How Melissa Zuker Pivoted Toronto Market Co. to Thrive During the Pandemic

Toronto Market Company (TMCo) was one of the many companies that had to pivot during the pandemic. Founded in 2014 by Melissa Zuker, TMCo’s mission was to create vibrant pop-up food markets in downtown Toronto. The market’s focus was to highlight the city’s diversity and spirit while bringing residents and local businesses together. 

When the city shut down in March 2020, Melissa knew she needed to pivot in order to keep the business alive. Melissa took her physical markets online, creating a virtual artisanal food market with local businesses. TMCo is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its virtual marketplace by expanding its delivery to Simcoe Region and Muskoka, bringing artisanal Toronto goods to those areas.

Melissa sat down with us to tell us a bit more about building TMCo, her pivot, and business advice she’s learned along the way.

For people who don’t know, tell us what you do?

I am the co-founder of Toronto Market Co. We work with 100+ local businesses, makers, bakers and restaurants to curate the best local goodies, which are available online at www.TorontoMarket.Co. It’s a place where you can discover new products and of course, shop hundreds of suppliers with one checkout for delivery or pickup. We’ve set up the website to function like a market where you must place your order by the cut-off date each week; it makes shopping more exciting!

What made you want to do what you do? 

I have always had a passion for local small businesses and entrepreneurship. My own previous experiences with small businesses (my other business is Melissa Beth Designs – made me realize that we needed more avenues for supporting small businesses in Toronto. I used to travel to trade shows in the US and Christmas Markets in NYC to find opportunities. When we founded Toronto Market Company in 2014, we set out to create the best physical markets that animated public spaces and showcased local producers (we created a number of artisan and food markets in downtown Toronto). In 2020, our physical markets were cancelled. After talking with many of our vendor partners who were keen to find new ways to reach customers, we launched

How did you get into this industry, and what might you suggest to someone else looking to do the same?

Honestly, after having my first baby, I could no longer travel around to markets with my Melissa Beth business. In 2014 (after 2 kids and pregnant with my third), I started looking for markets in the city but they did not really exist. So, I decided to start pop up markets in great spaces in Toronto. The first market we created was the Union Station Holiday Market which included a number of food-focused markets in Toronto that featured restaurants and incredible food entrepreneurs.

Tell us about the vendors and products that Toronto Market Co features. Do you have any favourites?

We have so many amazing local vendors! My favourites are always changing. We curate and try everything to ensure we really love the products we sell. 

Some favourites for the season are: 

  • Gouter’s Kouign Amenn – if you have never had it, it is A MUST – caramelized layers of sweet pastry dough that are both crispy and melt in your mouth.
  • Good Wheel Pizza – is a new vendor and new venture and their pizzas are the real deal.  The Sourdough crust is a 3-day process in itself!
  • Soft Dough Co. – this new biz is really cool, with basque cheesecake and the best madeleines in a variety of flavours.
  • Muddy Crops – they sell the freshest local fruit and veggies and each week the assortment is always changing. 
  • Marben Bar – restaurant favs that can easily be prepared at home.  

What was your inspiration to pivot during the pandemic? Tell us about the process. 

We saw many vendors that we work with struggling and wanted to create something that supported local businesses and allowed customers to shop in one, easy location. It was a super hectic time, homeschooling 3 kids and trying to figure out how to launch the site and of course, navigate our new normal. It was many many late nights building the website and working with vendors to make it all happen.

How did customers and vendors respond to the pivot? How did you continue to carry out your business? 

We were overwhelmed with the response and excitement for the online marketplace. We certainly learned a lot in the early days. Creating logistics systems to make it all work was new for us. When you are working with 100+ vendors and thousands of products, it can get really complicated. 

Tell us about this next chapter of expanding into Simcoe Region. What challenges did you have to overcome? What excites you the most about this expansion?

We are really excited to be offering delivery to the Simcoe region this summer!  

We love being able to expand our reach and get everyone their favourite local goodies at the cottage this summer and to expand our delivery network! 

 What is your mission in your career? 

I am passionate about creating opportunities for local small businesses. My mission is to empower these businesses and to help them grow.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What advice do you give to your “mentees”? 

The best advice I ever received was if you fail, don’t ever give up! Just keep on hustling on. If it was meant to be easy, everyone would be doing it!

My advice to mentees is to follow your dreams. Go for it!  You’ll figure it out along the way! 

Tell us a secret about your job. 

Like many moms, I am a night owl and often do my best work at night from 10pm-1am. 

What would you tell your teenage self, if you were to meet them today? 

I would tell her that you shouldn’t care what people think! Just go for it! Also, don’t forget to wear sunscreen. 

How can we get connected? Where can we learn more about you / connect with you / your social channels?, @torontomarketco,