Home-delivered beer, online shopping, and butter tarts: how small businesses in Sudbury are surviving COVID-19

Sue Peters, owner of the Cedar Nest Cafe in downtown Sudbury, said it was butter tarts that has helped saved her business.
Sue Peters sips on a cappuccino she made in her cafe in downtown Sudbury. The entrepreneur says a focus on butter tart pickups helped keep business afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

Sue Peters, owner of the Cedar Nest Cafe in downtown Sudbury, said it has been butter tarts that have kept her in business.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants and non-essential businesses to close, Peters took the advice of a friend to stop worrying about her lunch customers and focus on one of her specialties: butter tarts.

Peter said the community responded.

"I don't know the exact number but it was definitely, I think, almost 5000 individual tarts in three weeks," Peters said. 

"It was unbelievable. After posting out on social media, I spent four hours taking orders nonstop. It was extremely overwhelming. I could not believe the response."

Peters said she's been through an emotional roller coaster since the pandemic hit. She had even contacted her landlord, asking if she could get a break with rent as people stopped coming in.

"From the beginning I was worried about safety and the health of my employees and my customers that were still coming in," she said. "But then on the other hand you're so torn because you realize that there was no funding or anything set up yet from the government and you still have to pay bills,you're still responsible for making your payments."

"I'm still torn to this day," she said. "I feel guilty about asking people to come down to my store to pick up non-essentials like butter tarts, although maybe that it is very comforting and delicious to have right now."

Valerie Fremlin, owner of La Fromagerie, credits her staff with adapting to the changes the pandemic has brought.

She said takeout service used to account for 10 per cent of her business. Like many others, it's now what keeps her restaurant afloat.  

"Some days they're half of what we would normally do, on other days they're just a small percentage," Fremlin said.

It's not the first time the restaurant has had to deal with adversity, she said. It took nine months for the establishment to become licensed to sell liquor.

"I feel if we got through that with the community standing behind us, and all the support that we've come across, I do think that we're going to make it through," she said. "Even if we do end up having to close the doors for the time being."

Shawn Mailloux opened Stack Brewing in 2012. He says he hopes his business can survive the coronavirus pandemic. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

'Either you laugh, or you cry'

Shawn Mailloux, owner of Stack Brewery, said business has definitely taken a hit.

He estimates the loss to be between 60 and 70 per cent.

"Either you laugh or you cry, right?" So I'll keep on laughing and trying to be positive but who knows."

The pandemic, and the ensuing drop in revenue, came after Stack expanded its business, opening up a brewhouse on Falconbridge Road. 

"You have to be positive and keep encouraging yourselves to keep moving forward and go through this," Mailloux said. 

"I really hope this isn't the end of my business, but I've got to be positive and be creative and find different ways to generate revenue," he said. 

To that end, they've lowered prices on some of their offerings, and began a home delivery program. The change in pace is also giving him the opportunity to reach out to other local businesses in need. 

"Hopefully this strengthens the community here as well," he said. "And hopefully I get to chat with some restaurants that maybe I haven't chatted with before, and kind of spitball ideas about how do we survive this?"

With files from Sarah Macmillan


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