A yr in the past, the Rosemont Markets scattered all through Portland and its suburbs had been reopening, and the workers was attempting to determine methods to arrange on-line ordering, curbside pickup and residential supply for individuals cautious of buying throughout a world pandemic. It was the start, says John Naylor, co-founder of the enterprise, of “an actual wild trip.”
However right this moment, Naylor can look again on the previous yr and breathe a sigh of aid. Not solely did his markets survive the coronavirus, they thrived. The final three fiscal quarters, he stated, have been the markets’ greatest three quarters ever.
“This time final yr, when you requested me, I’d be, like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be in enterprise subsequent month,’” he stated.
The previous yr has been devastating to many small companies in Maine, and eating places have been among the many hardest hit. However another food-related companies have really accomplished nicely, both due to their pandemic-friendly enterprise fashions or as a result of they had been in a position to present individuals caught at dwelling with what they wanted, from recent seafood to meals delivered proper to their doorways.
Enterprise house owners emphasised that they understand they’re, to an amazing extent, the beneficiaries of luck, timing and circumstance, and have nice empathy for eating places and different companies which can be nonetheless hurting.
Firstly of the pandemic, Mainers who had been apprehensive about crowds and lengthy strains flocked to small, native grocers to inventory their pantries.
“Folks had been panic shopping for,” Naylor recalled. “It began to get nearly an excessive amount of for the workers, after which you would see the workers begin to get nervous concerning the pandemic themselves and holding them protected. That grew to become our No. 1 precedence.”
The shops arrange sanitizing stations, organized site visitors stream, established a masks requirement, and put up Plexiglas obstacles between clients and workers. Rosemont created an internet site for on-line ordering, and began providing curbside pickup and residential supply. The shops had closed from late March by way of early Might, however with these adjustments in place, after they reopened “enterprise actually began to get higher, fairly a bit higher,” Naylor stated.
The corporate has a system that tracks clients and the way a lot they’re shopping for.
“Our buyer visits went down however our basket sizes went up,” Naylor stated. “That meant our clients had been coming in, they had been simply shopping for extra after they had been coming in. They needed to buy much less, they usually additionally thought we had been protected.”
Beer and wine gross sales had been particularly excessive. Folks weren’t going to eating places, so Rosemont noticed a lift in gross sales of ready meals and within the common worth of a bottle of wine. “We go to a restaurant, and we’ll spend $25-$30 on a bottle of wine,” Naylor stated. “(Clients) are available in to us they usually can get a bottle for $13 or $14 they usually’re, like, ‘Oh, I’ll simply take two.’ I believe there was lots of that.”
Timing additionally helped. The yr earlier than COVID-19 hit, Rosemont had opened a centralized facility on Stevens Avenue in Portland, growing its baking capability and house for storage and refrigeration, and making it simpler to broaden manufacturing of ready meals.
However there have been different elements at work boosting the underside line. Naylor stated lots of his clients who usually transfer south for the winter stayed put final yr. On the similar time, extra individuals moved to Maine, additional increasing his buyer base. Usually, Naylor stated, enterprise slows by 20 to 30 p.c from January by way of March. This yr, for the primary time, that didn’t occur.
“The primary quarter this yr was the primary time we haven’t misplaced cash in that quarter,” he stated. “We really made slightly cash. It’s the primary time I’ve gotten to late February and March and never gotten slightly nervous, nail biting.”
Wanting again, the Portland Meals Co-op on Congress Road noticed “persistently good gross sales all through the pandemic,” stated basic supervisor John Crane. However to start with, the pendulum swung wildly.
The second and third week of March 2020, Crane stated, “had been most likely our two busiest weeks ever. Someday we needed to shut the shop early as a result of we had been actually operating out of meals on our cabinets, and we had been operating out of grocery luggage. We had been operating out of every thing.”
The got here the COVID-19 guidelines, together with strict buyer caps. From April by way of June, lengthy strains of shoppers stretched out the door, ready their flip to buy. “Our gross sales had been very down at the moment,” Crane stated. “We couldn’t get sufficient individuals by way of the doorways in a day to even come near the gross sales that we had been used to doing.”
After these caps had been relaxed, gross sales elevated once more. Like Rosemont, the co-op discovered it was welcoming fewer clients, however they had been shopping for extra, “and that has continued proper to at the present time.”
“Our common cart dimension quadrupled early within the pandemic, and it’s nonetheless double what it was,” Crane stated. “It really helped us get by way of the acute caps.”
The small dimension and impartial nature of the shop enabled the workers to adapt rapidly, and that additionally helped entice new clients. Crane stated the co-op was one of many first native shops to create a devoted buying hour within the morning for the aged and immunocompromised. On-line buying and curbside pickup for the co-op’s member-owners started in July. And the farmers who promote their produce to the shop helped preserve the cabinets stuffed all yr lengthy.
“We had extra meals extra persistently, I believe, than lots of different companies,” Crane stated. “After we couldn’t discover, say greens or tomatoes, our native farmers actually got here by way of. There have been only a few disruptions within the local food supply chain.”
The payoff? The co-op noticed a 6 p.c enhance in gross sales in 2020 over the yr earlier than. And it signed up 570 new member-owners in 2020, about 100 greater than in a typical yr. And that was with none of the standard membership drives or particular promotions.
