Toronto's most popular Italian bakery tries to adjust to the new normal
In its 51-year history, SanRemo Bakery has never operated solely online.
So it's fair to say that the family-owned Etobicoke stalwart, like most people and things born in 1969, had a hard time adjusting to the Internet.
"Going from a people business to purely online in a very short amount of time was a huge task," said Rob Bozzo, one of three Bozzo brothers who has been running SanRemo since their father Natale passed it on to them years ago.
Since the pandemic first forced businesses across Toronto to close in March, the beloved bakery has had to adjust to no longer being the community hub on Royal York that it used to be.
Usually packed from wall-to-wall with locals and regulars, the go-to for freshly baked bread is now completely closed off to visitors, even since reopening in April. Now, online delivery, curbside pick-up, or takeout are the only ways to get your doughnut fix.
It's been tough for staff, who are used to customer interactions being central to SanRemo's success. Where guests would once sit down and have a chat with the Bozzo brothers, or inquire about an order in-person, COVID-19 has changed that.
"It makes working harder because SanRemo was built on the customer experience," says Bozzo. And every week has brought a new adjustment.
The initial transition to online was a difficult one, especially with the number of orders that were coming through, but the curbside pick-up model worked well for them throughout May and June.
At its peak, the bakery had three in-house delivery people doing about 100 deliveries a day.
But as Toronto enters Stage 2 of the province's reopening plan, things are already changing again. Deliveries have died down as people start venturing outside again, and drivers have now been reduced to two.
"We're finding customers are no longer wanting to order one week in advance, they want it faster," says Bozzo. "We've had to change our platform once again to accepting orders last minute, up to 24 hours prior."
Where frozen ingredients for large meals were in big demand at the beginning of COVID-19, Stage 2 has seen an uptick in ready-made meals like sandwiches.
Desserts and cakes are picking up, too: a sign that people are taking advantage of relaxed social circle rules with more celebratory orders, despite the dire times.
People are also starting to get out more, which is where SanRemo's newly built takeout window comes in handy.
The bakery has since partnered with Ritual ONE through the City of Toronto initiative. One thing that hasn't changed is the no-brainer favourite: homemade gelato, plus their famous Cafe Crema (essentially an Italian Iced Capp).
There's been mounting pressure to reopen their doors soon, but Bozza says they're hesitant to do it anytime soon.
"They want it to go back to normal, but it will never go back to the usual," he says.
Reduced staff, new glass barriers, and a maximum number of 10 people allowed in-store at a time are just some of the new rules that will have to be enforced when SanRemo reopens — maybe in the next few weeks — if we're lucky.
"That's the biggest unknown of this all: we cannot control the public does," says Bozzo. "We just hope that people continue to be patient."
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