When Naz Ali, co-owner and head chef of Caribbean Flavas Restaurant & Catering in Fredericton, is asked to describe the pandemic’s impact on his business, he quickly responds with “game changing.”
“We had to lay off employees who’d been with us for years,” Ali explains. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”
In spite of celebrating 16 years of success – and catering to prime ministers and celebs like Leonard Cohen, Snoop Dog and the Black Eyed Peas – Ali knew he had to rethink every aspect of his operations.
Giving back to the community
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One of Caribbean Flavas Restaurant & Catering’s guiding principles didn’t change, it only got stronger – their commitment to assisting neighbours in need.
“When COVID-19 hit, we saw people had lost jobs. Children were at home, possibly missing out on their one and only daily meal at school. Essential workers were stretched to the max.”
In response, Ali and his team launched BOGO. But unlike the popular retail promotion, this BOGO is all about stepping up to help others.
“It stands for ‘buy-one-give-one.’ When a customer buys a sandwich, we give one on their behalf to a person in need or to an essential worker.”
Community outreach: One meal at a time
The buy-one-give-one initiative was proudly featured on their website. “We had everyone simply click on the free meal per day and come pick it up – no questions asked.” In his estimation, Caribbean Flavas Restaurant & Catering has helped feed over 2,000 people so far.
Originally, the plan was to deliver meals once a week to those who needed them, but the demand was far greater than anticipated.
“We changed delivery frequency from one to two days a week…then to three days…then to four days a week. At one point, we were working seven days, with no rest!”
Ali and his team also partnered with the Fredericton chapter of the Second Harvest Food Bank to help distribute any unused food.
A range of economical menu choices were introduced to help answer the needs of households struggling through layoffs and pay cuts.
“The coronavirus changed the entire game.”
Ali explored every option in order to keep his business thriving. Embracing a more online business model was a natural decision. “We basically relaunched our entire menu online to be able to do takeout and delivery. That was done pretty much overnight, so a very fast pivot.”
Food for thought
“Staying connected to the community one serves is key,” Ali explains. “We want to help our customers, our neighbours and all the people around us every day that don’t necessarily get recognized for their hard work and dedication. We’ve all heard, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Well, it’s important to live that wisdom every day.”
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