Orillia’s Eclectic Cafe eyes 2020 as the year of the pivot
If 2020 could be defined by one word it’d most definitely be “pivot” says chef Melanie Robinson owner of Eclectic Cafe in Orillia.
The cafe, a seated affair spun out of and run by Melanie Robinson Catering, had only been open a handful of months when the pandemic forced it to shut its doors temporarily.
Couple that with the challenges of running a catering outfit when gatherings are illegal, and you’ve got a decidedly weird year.
“We were booked solid from mid-June until mid-October… now it's being rescheduled until 2021 or cancelling (so) that's been really difficult,” says Robinson. They did briefly offer curbside catering but the challenge was she was doing it all herself. “I had conversations with another local business owner that was trying to get through it by herself too and it's like when we first started this, our businesses, we were the sole person of our operation, we did everything.”
Then you progress. You grow and expand and add staff and support and you get room to take a step back and see your business for what you’ve built. “And going back to this like, holy crap, I have to do this all by myself again but my capacity from four years ago, starting at a farmer's market to today has increased by 10 times… I can't keep up,” says Robinson. It’s perspective and it’s required a rethink. What does working from a distance look like? How can you do food prep and still manage a business? What creativity does it require?
“So, yeah, you definitely have to pivot and take the good pieces of what you're trying and form it into a new model,” says Robinson.
Digital’s always been a part of that vision. Robinson understands the power of being out there (she won the Food Network’s Chopped Canada which helped raise her profile) and she’s used that to elevate her voice. She’s active on digital feeds like Facebook and Instagram and always makes a point to connect one-to-one with patrons whether they’re in the cafe or commenting on a post.
“They really know when I'm having a bad day… I’m not afraid to say,” she says. “I'm keeping it really honest and raw and I think people respond to that really well. And with having that social outlet, it's that one piece of normalcy in all of this that has still continued.”
For Eclectic Cafe, Digital Main Street, a program that combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities, offered a chance for a tune-up. An opportunity to pull in a Digital Service Squad member and comb through what she was already doing and what she could do better.
“Efficiency is key,” says Robinson. But not just efficiency, understanding the tools that are out there and how they fit within what your business is trying to do. Because it’s always changing. And sometimes that means pivoting.
For Eclectic Cafe, part of pivoting is finding new ways to connect online. Robinson recently filmed her own Facebook Live cooking show. The audio wasn’t working for the first part, but there’s that theme again: pivot. “This is a learning curve… we've moved from one thing to the next and figured it out,” she says. “You improve as you go.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19.