The outside looking in


It’s already been four months since PGB closed.

Being away from the foodservice business has frankly been a relief.  Those businesses that are continuing to survive and even thrive…wow, I mean, it is really impressive.

During this time away from being in the business directly, it has been interesting to watch what is happening in the industry and the trends. Here are some of my observations:

  • No news here, but so many places are closed and boarded up now, and with the wage and rent subsidies ending later this year, I assume, there will be more. Space is widely available but even with the vaccination rate increasing, a lot of uncertainty remains for people thinking about venturing into foodservice;
  • Many restaurants and bakeries that were around before the pandemic enhanced or added online ordering for takeout and delivery. Some decided to use only the food delivery services like UBER Eats but a lot of places started using technology that encourages pick up directly from the establishment, such as TOCK, Ambassador, and TouchBistro – or plain old phone calls or emails directly to the business. Check out Scaramouche, Bar Mercurio or La Palma for examples of these additions to websites, post March 2020.
  • Some really popular places have offered modest advance ordering functionality (fixed packages available to buy online, delivered occasionally) but overall have relied on their customers to continue to visit their locations in person. The very popular – and delicious- Blackbird Bakery is a good example of this.
  • Some places offering advance orders have clearly weighed the cost of offering a wide selection of menu items, assortment and timing with the labour costs of doing so. For example, the new Creamery X posts its weekly offerings every Monday at 9:30 am and when it sells out, that’s it for the week. Similarly the amazing Edulis posts its weekly Friday-Saturday-Sunday menu every Monday at 6 pm and when all the reservations (all for pick up) have been sold, they too are done for the week. These strategies make a lot of sense; we learned at PGB that for every accommodation to customers’ timing/quantity/selection requests, there was a cost in additional catering desk, bakers’ hours or customer service time required. So it is smart when businesses figure out what they can profitably do – and do just that.
  • In new businesses, there is a focus on single items such as Gertie’s Peanut Butter Pies; COPS mini doughnuts; and artisanal ice cream at any of the new ice cream places.
  • Both existing and new businesses are getting creative about managing space costs, with storefronts and kitchens being shared, and in some cases, space that was once used by now-closed establishments being temporarily or permanently used by adjacent businesses.
  • There has been a pivoting to manufacturing and distributing Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) such as General Assembly Pizza started early in the pandemic.
  • I’ve noticed growth in vegan/plant-based offerings, from the planned large expansion of Toronto’s Globally Local to the transformation of one of the world’s #1 restaurants, Eleven Madison Park, to an entirely plant based menu.
  • But on the other side of the trend spectrum, there is an appetite for comfort foods with new businesses opening up offering an array of smash burgers, decadent doughnuts, previously unheard of ice cream flavours, and more sourdough bread that we ever imagined being able to order.
  • Beverages have exploded too and again across the spectrum from a proliferation of new alcohol free options to cute bottled cocktails for two as part of prix fixe menu options available for pick up or delivery.

All to say: there are many encouraging signs for the foodservice industry. Even now, with the COVID case counts still high in Ontario, there is such resilience and entrepreneurial spirit on display. I can only imagine how exciting it will be when we are all vaccinated and our healthcare workers are able to breathe again.




About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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