Restaurants are feeling the pandemic pretty hard.
For those lucky enough to remain open, they have had to get creative in adapting their business to meeting the needs of consumers living in self-isolation. We spoke with Toronto favourite, Somun Superstar, to learn more about how they’re staying positive and finding ways to feed people – including delivering the food themselves via bike!
Tell us in more detail how COVID-19 has changed your business.
Somun Superstar has changed so much in the time of COVID-19 that it almost feels like Sanja and I have started a new business in the past month. We are working harder than ever just to be able to keep the doors open. We are fortunate that our restaurant did a lot of takeout before COVID-19, so at least we were prepared for that, but we had to innovate quickly and develop contact-free ordering with curbside pickup and free local delivery for our neighbours in self-isolation.
What has been the best surprise in how people have shown up for you or your business during this time?
Even though Somun Superstar only opened six short months ago, it had quickly garnered a dedicated following city-wide, but especially from the local community here in the Beaches. Our neighbours have fallen in love with the taste of freshly baked somun, making it the staple of their meals at home. We are thrilled to continue to receive our customers’ unwavering support.
What has been the easiest shift to make?
At Somun Superstar, we pride ourselves at serving fresh food in a welcoming space that is not only bright and airy, but also impeccably clean. We have always followed stringent workflows for daily cleaning and sanitizing, so we simply added more measures specific to prevention of COVID-19 on top of that foundation. Our Instagram story about keeping our customers and staff safe from COVID-19 had even been showcased by a local consultancy as a study in transparency.
What about the hardest?
As clichéd as it sounds, the most important part of our mission at Somun Superstar is being able to establish a personal connection with our customers. As far as we know, we are the first bakery to make somun bread in Canada, and our decision to bake this special type of handmade wood-fired bread that’s specific to Sarajevo comes from a place of passion and love. We have a very focused menu that’s inspired by the Bosnian culinary tradition, with which a lot of Canadians are still unfamiliar, so when we talk about our food and explain the menu, we often feel like cultural ambassadors. This is what we miss the most—not being able to share our passion for somun in person. We are truly grateful for being able to accept and fulfill online orders in time of COVID-19, but that’s so far removed from our original idea and sense of community we set out to build with Somun Superstar.
What have you learned about connecting with your community during this time?
Strong communities take pride in supporting local small businesses that help make their neighbourhoods unique and liveable. We learned that we are all interconnected and that this precious balance depends on showing support for each other. That’s the reason why we’re going the extra mile to deliver our food at no extra charge to our neighbours in self-isolation—I literally hop on my bike and bring the food to their porch. That’s the reason why we’re reaching out to other businesses on our street and offering help, both practical in sharing what we learned, and symbolic in raising awareness of the importance of small businesses.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself (or your business) in light of what’s happening?
Having been small business owners for most of our lives, Sanja and I have learned that change is constant and being able to quickly adapt to change is paramount. In every business, there are obstacles and curveballs, from small daily operating challenges to a large existential crisis like we’re seeing right now, and being able to take those challenges head-on requires an optimistic, can-do attitude and lots of hard work.
What is the easiest thing people can do to support your business right now?
The easiest way to support Somun Superstar and other local businesses right now is to stay connected. Every day we receive phone calls, emails, comments and direct messages on Instagram and Facebook from people telling us that they enjoy our food how much it means to them that we’re still open. Of course, it’s still important to support small businesses that are still open by placing orders, but for businesses that are temporarily closed and are worried about next month’s rent, your message might be that extra boost they need to be able to make it through this difficult time.
Do you think this is going to change your industry going forward? How?
It’s hard to foresee the long-term impact of COVID-19, not just on the hospitality industry but on all service industries. It might be easier for restaurants to adapt to any new measures because we already follow very strict and specific public health regulations, with regular inspections. We are seeing some early examples of how restaurants are adjusting in countries that are easing restrictions after the first wave of COVID-19, and they include limiting group sizes, more physical separation in the seating area, increased sanitization, etc.
Somun Superstar is offering next-day delivery of their somun provisions across the GTA. Amazing eats like freshly baked somun bread and their most popular spreads (kajmak cream cheese, ajvar roasted red pepper spread and pekmez plum butter), with an option to purchase a small potted plant from their neighbour Andy’s Flower Centre.