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For Ammar and Cigdem Gulen of LUNA Crêpes & Café, food delivery services have been a lifesaver for their restaurant.
Thanks to delivery apps such as Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes, as well as new menu items designed for delivery and a revitalized website that allows people to order online, the Kanata North couple has continued serving their crêpes, baked goods, paninis, salads, gelato and more.
The couple emigrated from Turkey in 2001 and worked in the television and communications industries in Canada and the U.S. for several years. Ammar Gulen said his wife had always dreamed of owning a restaurant, so in 2015 they made it a reality by switching career paths to open LUNA Crêpes & Café. The couple also opened LUNA Crêpes, a second takeout-only location in the Bayshore Shopping Centre, in July 2019.
Pandemic changes everything
Gulen said business at both locations was “booming” at the start of 2020 in the traditionally slow months of January and February. Things were going so well that the couple was considering opening up a third location in downtown Ottawa.
But when COVID-19 hit Ottawa in March, “everything spiralled downwards.” The couple was forced to lay off all 12 of their employees at both locations and close their dining space to customers. In the first few weeks, sales at the restaurant fell by 80 per cent, which Gulen described as “horrible and frustrating.”
“There were days where I had to sit at my restaurant and wait just for one customer to come in, or for one order to come in through the phone,” he said.
The pandemic also forced LUNA Crêpes & Café to cease its catering services for businesses in Kanata North Technology Park, given that employees were largely working from home rather than in their offices.
“When they were open we used to get a lot of catering orders for 50 to 100 people every week,” Gulen said. “Now they aren’t here.”
For their business to survive, Ammar and Cigdem had to pivot to serving takeout and delivering food to their customers’ homes. Prior to the pandemic, Gulen said the restaurant utilized UberEats, but the couple quickly moved to also sell through SkipTheDishes and even do the occasional delivery themselves.
Gulen said his restaurant is now averaging about five to seven deliveries a day. In the future, he would like to hire a few of his own delivery drivers, but with Ontario mulling further restrictions on businesses, “it would not be worth it right now.”
Gulen said in order to attract new customers and boost sales during lockdown, LUNA Crêpes & Café modified its menu to add a variety of fresh and frozen Mediterranean and Middle Eastern meals.
“It was a good idea because we sold a lot,” he said. “We stopped because we didn’t want people to forget we are a crêpes shop, but if we go into lockdown again we will bring the items back.”
Gulen said LUNA was helped “immensely” by the Kanata North Business Association and Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds. The restaurant was able to sell $10 gift cards on the Kanata North BA’s #ShopLocal Shopify site, and Sudds came to the restaurant on several occasions to take photos for social media.
“They helped to inform people that we were still open, and allowed us to survive during those bad days,” he said.
In late September, Gulen was able to redesign LUNA’s website thanks to a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant from the Kanata North BA as part of its COVID-19 Response Fund. Customers can now order from the restaurant online, and Gulen said they have been receiving two to three orders a day, a number he expects will increase over the coming months.
Unfortunately, Gulen said their second location, which had to close along with the Bayshore Shopping Centre in March, will likely have to be shuttered. Sales at LUNA Crêpes haven’t been the same since the mall reopened in June, so the couple would rather focus their time and energy on their Kanata North location.
In September, LUNA re-opened to allow people to be seated inside, and were able to rehire an employee. Gulen said he is confident the restaurant could successfully pivot to doing only deliveries and curbside pickup if the province once again orders restaurants to close their dining areas. He said the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program has allowed LUNA to operate with just one-third of its regular sales.
He also remains hopeful that one day the couple will be able to open up another location in downtown Ottawa, or perhaps in Toronto or Montreal.
One of the greatest parts of owning a restaurant, according to Gulen, has been building friendships with customers. During the pandemic, Ammar and Cigdem gained a greater appreciation of the kindness and generosity of the wider Kanata North community.
“Our neighbours would come in and buy gift cards to give to their friends. I was impressed by how they spread the word that we were still open, and tried to support this family business,” Gulen said. “During the lockdown, we missed that sense of community.”
Surviving and Thriving on Main Street is an editorial series profiling Ottawa businesses finding success through entrepreneurial creativity and innovation in the face of challenges and adversity.
Digital Main Street (DMS) helps small businesses impacted by COVID-19 in Ontario to recover and grow. Through government-funded programs such as Future Proof, main street businesses (restaurant, retail shops, skilled trades, and home-based businesses) can access their own digital squad, business advisors and training resources – for free. Develop digital ads, create a new online business model, or set up a digital marketing strategy for your business – all free through Digital Main Street.
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