READER NOTE: Over the next several months, we will follow the progress of a number of Ontario main street businesses as they evolve their digital presence with the Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) that each has received through the Digital Main Street, or DMS, program.
Digital Main Street is a program – currently funded in Ontario by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade – that provides small businesses with training, grants and resources to adopt digital tools and technologies in order to build business resiliency.
In this story, we feature Bar Bacan in the heart of Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood.
It’s one thing to have a popular food truck, quite another to make the leap into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar restaurant. That is just what Guillermina (Mina) Buzio and her family did in the spring of 2019 when they launched Bar Bacan.
They have brought something different to what is culturally known as the heart of Toronto’s Polish community – a blend of South American cuisine. Mina’s family is Argentinian, while partner Alejandra Sifontes’ is Venezuelan.
Bar Bacan’s Facebook profile sums it up best: “Between the succulent and flavourful cuts of Argentine beef in our empanadas and our irresistible gluten-free Venezuelan arepas, our multifaceted menu is a genuine celebration of the versatility in Latin cuisine.”
“We pride ourselves as being a female-led and LGBTQ+ friendly family business,” Mina said.
Mina learned about Digital Main Street through her local BIA. Having already worked in the local arts scene as a visual artist, she is no stranger to grants programs. With the help of her local DMS Digital Service Squad rep, Lorenzo, Mina applied for and obtained a grant during the first phase of the program late in 2019.
She used those grant funds to help build clientele and encourage fans of her food truck to come to the restaurant, through social media, blogging and an updated website.
That first Digital Transformation Grant helped get Bar Bacan taxi down the runway, but it still had to achieve lift off and establish itself in Toronto’s crowded restaurant scene.
Then the pandemic struck.
The dining room had to shut down. Mina and her team scrambled to determine how best to adjust the menu for takeout and delivery only. The food truck had to be parked and in addition, the large festivals and events it usually would have attended were canceled. Relief measures, such as the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, became crucial to survival.
When the DMS program renewed in June, Mina worked again with Lorenzo to apply for and secure a second grant.
Defining a clear identity to drive online business
Even when pandemic restrictions eased and Bar Bacan could have reopened its dining room with safety measures in place, the team elected to keep it closed and focus on the patio instead. Now, with winter approaching, the latest DMS grant is being used to continue building Bar Bacan’s online presence for takeout/delivery. Mina also plans to expand the catering side of the business.
This will be achieved through further enhancements to the Bar Bacan website, continued promotion through Facebook and by increasing subscribers to the mailing list. Old “analog” standbys are also on the workplan – new window signage and flyer distribution around the neighbourhood.
“I am enjoying the possibilities of what I can do with this second DMS grant because after my experience with the first one, I have a much clearer idea of what I can do,” Mina said.
As part of the DMS experience, qualifying business owners are asked hard questions about their business – what if offers, how it is different and who it wants to reach. For Bar Bacan, this process has helped to clarify and communicate its concept in a consistent way across all of its marketing channels.
“It’s been helpful to have other people asking these questions to get us to focus on defining our concept– the experience we offer – beyond just focusing on what we have on the menu,” Mina said. “Because otherwise you shouldn’t be putting a cent into marketing until you have clarified who and what the business is.”
We will chart Bar Bacan’s progress over the coming months to see how these efforts translate into greater social engagement and sales as the pandemic continues to impact customer behaviour.
Mina’s story is just one example of how main street small businesses across Ontario have taken advantage of the Digital Main Street Ontario Initiative.
For information and how to apply, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca/ontariogrants