Joe Fournier, proprietor of A&C Grocery in Portland, says his gross sales went up about 35 p.c in 2020 over 2019 – however he has greater than the pandemic to thank for it.
Joe’s identify would possibly as nicely be Job, as a result of his struggles the previous 4 years can solely be described as biblical. Three years’ value of roadwork in entrance of his grocery and sandwich store on Washington Avenue – dump vehicles blocking the streets, an enormous gap at his entrance entrance – had left his enterprise teetering on the sting. Then got here the pandemic.
About six months earlier than the pandemic, Fournier stopped promoting groceries to give attention to sandwiches. He arrange a shorter menu, by no means greater than seven sandwiches at a time, to dramatically cut back overhead prices. It was the right transfer. The pandemic arrived, and folks needed takeout. Fournier was prepared: He arrange a takeout window and a drive-through.
“There have been only a few different companies open with respect to eating places, and so I used to be actually, actually busy,” Fournier stated. “Beginning in April, it was simply bonkers how busy I used to be.”
The CARES Act paid his small enterprise mortgage for six months, however he didn’t qualify for some other authorities cash as a result of he couldn’t present a 20 p.c loss from 2019. To start with of the pandemic, he was reluctant to inform people who every thing was superb as a result of so many different companies had been in serious trouble. He even employed a full-time staffer to assist get him by way of the summer time.
Though Fournier remains to be digging himself out of the enormous gap the roadwork put him in (the pandemic shutdown, he says, “is minor league in comparison with three years of roadwork”), that is the primary yr he felt assured getting by way of the winter and didn’t need to borrow cash.
“The irony will not be misplaced on me that when this occurred, lots of bars and restaurants pivoted to provisions and grocery, and I used to be nonetheless making meals,” Fournier stated. “Whereas everybody else was turning right into a grocery retailer, I used to be making the complete leap into being a restaurant.”
Fournier’s landlord has not renewed his lease, and he’s now looking out Portland for a brand new place to do enterprise.
AT YOUR DOOR
When eating places shut down final yr, they wanted a method to get their meals to clients, so that they began signing up with native supply providers. Mike Bolduc, proprietor of 2DineIn, stated in an e mail that his firm added 40 to 50 eating places to its roster final yr, though not all are anticipated to stay companions.
“A handful of the eating places we added on final yr had been very upfront with us, telling us they didn’t see themselves doing supply with us after the pandemic,” Bolduc stated, “however we knew this was an effective way we may assist our neighborhood.”
Bolduc bought meals from the eating places to donate to frontline staff, and acquired reward playing cards to present to clients and workers.
Through the stay-at-home order, 2DineIn noticed a fast leap in enterprise, Bolduc stated. It leveled off for many of remainder of the yr however remained constant, he stated. Throughout these first two months, Bolduc employed three to seven individuals per week, including 25-35 out-of-work restaurant employees. As out of doors seating opened up, these new drivers transitioned again to their restaurant jobs, he stated.
CarHop, a meals and alcohol supply service that launched in December 2019, skilled an enormous boost in alcohol deliveries in March and April 2020 that lasted by way of the summer time, in line with proprietor Thomas Brems.
“Alcohol supply remains to be an necessary a part of what we do, however about June we began working with eating places, beginning with Boda,” he stated. “And restaurant supply has actually blown up.”
Restaurant gross sales, he stated, began overtaking alcohol gross sales someday in October, Brems stated. “Now, restaurant supply might be two occasions the dimensions of the alcohol deliveries,” he stated.
The eating places which have been most profitable, he stated, have been fashionable locations that beforehand didn’t provide supply, simplified their menus, and tailored nicely to takeout and supply so their meals would journey nicely. Fashionable orders have included sushi from Mr. Tuna, The Inexperienced Elephant’s vegetarian fare and the ingenious lobster rolls from The Highroller Lobster Co.
Joshua Edgcombe and his companions in SoPo Seafood, Matt Brown and Lucas Myers, didn’t count on to be doing dwelling deliveries of haddock, lobster, oysters, scallops and different seafood when the pandemic began. In February 2020, they had been attempting to slowly construct a wholesale seafood enterprise, one consumer at a time, and had no intention of entering into retail.
When the pandemic arrived and their entire marketing strategy was placed on maintain, they talked about doing nothing, simply ready till the coronavirus confirmed its hand. However then they determined to attempt native supply. The timing was proper. Everybody was speaking about how necessary it was to help Maine fishermen and the Maine seafood business, and the hashtag #eatmaineseafood was in all places. So that they arrange a rudimentary on-line ordering system and launched a direct-to-consumer enterprise, choosing up fish, chopping it and delivering all of it in in the future. Their new enterprise mannequin, Edgcombe stated, was “simply uncommon.” Nevertheless it labored.
“We’re nonetheless doing dwelling supply, and individuals are nonetheless going for it,” he stated. “Folks nonetheless find it irresistible. I simply don’t suppose that enterprise mannequin would have ever come about if it wasn’t for the pandemic.”
Edgcombe stated the deliveries will proceed by way of the summer time, and if client demand stays post-pandemic, they are going to be a everlasting a part of their enterprise. Thus far, SoPo Seafood has accomplished so nicely that Edgcombe and his companions are opening a retail market in South Portland in late June or early July – a step that by no means would have occurred had they not taken of venture on the supply service.
“It’s been such a whirlwind yr,” Edgcombe stated. “Issues have occurred that we by no means thought had been doable.”