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Glenn and Virginia Deering own the Barking Bean Cafe, a small business in Hantsport where patrons can enjoy a coffee and a sandwich, wrap or pizza while picking up pet food.
The cafe had to shut its doors only days before the imposed lockdowns, just as the business was coming close to breaking even. After losing its revenue for more than a month, it reopened with seating capacity severely cut due to social distancing requirements.
Expanding into other products, the cafe has gradually rebuilt much of its lost business.
An eatery with a penchant for people with pets, the Barking Bean Cafe in Hantsport is rebuilding its revenues after the lockdowns by boosting its offerings of cat and dog food, pet accessories, and leggings and yoga pants.
“We’re paying the bills,” says co-owner Glenn Deering.
“We’re keeping the wolves away.”
He and his wife, Virginia Deering, opened the business on Main Street after the Tim Hortons left last year to relocate to Glooscap Landing, four kilometres away.
“When we started, we had a 10-to-12 seating capacity,” says Glenn.
“Tim Hortons had been right behind us and when they moved to the highway, we saw a business opportunity.”
He wanted to open a cafe, but she already had her own business, the Diamond in the Ruff Dog Salon. It offers grooming and was selling high-quality dog food to its roughly 250 customers. That was a time-consuming part of Virginia Deering’s business, which has bookings lined up for the next year and a half.
The couple decided to fold the pet food sales into the new business, and the Barking Bean Cafe was born.
Just off the entrance to the 450-square-foot coffee shop, there’s a room with pet food and accessories. The Deerings call it their doghouse. It has turned out to be the biggest source of revenue, generating more than 75 per cent of sales.
“The pet side is the backbone of the business,” says Glenn.
“Selling coffee and food . . . is fine. I might make 100 transactions in a day but maybe 90 per cent of the time these will be for $10 or less. You’d have to sell a lot of coffee to break even.”
With dog food sales, the cafe was close to breaking even in mid-March.
Then, the business, only founded in August last year, was hit hard.
As COVID-19 began to rip through Canada, the couple learned Virginia has an auto-immune disorder. Her parents’ health also began to fail. Glenn decided to close the business to walk-in traffic on March 21 to protect his family, and the cafe’s two employees were laid off.
He took out the long table and pew that had provided much of the seating capacity to allow greater social distancing, and installed a Plexiglas shield in front of the cash register and a hand-sanitizing station at the entrance. Arrows indicated the proper traffic flow to customers. A sign advising patrons to don a face mask was placed on the door.
During lockdown, revenue from the cafe side of the business fell to nothing.
A privately held business, the Deerings do not divulge revenues or profits – or their capital investment – but do say revenue during lockdown was half what it had been. Pet food sales were the only source.
Glenn still sold dog food on a reservation basis. A customer would contact the business, and he would leave the family’s house behind the store, open up and make the sale.
By the time the business was able to reopen to diners on May 1, it was down to about half its seating capacity. The Deerings could have a maximum of seven customers inside at any time but were allowed an additional six on the sidewalk patio during the summer.
With the loss of seating, the Deerings filled the vacated space with more pet products, branching out into cat food and Hemp 4 Paws terpene oil, used to treat anxiety in dogs. It recently added leggings and capri and yoga pants to its inventory.
The cafe operated without touching any of the federal government assistance programs for businesses.
“I thought about it but at the end of the day decided I didn’t want to handle any more,” Glenn says.
Since he is now the only employee, he has also not touched the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
Instead, the Deerings have broadened their product offerings, kept staffing costs down and cut back on hours. It used to be open every day. Now, it’s closed on Mondays. It operates from 7:30 a.m. to catch the breakfast crowd and closes at 4 p.m.
Glenn makes all his own pizzas, sandwiches and wraps and serves goods from local bakeries. The coffee comes from Lakeville-based Nova Coffee.
“Right now, there are about 30 craft coffee roasting companies in Canada. Nova Coffee is number three. And I’m one of only a few places that sells their coffee,” says Deering.
Their strategy seems to be working. Revenues are within 20 per cent of where they were before lockdowns.
It hasn’t hurt business that the Deerings and the cafe were all over the news recently for the surprise finding of a handgun in what they thought was a box containing a shipment of holiday-themed leggings.
Glenn immediately called the RCMP when he realized what had come in the mail.
Media attention resulted in a temporary bump in business.
“I’ve seen maybe . . . about a half-dozen new faces,” he says.
Although this year has been a tough one for businesses throughout the world, Glenn, a Red Seal-certified pipefitter, doesn’t regret giving up regular work in the oil patch. It allows him to spend time with his wife, their young son and their three dogs, a cat and a rabbit.
“I’m quite fortunate,” he says.
“There’s no doubt COVID-19 has put in place a lot of restrictions and made things more difficult but with what I do in the oil sands, I know a lot of people who are either out of work or living in camps . . . and putting themselves at a higher risk . . . in a province that has more outbreaks.
“I can walk to work. It’s a much more stress-free environment. I can’t imagine having to fly across the country, wearing a face mask and being 10 hours away from home. I’m only a stone’s throw away if I’m needed.”
The Pivot is a regular feature about an Atlantic Canadian company adapting to new market realities with innovative products, services or strategies. To suggest a business, email: [email protected]