How some small Montreal businesses are thriving during the pandemic

Thousands of small businesses across Canada are believed to have closed due to COVID-19, and many more are at risk, but against all odds, some Montreal companies not only are surviving, but thriving.

“One day to another, 95 per cent of our accounts basically just disappeared,” said Maxence Vassart, chef manager with Zab Cafe, a chain and coffee roaster. “Restaurants had to shut down, cafes had to shut down, office spaces [too].”

With demand from their usual clients for deliveries dried up, he says they had to adapt.

“I think we had to sit down and evaluate the trends and you’d be blind to see that e-commerce isn’t a thing,” he said.

The company has moved to doing home deliveries, available next day for customers on the island.

Vassart says it has been a huge success, with them hiring several drivers and the company actually growing during the pandemic.

Cafe Zab has actually outgrown its current roasting facility in the east end, and is awaiting the move to a new facility in an area of the redeveloping Mile-Ex called District Beaumont.

Beside the soon-to-be roasting facility for Cafe Zab will be the new brewing facilities for Brasserie Harricana.

The microbrewery had to adapt as public health restrictions forced its brewpub to close to patrons several times during the pandemic.

“The famous word of this year is ‘adapt’ and we looked at what products we had and we wanted to explore the wholesale market a little further,” owner Marie-Pier Veilleux told CTV News.

Switching focus from draught to cans, Harricana now has its line of beers available in dozens of specialty shops and grocery stores around Quebec.

“During the pandemic […] we relied 100 per cent on our beer sales.”

Many Canadians have adapted during COVID-19

According to a new Angus Reid poll for Intuit Quickbooks, 1.9 million Canadians started a new business since the start of the pandemic—more than the population of the city of Montreal.

One in four entrepreneurs say they started their business after losing their job.

Nearly three quarters (73 percent) said they are optimistic about the future.

While provinces are reopening, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business warns the struggles for small and medium-sized businesses, or SMEs, are by no means over.

“It's not a walk in the park for business in the reopening, there's a lot of challenges, and SMEs are still in fragile situations,” Quebec vice-president Francois Vincent said.

There are signs of hope, as the CFIB reports over a third of SMEs in Canada are reporting revenues at or above pre-pandemic levels.

And for some—though certainly not all—that adapted, through crisis came opportunity.

Newsletters

The Breaking News Alert, insider info on promotions and contests, and special offers from our partners. Sign-up today!