Edmonton businesses adapt to pandemic challenges to stay open

Physical distancing has forced local Edmonton businesses to adapt to the demand for delivery and pickup options, which is fuelling demand.

‘I think we can keep going like this, but I don’t want to’

Staff at Sea Change Brewing pose in the brewery where kegs have been replaced by cans to satisfy consumer demand. (Sea Change Brewing)

Physical distancing measures have led to Edmonton businesses changing how they operate with delivery and pickup options to keep their doors open, but it has been accompanied by trial, error and extra costs.

While Drew McIntosh roasts beans in the back of The Grizzlar Coffee & Records, an employee prepares orders of bagged beans for delivery and pickup in the coffee shop area.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Edmonton, the shop brewed up cups of coffee to customers in the shop who added to its punk atmosphere, but now it relies on bean and brewing equipment sales.

"I think we can keep going like this, but I don't want to. This isn't the business we kind of went into," McIntosh said.

Drew McIntosh roasts coffee beans in the back of The Grizzlar Coffee & Records, which has had to rely on the sale of bags of beans and brewing equipment instead of serving fresh cups of coffee. (The Grizzlar Coffee & Records)

For McIntosh, staying open is about adapting instead of running the business the way he would like. He's had to find ways to get roasted coffee beans to his customers.

Orders can now be placed online directly through the coffee shop's website, which has come with extra costs.

"That's kind of been the biggest challenge," said McIntosh. "It's not necessarily losing sales, but it's having to make new investments in order to maintain the business that you got."

It's a sentiment echoed by other small Edmonton business owners, which has led to a month of trial and error.

Local beer demand doesn't flatten

Sea Change Brewing had to close its two taprooms — one in Edmonton and another in Beaumont — which served pints of its beer throughout the week. Those sales accounted for 70 per cent of revenue, on top of keg sales to bars and pubs.

When the pandemic hit, the brewery brought a handful of staff in to take calls but it didn't go as smoothly as hoped, as demand was through the roof. A long list of phone messages took hours to get through.

"We got our butts handed to us. The phone rang off the hook and here we are now, a little later and we have a website, fully functional and we can't keep up," said Ian McIntosh, founding partner of Sea Change Brewing.

That demand has continued, but the brewery is now a little more prepared. They've brought in additional staff, for a total of nine.

Not only was the logistics of creating a delivery and pickup system a challenge, but the brewery wasn't ready to can as much beer as they do now, as most of their beer was poured into kegs.

"We expected sales to go down, but they've actually gone up. It's been hard to predict what our demand is actually," he said. "All we know is we haven't produced enough to satisfy the demand ... we're just going along for the ride here."

Ice cream pints replace scoops

The summer months can create a seasonal demand that some local businesses salivate for. 

Kind Ice Cream opened last year and its owners spent the winter anticipating an opportunity to build on the success of its small-batch ice cream sales.

"Every week has seemed to require us to turn things on its head and reimagine the way that we're doing things," said Paula Shyba, co-owner of Kind Ice Cream.

Customers can order pints of ice cream for pickup at Kind Ice Cream, but they can't get a scoop or two in a waffle cone. (Kind Ice Cream)

The business is now selling its ice cream in pints offering pickup and delivery. Pints take up more space than pails of ice cream, and that led to the shop closing up for a day just to keep up with production.

It's not Shyba's preferred method of selling this summer, but with the uncertainty of how long public health orders will continue, it's a method that is at least leading to comfortable sales.

"Can we scoop again? Will this be something we're continuing? We've kind of just been viewing this as a short-term thing, but this could very well be our new reality for the next year," Shyba said.


Travis McEwan


Travis McEwan is an award-winning video journalist. Originally from Churchill, Man., he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca