The owners of a small café and grocery story in Lunenburg County's West Dublin called Ploughman's Lunch wasted no time in planting the seeds of a helpful new service amid the pandemic.
The quick, high-tech tract that Stefan Kirkpatrick and Desiree Gordon plowed to meet the needs of their rural community has earned them a sustainable business, and a nomination in the Shine On campaign.
Operated through LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin and its parent company, Advocate Media Inc, the campaign aims to shine a light on outstanding businesses in Lunenburg and Queens counties that are making a difference in their communities during these trying times. The businesses have a chance at being highlighted in the company's newspapers, as well as winning $3,000 worth of free advertising for when the economy picks up.
It was a senior, Lynda Weston, who nominated Ploughman's Lunch on Highway 331. She described trips to grocery stores as "perilous" for seniors amid the pandemic.
"I was amazed at how quickly and efficiently this small business pivoted to setting up a 'grocery' store and going online," Weston wrote in her nomination.
"The thing I was craving most was fresh produce, especially salad-type greens. Ploughman's has sourced local providers who normally sold their goods at Farmers' Markets and made them available."
She said that by their doing so, she's since tried various products "from producers I wouldn't normally know about.
"Some of the best lamb ever from Wooly Mountain Farm, apple smoked bacon from Martock Farm, freshest greens from Honey Tree Farm and, of course, delicious cinnamon croissants, bread and other goodies from the Ploughman's bakery," noted Weston.
"AND the biggest bonus of all, although I am just out of their delivery area, they agreed to deliver to Bridgewater as well. I can't say enough good things about all these folks who all own small independent operations. The very folks who are being hardest hit in the commercial sector. So bravo to them all. And much gratitude," she added.
Kirkpatrick commented to LighthouseNOW that their business has always been "fairly adaptable." The couple started off by importing water buffalo from Ontario with the aim of providing buffalo cheese and other dairy products, as well as home-baked goods, for the wholesale market. It's a venture Kirkpatrick suggested is highly successful.
Additionally, they bought an old vacant store at 4645 Highway 331 and started a small grocery business. They later transitioned it into more of a café and bakery to meet market demand.
When health restrictions impacted their café, as well as restaurants in Lunenburg and Halifax who were their wholesale customers, they decided there was still opportunity out there.
"People in [our] communities still want to be buying all the local food," said Kirkpatrick. At the same time, Kirkpatrick and Gordon recognized, "people weren't necessarily comfortable with farm-gate sales."
So the couple enlisted a friend who was experienced with making websites, Ulo Greer, the co-owner of Bridgewater's Fancy Pants Cafe. They soon had a new e-commerce website up and running, ploughmanslunch.ca, aimed at selling and delivering vegetables, some meats, baked goods and preserves.
They arranged it so that farm market vendors could drop their products off to Ploughman's in the morning.
"We were able to have pretty complete control over our environment, so we knew we could do it safely. Because a major concern with COVID was, if one of us was to get sick, then the whole business would be at stake," explained Kirkpatrick.
Deliveries, which Kirkpatrick, and two other staff members undertake, are done on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while orders are taken until 5 p.m. previous to those days. Gordon and an employee do the packing.
Kirkpatrick and Gordon also are in the throes of establishing a community program, whereby their own leftover stock and excess frozen baked goods, as well as donations from the community, are directed toward families in need through established programs.
According to Kirkpatrick, Ploughman's Lunch is processing about 150 grocery orders a week. Initially they planned on only delivering in their area, but due to demand they have extended the catchment area to include West Dublin, Cherry Hill, Petite Riviere, Riverport, Kingsburg, LaHave, Lunenburg and Bridgewater. For those customers who are beyond those areas, pick-up can be arranged.
And they're not ruling out maintaining the service when restaurants and the broader economy starts opening up again.
"It seems like there's a real appetite for it," said Kirkpatrick.
Anyone wanting to nominate a business in the Shine On campaign can do so by connecting with the Shine On link at the top of this newspaper's website at: https://lighthousenow.ca/ Or dropping a handwritten nomination with the business's name, as well as your name, email address, phone number and reason for the nomination. You can also nominate your own business.