Windy Shores Café gains momentum with digital presence
Thunder Bay’s Windy Shores Café was borne of a dinner conversation between Natasha Allan, her husband Kyle and his brother Cory. Cory was relocating his shop KÜHL Interiors to Marina Park and envisioned a coffee shop linked to his store. “(Cory) was asking if we knew anyone who would want to open a coffee shop,” says Allan. “My husband and I looked at each other and said why don't we open a business? It was kind of spur-of-the-moment.”
The Allans felt like it would be a good new challenge to undertake together. They started researching coffee and worked with a barista from a local coffee shop who walked them through everything from design to daily operations. “It was a lot to learn, but we got there,” says Allan.
Naturally, this was 2019, a different time and a different world where pandemic was still a word reserved for history or sci-fi and “getting there” meant opening the doors to a business open not grappling with shutdowns to slow the spread of a deadly virus and recalibrating to the steep learning curve of a rapidly accelerated digital world. It didn’t take long for a spur-of-the-moment decision to turn into a bigger challenge than the pair could’ve imagined.
“Being a brand new business, we didn’t have the capital or revenue coming in to just randomly get a website and have e-commerce and all of that,” says Allan. “We never intended to have online ordering or any of that but that seemed to be the way that you had to go with COVID.”
Allan had been trying to get a grant through Digital Main Street, a program that combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future. She says she missed out the first two times the program ran but by the time they received the Digital Transformation Grant this year, they had a better idea about the coffee shop’s digital identity.
“We didn't end up using it for e-commerce,” says Allan, pointing out that the business is located in a touristy area along the waterfront so customers tend to reflect that. “We’re more of a tourist destination.” Now, says Allan, the focus is on building a digital identity to help visitors know it’s there. “We’ve been using (the grant) to get some stock photos and working with the social media consultants to learn like a little more about like he algorithms of Instagram and Facebook and how they can be used to promote your business.”
Allan says it’s been helpful given that social media doesn’t come naturally to her. She admits it’s not always easy and barely getting her footing before the pandemic hit didn’t help on the momentum front. But slowly, the Thunder Bay café is getting its name out there. “A little more advertising, a little better digitally but, yes, it’s definitely tough,” says Allan. “(social media) has helped us reach more of the younger crowd for sure… (we’re) just trying to keep that engagement happening.”
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.
Continued investment from the Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) has allowed the ongoing expansion the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital across Ontario.