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Coffee Shop Keeps it Local with James Beard Relief Fund

17 July, 2020
Omi's Coffee Shop James Beard Relief Fund

Photo by Fine Dining Lovers artwork /  james_beard_foundation / courtesy_of_omi coffee shop / unsplash / rawpixels 

“Our vendors are all local,” says co-owner Gail Bruzgo. “We are very much a community based business. Even our bank is local, our food vendors, paper supplier, coffee roaster, wine and beer suppliers, graphic design person, sign artist etc. The grant helped us to pay all of these people, keeping the money right here in South Portland and Maine. The grant allowed us to feel good about paying everyone while being able to focus on the future and what that would entail.”

Successful businesses adapt or die, and that has never been more true than now. Omi’s, a friendly, family-run business that provides a cosy sit-in service for locals, had to quickly pivot to a takeout model. Since 25 June the coffee shop has been able to reopen for pick-up and outdoor dining in its converted parking lot. As such, Omi's has been able to retain almost all of its staff - and of course, they are local too.

“We have had to rethink our whole way of doing business,” says Bruzgo. “From spending extensive time creating a website and online ordering system, creating a takeout window, doing curbside pick-up when we were only allowed to do that.”

An air of uncertainty still hangs over the state of Maine, and further afield, as cases of the virus surge across America. Yet Bruzgo is not overly pessimistic. Indeed, she is grateful for the opportunity tackle some projects she could never find time for in the past.

“This time of lockdown has allowed us to make changes,” says Bruzgo. “Like creating a website and marketing campaigns that we never had the time to do before. It would seem many of these changes are a positive thing for us.”

Government aid programmes such as the Payment Protection Programme, and other funding such as the James Beard Foundation Relief Fund, have been instrumental in helping businesses stay afloat through the pandemic. But there is a sense that the full effects of the coronavirus won’t be fully felt until six months down the road.

“Maine relies heavily on tourists and visitors in the summer months,” says Bruzgo. “And South Portland restaurants rely on summer revenues to take us through the very long winters when sales are at their lowest. Losing out on summer business has been a huge blow to the hospitality industry here in the state.”

The long-term effects of coronavirus on the hospitality industry in Main are uncertain, but locals supporting local businesses can play a crucial part in any recovery. For Bruzgo, that community bond will be a key factor in Omi’s future. 

“Our local customers have been quite loyal and we have had some success in that regard these last few months. Our hope is that we have continued success with the ‘new’ way of doing things. That we remain and even become a stronger and more integral part of the local community, and that we give back as much as we can.”

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