Local food businesses adjust to COVID-19

Chef Jordan Diniz of Novus Fine Dining. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jordan Diniz

“We’ve had to completely change our business,” says Craig Douglas, general manager of Brooks Farms, speaking about the reality of operating in the new COVID-19 environment

Brooks Farms is a fun farm located just north of Stouffville, in Mount Albert. The farm normally offers lots of family activities including tractor rides, corn mazes, pig races and more.

In the last few months, like other local food operations, the farm has had to make several significant changes due to COVID-19.

“We’re a fun farm, there’s a million activities for kids to do, none of that can happen right now, we’ve had to change our approach by solely operating as a market,” says Douglas.

Easter is the busiest time of year. Brooks farms usually employees 45 people, but 35 were laid off due to COVID-19, according to Douglas.

“Before people came here for the activities and the market was second,” says Douglas.

Now, the market has increased sales, according to Douglas. The farm has introduced online menus so customers can call in, place an order and pick up the food.

“We don’t allow anyone in the market, it’s strictly curb-side, we do deliveries for people in the general area,” says Douglas.

Douglas is unsure how business will be after the lockdown is lifted.

“Whether they lift the ban or not, it’s going to be hard to get people to come back,” says Douglas.

Other businesses in the area have had to make significant changes as well.

Jordan Diniz is a 21-year-old professional chef from Pickering, Ont. He owns his own catering business, Novus Fine Dining. Diniz usually participates in local farmers’ markets and culinary events.

“I was getting my applications ready for summer markets, farmers’ markets, Ribfest, and then I got emails from everyone saying they had to cancel all events,” says Diniz.

Diniz has had to adjust to working from home. He is able to stay in touch with his customers through Instagram, email and Facebook.

“People are mainly ordering for the purpose of not going out, but they’re getting a better quality product delivered,” says Diniz.

Diniz has been promoting his dishes online and has had a positive response, especially with his cinnamon buns. He made more than 500 in the past week.

“Every day I’ve been trying new recipes to see what people want, I never thought I would sell cinnamon buns,” says Diniz.

Diniz says he is very busy now and doing up to 15 deliveries a day.

“People place orders mid-day and I have nothing to do, so I bake and do same-day delivery, so everything is going to be fresh,” says Diniz.

Diniz also plans to launch a free meal kit for families in need starting this weekend.

“What I had in mind was to find a family in need and I will be delivering them food weekly for the household and long term,” he says. “Maybe I can start a food or money donation so I can start reaching more families every week.”

The way operators are doing business now could affect the way they do business in the future. By being more local and personal, local food businesses have incorporated new products and new delivery methods, bringing their goods directly to the people.