Surviving and Thriving on Main Street: Stray Dog Brewing taps into new sales channels amid pandemic

Stray Dog
Marc Plante is the co-owner of Stray Dog Brewing. (OBJ file photo by Mark Holleron)
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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Orléans’ first microbrewery strayed from its normal path to get its beer to customers.

Home brewing connoisseurs Marc Plante and Justin MacNeill partnered with Gen Benay to open Stray Dog Brewing Co. in 2017. Since then, the company has been selling about 130,000 litres of beer produced annually in its 2,600-square-foot facility to beer lovers from Pembroke to Cornwall and across the National Capital Region.

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Prior to the pandemic, most of its beer was distributed through local restaurants and bars, LCBO stores and the Beer Store, with the remainder sold at music and comedy events hosted in their taproom. 

With direct-to-consumer sales traditionally representing a relatively small fraction of the brewery’s income, expanding into home delivery had been “far removed” from the company’s business plan, co-owner Marc Plante said.

But that quickly changed in March.

“As soon as we heard restaurants and bars were closing, we thought ‘There goes 60 per cent of our revenue.’”

“We started hearing about this virus spreading through the United States,” Plante recalls. “Then all of a sudden there was an announcement overnight that everything was closing. As soon as we heard restaurants and bars were closing, we thought ‘There goes 60 per cent of our revenue.’”

Stray Dog quickly pivoted to selling its beer online using Shopify’s ecommerce platform and introduced a free delivery service. For the first few weeks after restrictions were imposed, Plante was working 12-hour shifts to get beer to customers.

“I soon realized I needed help,” he said. Employees who traditionally worked in Stray Dog’s now-shuttered tap room – and who might have otherwise been laid off – were reassigned into packaging and delivery roles.

Re-engaging customers

While Stray Dog has kept its taproom closed until it can “100 per cent welcome everybody back safely and not put our staff or customers at risk,” the brewery opened an outdoor patio from Friday to Sunday that accommodated up to 16 people at a time.

Plante said the goal was not to produce a large revenue stream, but was primarily a way “to re-engage with our customers and give them some sense of normalcy.”

Stray Dog also partnered with neighbouring restaurant Bistro L’Entre-Deux to serve its food on the brewery’s patio.

“We feel for the small businesses that haven’t been able to pivot as easily to get through this, so we want to be there to support the people and businesses struggling as best we can,” Plante said.

Plante says Stray Dog plans to continue with free home deliveries in Ottawa for the foreseeable future, even as restaurants and bars re-open, as there are “still people not comfortable with going out and about all the time.” The brewery will soon be expanding the service to include a $15 flat shipping rate across Ontario. 

The brewery will also be adding two new fermenters and a brite tank, which Plante hopes will increase its brewing capacity by 3,000 litres and allow the company to add new beers to its lineup more regularly.

Plante said he and MacNeill have never taken the success of their business for granted, and during the pandemic they have been “so humbled and appreciative of the support we’ve received from the community.” 

That is why instead of celebrating their three-year anniversary with a party like in previous years, Stray Dog released their first triple IPA beer ‘Unity’ in celebration of the resilience of Canadians during the pandemic, and as a thank you to their loyal customers.

“We believe so much in our community, and we can’t have a community without the word unity.”

Surviving and Thriving on Main Street is a new editorial series profiling Ottawa businesses finding success through entrepreneurial creativity and innovation in the face of challenges and adversity.

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