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Supporting Small Businesses: Interview with Nani's Gelato

Amidst the pandemic, the struggle of small businesses to maintain their revenue has become apparent. Despite their size, however, they are defined by their spirit and their dauntless and resilient founders. Nani’s Gelato is one of these businesses which requires our support.

Image is courtesy of Nani's Gelato.

Nani’s Gelato is a gelato shop in the center of downtown Toronto. It is currently open every day from 2 pm to 9:30 pm (weekdays) and 12 pm to 9:30 pm (weekends); however, it is closed from December 24th, 2020 to February 1st, 2021. One of the most significant features is that the shop changes its flavours every Monday, rotating through more than 100 flavours a year. The gelato is also freshly made daily from scratch to ensure premium quality.

The following article is an interview with Parry, the owner of Nani’s Gelato. Let’s look at the insight and journey behind this amazing owner and their business.

Interview with Parry

How and why did you start your business?

I started my business in May 2019 operating as an artisan gelato food truck in downtown Toronto. I rented out a small space in Mississauga, set up my commercial kitchen and began making batches of gelato every morning. I started Nani’s Gelato because I wanted to get into the food industry. When I dove into the specific area of food that I wanted to get into, I narrowed it down to something that required a small footprint and something I was passionate about. I have a strong sweet tooth, I love ice cream and my dad had a small soft serve ice cream shop when I was growing up that I loved, so I decided to explore the frozen dessert category. After training for several months, I decided gelato was the right path for me.

What have been your ups and downs so far?

I really try not to focus on the ups and downs. I moved into my brand new storefront at the end of February, a few weeks before the initial COVID lockdown; I ended up opening the shop on May 29th. My sole focus was to stabilize the business and keep things moving in a positive direction. We had days when we had few to no customers initially and we had days where we sold out of the product. Either way, my focus was on steady growth. Personally, with all of the unknown consequences that COVID created, mentally I knew the worst thing I could do was get overly excited when things went well and overly down when things were not headed in the right direction. These types of extreme pendulum swings can cause internal psychological warfare for business owners.

Did I go through it and experience it these past few months? Absolutely. But my focus is always on stability and working hard with my team so the ups outweigh the downs.

- Parry, owner of Nani's Gelato

How has COVID affected your business? What have you done to adapt?

COVID affected my business right from the signing of my lease. Because of when my actual lease was signed, not the Offer to Lease, we are not eligible for a lot of the subsidies available to businesses. Moreover, because this is my first year in a storefront, our sales are not down year over year so we again, do not qualify for any of the government subsidies for wages, rent, etc. Our opening was delayed by approximately 45 days. When we opened, customer traffic was low due to the continued lockdown and it was extremely difficult to find staff. We adapted by doing home delivery through an online ordering platform, touchless pickup and we actually completely reconfigured the storefront to only allow one guest in at a time (we removed all seating and interior line areas). I was able to offer home delivery by converting my food truck into a delivery truck so we were able to complete deliveries on a weekly basis with almost no capital investment. We also utilized traditional delivery services that are available to small businesses, however, I found the majority of these unreliable and too costly for both myself and the customer. Essentially, we focused on providing customers with multiple avenues to order our product – all of which would tailor towards a specific individual in a unique circumstance: someone wanting to get out for some fresh air, someone in quarantine, and someone scared of leaving their living space.

Do you think there is an increased awareness of supporting local?

Yes, I believe there is an increased awareness for supporting local. However, the support I received when I opened my food truck last year pre-COVID was overwhelming. I firmly believe that residents in Toronto and the GTA have always gotten behind hard-working entrepreneurs that have a high-quality product. If customers try your product, enjoy the product and see someone working hard to produce a quality product and provide exceptional service, people will get behind you and support you no matter the time period. Our community all across the country is extremely supportive in this sense – I’m very grateful to live in Canada and be able to have the opportunity to own my own business knowing we have this type of supportive community infrastructure.

What are your future plans?

Future plans include hopefully getting back to “normal” next summer. I would love to go through a year running my shop in conjunction with my gelato truck. My gelato truck and gelato cart were completely booked this summer for weddings, birthday parties, corporate events, food festivals, [and more]. It would be a dream come true to work through a full year with both my shop and truck working at full capacity. I won’t think much further than that ahead, who knows what 2021 has in store for us and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself! I know one thing for sure, we raised over $4,000.00 through food drives we did with our customers starting back in August for the Parkdale Foodbank. Our team is already focused on surpassing $10,000.00 next year and I know our customers are already getting behind the goal. If and when COVID passes, I won’t lose focus that our vulnerable population will still need support – our support will come in the form of food!

Closing Thoughts

Small businesses have always made cities unique because they brought a lot of multiculturalism to the area. Many of them exist around the community, and it’s a matter of looking a little harder to find the businesses one enjoys. It’s time to show some love and support passionate owners like Parry.

There is also a thriving website called Not Amazon founded by Ali Haberstroh which is a local guide of user-submitted small businesses in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and Calgary. The Race to a Cure article Support Small Businesses also has more ways to show support to small business owners all over Canada.

Article Author: Michelle Lam

Author Editor: Linda Duong