Supporting local business during the pandemic with Social Crust Cafe

Rachel Lee

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought financial hardships for many small businesses. Travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders have made tourists, office workers and foot traffic disappear, greatly impacting the profits that cafes and restaurants need to offset operating costs.

Like many small businesses, Social Crust Cafe has continued to operate through 2020 despite a decrease in sales from COVID-related social restrictions. As a social enterprise, Social Crust provides locals with mental health challenges with employment and training to succeed in the culinary industry and beyond. During the pandemic, they have adapted to providing innovative to-go products for sale and have kept participants in their Culinary Skills Program engaged through virtual mediums.

We talked to Adriana Jang, Catering Operations Manager, in a previous blog about our collaborative support for Pride with our reusable Pride themed masks. We continued with Jang to discuss how Social Crust Cafe has persevered through the pandemic.

Masked For Work: We have been in this pandemic for about a year and half now. What hardships have you had to endure?

Adriana Jang: We’ve lost a lot of customer traffic as well as revenue in the Cafe and catering business. We’ve also had to operate our Culinary Skills Training Program at a limited capacity.

MFW: We’ve been hearing that a lot throughout 2020. Social gathering restrictions, office employees working from home and restaurant dine-in restrictions have really reduced the usual amount of customers coming in to eat at the cafe. Social Crust’s Culinary Skills Training Program provides individuals facing barriers to employment with much-needed mentorship and we’re glad to hear that the program is continuing to help despite reduced capacity.

MFW: How have you had to adapt to Social Crust in the last year? Did you switch to take out, treat boxes or cook from home options?

Jang: Our cafe switched to take out only. We started selling Treat Boxes for special holidays, as well as frozen foods and soups with our Fresh from the Freezer products!

MFW: It’s great to know that Social Crust is still offering their food for take out! The Treat Boxes are a wonderful way to bring a bit of cheer during this stressful time and make great gifts to show that you care. People are spending more time at home and cooking in their kitchens, making Fresh from the Freezer a great idea for enjoying Social Crust’s flavours at any time.

Social Crust Cafe Valentines Day Treat Box
A Valentines Day-themed Treat Box from Social Crust Cafe.

MFW: Have you found people taking advantage of your Fresh from the Freezer options and your Treat Boxes? And do you think you will continue with these services after the pandemic ends?

Jang: Yes, customers really loved the idea of the Fresh from the Freezer options. People were tired of their own cooking and with the items we sold it was an easy affordable option. The Treat Boxes were additionally successful because people like to support an initiative that helps the community.

MFW: Fresh from the Freezer sounds like a cool opportunity for people to experiment with their own home cooking since it lets them try new soups or enjoy unique sauces with their meals. It’s interesting to see your Treat Boxes curated around different holiday themes, including the winter holidays and Valentines Day. The selection of cookies and pastries not only bring back delightful memories of catering at in-person events, but also help to keep the Culinary Program’s participants employed and educated through the pandemic.

Social Crust Cafe Fresh from the Freezer meatballsHandmade meatballs, one option from Social Crust's Fresh from the Freezer program.

MFW: Have your Guest Chef Nights been impacted at all or do you find that there has been an uptick in people booking more intimate options?

Jang: 2020 was the year we were going to make Guest Chef Night bigger and better! In the past, Guest Chef Nights have been limited to 40 person seatings per event. Our vision for 2020 was to involve more chefs in the community and have more tickets available at a bigger venue. However, due to COVID-19 and the health restrictions we were not able to execute it.

Tyler Uguccioni from Cafe Di Beppe Restaurant mentoring during Guest Chef Night
Tyler Uguccioni from Cafe Di Beppe Restaurant providing mentorship during a Guest Chef Night in February 2020.

MFW: It’s very unfortunate to hear that you weren’t able to hold Guest Chef Nights in 2020, especially after all the effort was made to create more exciting events. Previously held three times each year, Guest Chef Nights are amazing opportunities for the Culinary Program participants to work with top Vancouver chefs to prepare four-course meals. Sponsors donate fresh food products, decorations and rental equipment to the event and guests can enjoy a fine dining experience while contributing to a fundraiser for the Culinary Program. We wish the Social Crust Cafe team all the best, and we look forward to seeing Guest Chef Nights return in the future!

Masked For Work and Social Crust Cafe reusable Pride face masks

Masked For Work has partnered with Social Crust Cafe to provide special Pride themed masks, with 100% of mask sales at the cafe donated to local LGBTQ initiatives. Support local businesses by purchasing a Pride mask from Social Crust at their 335 West Pender location in downtown Vancouver or online from our website.

Follow Social Crust Cafe on social media to learn more about them!

Twitter: @social_crust
Instagram: @social_crust