169 Front St., New Dundee, Ont.
After 17 years in business, the New Dundee Emporium is something of a staple in its close-knit Ontario town, doubling as a full-service restaurant offering lunch, afternoon tea, and high tea and women’s fashion boutique.
But when the province announced the temporary closure of all non-essential business, including restaurant dining rooms, owners Mark Harrison and Danny Duchesne decided to put most of their business on ice – literally.
“As of now, we’ve closed the restaurant totally because we can’t keep our food fresh,” says Harrison. The boutique is closed. Instead, Harrison and Duchesne did a quick pivot to beef up their frozen-food line, purchasing an extra freezer to accommodate the increased demand. Customers can purchase the restaurant’s frozen goods either at the Emporium itself, or at a local seafood grocery store called T&J Seafood. While their wait staff is currently laid off, they did keep their kitchen staff employed; in addition to their frozen-food line, the restaurant is still offering takeout lunches, with free delivery on orders over $60 and curbside pickup.
The biggest challenge, Harrison says, was figuring out a way to keep customers safe in a sterile environment, namely through implementing policies and procedures for guests to follow. Door handles, for example, are sterilized before and after customers use them, as well as the POS machine and counters. Harrison says that he cleans everything as he goes – when he takes groceries out for a customer, he cleans and sterilizes everything as he comes back inside again.
The key, he says, was listening to his customers. The ability to diversify is critical for any restaurant hoping to survive and succeed through the COVID-19 shutdown. “You really need to listen to them,” Harrison says. For the New Dundee Emporium, doubling down on their frozen-food line has worked, with frozen-food sales increasing by 60 per cent – helping to make up for the loss of sales in their clothing boutique, which, prior to COVID-19, accounted for half of their business.
Customers, too, have responded positively; “They’re sharing our posts on Facebook, and they want to see us survive and reopen.”