with no storefront,” he says. “50 years ago people only knew you by walking by your store looking in your window and figuring out who you were –now you can be cooking out of a backyard fire pit or wherever you want to be and still get your voice out to a targeted group of people that are going to want to come.”
And it’s through this digital lens that Noah is able to preserve the past while still looking forward.
“I think it’s important to have a clear strategy when you’re starting and understanding the brand you want to project and what you want people to see and be targeted towards that and organized, ” he says. “It’s not a very difficult thing to execute, it’s just a matter of staying on brand and understanding what you’re try to do.”
A butcher who wants his meat to look appetizing; a gallery that wants an artist’s colours to be reflected as intended; a resident who doesn’t like how the furniture looks in her unit. Their lighting needs differ but all three have gone through Lumicrest to get the best LED lights for their environment.
Partners (in business and in life) David Geldart and Mieke Geldart explain that lighting is what impacts the colours you see and feel around you. (In the case of the resident, her newly installed lights had lacked red content.) David explains that few competitors focus on high colour rendering the way they do.
The Geldarts have been doing online sales for about eight years. It’s the brick-and-mortar storefront that’s new to them and with that comes a need to reach a new local audience. Towards that objective, they have signed on with the city’s Digital Main Street initiative.
Before Lumicrest, David worked in digital animation, special effects and web design for 20 years, but ultimately sought work with something “tangible and applicable to the real world.”
He had actually built the Lumicrest website for a client who then backed out of the business. The Geldarts took over and soon added a customizable WordPress WooCommerce plugin to facilitate online sales.
To help potential clients find them, David says they made good use of search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and targeted Google ads. “We get significant traffic through Google AdWords,” he says. “Just for an experiment, we shut it off for a month and the phone stopped ringing. We turned it on and never turned it off again.”
But finding them is not enough, explains David. “Lighting seems fairly straightforward but it isn’t as straightforward as it seems…. LED lights bring up a lot of questions and people start looking into it but they don’t really understand.”
To that end, the Geldarts created YouTube videos using Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere to help clients understand basic lighting terminology, colour temperatures and how to determine the desired beam angles.
David says with stores like Home Depot, customers may only get one option and may not even be clear what it is they’re purchasing.
For that reason, Lumicrest started working directly with art galleries, for whom lighting is a key part of presentation. “If we could get art galleries on board who are very fussy about good lighting, we could demonstrate critical application,” says David.
Just over a year ago, the Geldarts decided to open up a store in Parkdale in order to have a space for customers to come in and engage with different lighting options and effects.
But how to let customers know they’re there? It’s not the sort of shop passersby might wander into and come out of with LED lights.
This is where Digital Main Street steps in. The Geldarts have signed on with the City of Toronto’s new initiative in order to connect with other businesses and those in need of their services, as well as to expand their fluency with certain digital tools that could boost local sales.
“We have a physical space where people can come and play and we want people to take advantage of that,” says David.
The Geldarts’ next steps are to expand their use of social media as well as to increase segmented email marketing using proprietary software. They’re also looking forward to sharing with potential customers digital representations of their environment under different lighting options using software called DIALux.
“Technology permeates everything we do.”
Janet Wright left a career in municipal politics on a lark in 2013 to launch FloorPlay Socks in an unused retail space on Queen Street West at the front of her husband’ s office for his video production company.
“My husband Mark, decided he was going to rent it out, he said ‘ you can have it for six months, let’ s see what happens,’ ” recalls Janet. It was a complete gamble on a burgeoning playful sock trend that was only just starting to take hold. “My original plan was if socks didn’ t work out, I’ d move on to something else.
”Mark gave her a small loan and in June she opened her doors.
“By September I’d paid him back,” she says. “It just started growing... I don’ t even know why, maybe because it's easy (to buy someone socks) or because we love them –I always say ‘ you could have a bad hair day and still buy a pair of socks.’
”Within six months she knew she had landed on something special but before she plotted out future growth, she turned her efforts towards launching an online store.
“I think it’ s important that every store has an online presence even if you don’ t sell online... just show your products off, take pictures, put them up every day,” says Janet adding that she uses Shopify to host her store. “We've shipped as far away as Australia... we ship everywhere.”
Over the past three years the store has expanded into two other locations – one just north of Eglinton on Yonge and another in Hamilton. But keeping pace with the expansion means staying in contact with all the other stores. FloorPlay enlisted in a cloud-based system to communicate between stores.
“I can be at home work at home, I could technically be anywhere in the world,” she says.
She also tracks sales trends, an important metric that has made the Queen West shop the go-to destination for Toronto’ s quirk sock needs.
“Our point of sales Vend breaks it down by brand – by gender in brand, by category within brand – so I can tell you any given day how many socks we sell,” she says. “It’ s good because I can see trends, I can tell you from my perspective what is no longer the trend... I’ m constantly buying.”
The majority of the products come from small Canadian or American designers, many coming directly to her. She also sources suppliers by researching up-and-coming sock startups.
Social media is also a critical part of the business, something her kids have shown her the ropes with. It helps her connect with clients and expand her footprint.
“People come in and will say ‘ can I take a picture?’ and ‘ I’ ll say only if you tag us,’ ” she says. In today’ s world of Google search rankings and online marketing, those tags become a commodity in-and-of themselves.
“As far as the social media side, you’ ve got to do it, you’ ve got to be out there,” she says. “People will look for you and if you’ re not there, they'll find someone else.”