grocery delivery toronto

These Toronto cafes have transformed into wine and grocery stores

Toronto cafes are trying to figure out how to reinvent themselves now that they're no longer community hubs where people come and go and hangout during the day.

While some are focused on their usual coffee fare and delivering beans to customers, others are thinking more broadly and have started selling groceries, booze and other products to try to turn a profit. 

Odin Coffee Roasters and Early Bird are two cafes that made the pivot in the last week.

Both recently launched online shops selling everything from coffee and baked goods to wine and beer. And while the stores remain open for takeout, they are now focusing on the delivery side of the business.

Thomas Junek, co-owner of Odin Coffee Roasters, says the decision to move the shop primarily online was motivated by the grim reality of self-isolation.

Considerations of how to keep cash flowing into the business in face of a lack of customers and any kind of rent relief motivated Odin’s online shop, he says.

“None of the small businesses in Canada have been given any sort of rent relief,” Junek says.

“So basically, there's a lot of pressure for every small business that is allowed to stay open. We're trying to find any way we can have some kind of cash flow to relieve the pressure of having to pay our rent.”

Junek is upfront about the difficulties Odin has run into as it tries to switch its service model. Odin’s original plan included selling fresh fruit and vegetables, but the plan fell through after they had trouble securing a reliable supplier.

“Grocery stores like Costco, Loblaws, Fresh City, everyone basically had a run on all their groceries and all their produce,” Junek says. “So little guys like us were left out of that conversation and we have had to scramble to find a supplier.” Odin wasn’t able to get priority access to fresh produce, and had to put this particular plan on hold.

But they do roast the coffee they sell, Junek says, which is something the cafe began doing well before the province-mandated closures. Being in control of this process has been good. They use a zero-emission roaster, the first establishment in Canada to do so.

“So that really is helping us pay the bills,” he says.

Junek is optimistic that people in Toronto want to support their local businesses, but understands this is a difficult financial time for everyone.

“I noticed as a business owner [on] April 2nd, the orders went down and it's solely because everybody's money went to rent,” Junek says. He predicts that over the next few weeks, any restaurant, no matter its popularity, will see a dip in online ordering because “people don't have the money to go online and spend.”

Bani Taghaboni, a co-owner of Early Bird, also felt pressure to provide delivery but is now optimistic of the cafe's future.

“We didn't have money to pay our bills or anything,” Taghaboni said. “So we had to do everything from scratch.”

Early Bird designed and launched its online store themselves.

Now, they sell natural wines and some snacks, in addition to providing items like cookie dough that shoppers are able to finish preparing at home.

“The feedback has been great,” Taghaboni says. At the moment, Early Bird is delivering and allowing pickup twice a week, but is planning on expanding to four days a week.

“We're planning to add a lot of pantry goods and [items] related to our menu,” she says, in addition to grocery items.

“I feel like a web shop is the new thing, to be honest, I feel like a lot of people are already doing it — just trying to survive,” she said.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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