Markham gelateria completely transforms itself during lockdown with its love boxes
As many small businesses fight to survive the stint of lockdowns, Love Gelato in Markham is flourishing.
Thanks to innovative thinking and a quick shift to an online platform, they have been comfortably navigating the instability of the restaurant industry.
Prior to the pandemic, summers were busy with patio walk-ups and they were able to stay closed for the winter. Love Gelato's profits relied heavily on contracts with venues for large parties and they were thriving on corporate functions.
Before the first lockdown, Love Gelato teamed up with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment to cater Toronto Raptors' events. The business was on a high, then the pandemic hit, followed by the waves of shutdowns.
Owners Paolo, Vlad and Daniel weren't ready to slow the momentum, despite the reality of failing small businesses and closures.
Locals refer to them as the "three amigos" - you'd understand why after spending five minutes with them and witnessing their brotherly bond, despite having no familial ties to each other.
The brothers from another mother immediately called a meeting to discuss how they would weather the storm and keep Love Gelato alive.
They were concerned, but determined to roll with the punches. They were confident in their product and took pride in the success achieved up until the pandemic.
The only option was to change their business model. What was once the focal point - large parties and events - died with pandemic restrictions.
They began selling gelato through Instagram and personally delivering orders to homes. Soon after, they moved sales entirely to their website, offering next day delivery and curbside pick-up.
What set Love Gelato apart was the creation of the Love Box. It's a customizable gift box consisting of 9 to 32 single serve cups of Gelato. Rather than committing to full-sized pints, this allows customers to sample as many of their 30 flavours without breaking the bank.
The delivery of personal-sized, individual servings is unique to Love Gelato and a huge draw for customers.
"It’s a bundle of love. They're the perfect portion - not too big and not too small," says Paolo. "We have customers who see our Love Boxes online and come knocking on our window asking us to make one for them on demand."
Orders are typically placed online and prepared for the next day, but they try to make exceptions for their customers. "Our community has been great to us. We are so appreciative and their support has kept us going," Paolo says.
The Love Boxes have an incredible aesthetic appeal and are designed by a calligraphy artist they hired. Customers appreciate the option to send love through gelato with a personalized message and creative touch.
Up to 1,000 individual gelato cups are packed, sealed and labeled by the end of the day.
While many restaurants consider staff layoffs, Love Gelato is growing their team. As order volumes increased, more staff were needed to pack and deliver Love Boxes more efficiently.
Void of the opportunity to cater large events, for the first time ever, Love Gelato stayed open for the winter. During colder months, data suggests consumers are less inclined to buy frozen dessert.
This was not the case for Love Gelato - sales for holiday deliveries sky rocketed. Customers loved to indulge from the warmth and comfort of their own home. They extended the joys of the Love Box to their friends and family.
Paolo says the team never stops thinking of new ways to grow their customer base. They decided to tailor offerings to Markham's large Asian community. They launched a line of Asian-inspired flavours for the most recent Lunar New Year.
As long as quality is not compromised, their chef is willing to step outside the bounds of traditional Italian favourites.
The flavours included black sesame, red bean, yuzu, persimmon, kumquat and lychee. The bestsellers earned a permanent spot on the menu.
Customers were thrilled and noted the nostalgia evoked by familiar childhood flavours - ones they would never expect to find in gelato.
The menu also includes vegan, sugar-free and keto-friendly options. The owners noticed groups arriving together but not everyone ordered Gelato due to dietary restrictions. They were determined to develop a premium sugar-free line.
"We want to have something for everyone. Gelato brings people together and nobody should be left out," says Paolo.
These are qualities of an inventive business willing to adapt to expand their reach.
Love Gelato grew their customer base organically through innovative ideas and stellar products.
The shift to online sales and delivery during the pandemic opened up a new avenue for profit. Love Gelato found a silver lining amidst the chaos.
They plan to expand their delivery zone across the entire GTA and hope the business will evolve to meet an Ontario-wide demand.
Eventually, when life returns to normal, the cafe and patio will reopen, corporate events will proceed and party venues will be given the green light - but it won't be business as usual for Love Gelato.
They will be ahead of the game. Not only will Love Gelato revert back to their pre-pandemic business model, they will continue to pursue the new avenues they worked so hard to pave during lockdown.
Chelsea Shim Sharma
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