The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of worry for small business owners in Ottawa, but some are figuring out a way to make the best of a bad situation.

“A year-and-a-half ago, if you would have told me I would be doing this, I would have thought you were crazy,” says owner of Fratelli’s restaurant, Richard Valente.

For 20 years, Valente has been serving up Italian dishes but, like many business owners, he has had to adjust to the current pandemic. He recently opened up a cannabis shop steps away from his restaurant.

“Luckily, it's worked out to be good because people seem to be in need of anything to relax and the people working there are incredible knowledgeable. It's been a Godsend, quite frankly,” says Valente.

Matt Sicoli is part owner of Bluebird Cannabis Company with Valente. He says that despite the pandemic, the timing was right.

“An opportunity came up here so we decided to take it and we love the spot and we love the clients in the area. We figured it’s a good spot to open up,” says Sicoli. 

Valente says it was a lot of work to get to this point but he's glad he took the risk.

“Like a lot of small business people, so much pivoting going on this year. I feel like we’ve done a decade's work in seven, eight, nine months, you know?”

Co-owner of restaurant Corner Peach, Caroline Murphy, has also had to make some changes. 

“We were a full-on restaurant. Now, were not at all. We didn’t want to lose our business right away, so we just dove right in.”

They converted what used to be a dine-in restaurant into a corner store that specializes in homemade sourdough, natural wine, and other items. They also kept a small take out menu.

“The hardest part has just been all the changes. Every week, every month it seems to be kind of like some new regulations or new rules are coming through that we have to be aware of,” says Murphy. 

Valente says food sales are down about 70% at his restaurant so far this month, and having a second business has really helped. 

“Timing is everything. We took a beating on one side but luckily, this business seems to be here and it is steadily increasing. It's the first business I’ve been in where everyone is really happy,” he says, laughing.

Bluebird has plans on expanding, with two more locations opening up in the near future.