The drive to drink came from looking out the window of the vegan bake shop to see a road torn apart during the reconstruction of Bronson Avenue.
The stretch of road between Catherine Street and Gladstone Avenue became a construction site in March and is scheduled to be completed by mid-November.
But Auntie Loo’s didn’t have a single layoff this year, and while retail sales remained stagnant, wholesale and custom wedding orders increased.
It’s all because of a few small-scale strategies and a positive attitude.
With no business improvement area in the neighbourhood, Ms. Lunan says that officials approved many construction decisions that impair business, such as landscaping choices. Trees will obscure the signage of Auntie Loo’s as well as that of Jak’s Kitchen on McLeod Street.
Even after attending many community meetings, she says she was still surprised by some of the outcomes. The information, however, helped prepare her for what was to come.
Auntie Loo’s current promotion card includes a map of the construction zone and directions to get to the shop. The same map is posted on the bakery’s website and right next to the shop’s phone. All staff have been trained on how to direct customers coming from any end of the city.
“We want people to come – that’s the bottom line,” Ms. Lunan says. “So we did whatever we could to help them find their way to us.”
For those unwilling to make the trek, the card also lists Ottawa retailers that sell Auntie Loo’s products so customers can support the Bronson Avenue business from afar.
Ms. Lunan attempted to cover her bases before construction even began by double-booking wedding cakes each weekend and soliciting new wholesale clients.
Once the bulldozers arrived, Auntie Loo’s used its Twitter account to post two-for-one specials during particularly slow days to drive traffic into the shop. It also tweeted to alert followers of construction conditions on Bronson Avenue.
When the shop first opened in 2009, it focused on selling wholesale orders to local shops and filling custom wedding orders. As it began to establish itself as Ottawa’s first 100 per cent vegan bakery, foot traffic began to increase.
Although walk-ins have slowed during construction, Auntie Loo’s sells to more than 10 local vendors almost every day of the week. During the summer, the staff bake cakes every weekend. Not relying on in-store retail has allowed the company to survive, Ms. Lunan says, because her strip of Bronson Avenue was never a retail hub to begin with.
“I’ve never been foolish; I know where I placed my business,” she says. “I placed it here because the rent is nothing and we’re mostly wholesale.”
Despite her positive attitude, she muses her third year in business should have seen growth in retail, instead of the stagnation that resulted from the construction.
“Immediately, as soon as the construction workers came down here, I saw them as friends and clients,” Ms. Lunan says.
Workers from Colautti Construction Ltd., Hydro Ottawa and Enbridge Inc. became regulars at the bakery. One even hired Auntie Loo’s to bake his wedding cake this summer.
It wasn’t always easy – one day Ms. Lunan looked out her window to see a giant pit dug right in front of her store. But the workers helped manoeuvre customers around it. Earlier this summer during an unrelated power outage, Colautti workers dragged over their generator to get power back in her shop. And no heavy equipment, she notes, is ever left in front of her store on the weekends.
“You can really make it into something good,” Ms. Lunan says. “There’s no point in getting angry, because you’re together for a year.”
Auntie Loo’s celebrates its birthday with a huge party that draws around 200 guests each year.
With its third anniversary approaching, did Ms. Lunan ever consider cancelling or postponing because of the construction?
“No way,” she says. “We look forward to it every year.”
At the Oct. 13 party, the construction workers rolled barrels onto the street to stop anyone from driving by.
The Rideau Valley Roller Girls, a roller derby team Ms. Lunan sponsors, are annual guests at the party, serving up samples on their roller skates.
This provided good motivation for the construction workers, who Ms. Lunan says were “very excited about the prospect of roller girls.”
“They (were) trying to get the road in on time.”
The key to surviving construction is simple: cut out caffeine, and don’t be afraid to have a big glass of wine at the end of the day, says Ms. Lunan.
Even amidst the chaos that is currently Bronson Avenue, Auntie Loo’s was able to take on its second full-time employee this summer, as well as hold onto its four part-timers and its one “guest” employee who helps out during high-volume periods.
And, at the end of it all, there will be wider and more accessible sidewalks as well as bike racks along the street.
“It’s hard on everybody, but you’ll make it,” says Ms. Lunan. “Keep calm.”