This week, we sat down for a call with Julie from Taste Tibet to talk about how her and husband Yeshi have been keeping the business going through lockdown.
What was your initial reaction to the Covid-19 crisis? How did it affect your business initially?
The COVID-19 crisis affected our business as early as the end of January, when we were forced to cancel an upcoming trip to Tibet – this would-be trip of a lifetime had been scheduled for mid–February. Julie won an award last year for food writers on Asia (click here to read more) and we had been planning a 2-month long research trip for our upcoming cookbook. Having to cancel the trip meant that we had our eye on the situation from very early on, and we were perhaps more clued up than most people about what was about to hit.
Summer 2020 was looking like a fantastic line-up of festivals for us, including Glastonbury, the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, Latitude, Cambridge Folk and many more. Some of these events were already pulling out before lockdown happened, so we could see what was happening. Julie’s sister is a web designer and set us up with an online shop within the space of a week, so we were up and running as a delivery service pretty much from the get-go.
Brilliant – you certainly don’t waste any time! So, how did you go about adapting the business?
Moving into deliveries was something that we had never planned on and operating our own online ordering system without the time to get to know the software that we were using was certainly a challenge! One thing that has helped us a lot was deciding from the outset that we were not going to deliver the food hot. Later this year we are opening our first shop/cafe in central Oxford, and part of the idea is to make our food available for sale chilled on these premises. Operating the delivery side has given us the opportunity to trial this before we open our new place, and it has gone really well.
Something else that we have done that has been really successful is to use the online shop as a place for people outside of Oxford to be able to order our food and we are starting to make “food drops” in the surrounding villages about once a month. There has been a huge appetite for this service. We give people collection times and all they need to do is swing by our van and pick up their order.
Finally, at the same time as we launched the online shop and deliveries business, we also started an initiative to feed NHS frontline workers for free. This scheme has been paid for by our customers, who are able to add vouchers towards it when they buy their meals, or by anyone who just wants to contribute through the website. The generosity of our community has been absolutely overwhelming, and ongoing donations mean that we are able to continue providing this service indefinitely.
It’s lovely to hear that the community has been so supportive. What hurdles have you faced along the way?
Deliveries is a completely new business for us! There were a lot of teething problems along the way. Learning how to use the database that sits behind the online shop was definitely a steep learning curve, as was pulling together the people and vehicles required to get hundreds over orders out a week. We are sitting a lot more comfortably now that everyone is receiving the right orders on the right day!
Making food drops at hospitals has been a real humbling experience, and it has also been a huge reality check. Coming face to face with frontline workers has given us a true taste of what’s going on inside the hospital walls, and honestly, it’s been a real privilege to serve the heroes of our community at this difficult time.
Is there anything you’ve introduced during Covid that you’ll continue to do once it’s over?
Once we’ve opened our shop/cafe later in the year we’ll definitely continue with our local outreach work. We’d like to be able to provide food to vulnerable people within our communities through a pay it forward scheme and love the idea of continuing to support local health workers in whatever capacity may be of use.
We’re also looking forward to rolling out our line of chilled foods at the new premises and also beyond. COVID has provided such a good testing ground. Reheating at home definitely works and of course, our home delivery customers will know us for this service now, which is just great.
Sounds like you’ve really embraced the situation and have an exciting journey ahead of you! Has your customer base grown since lockdown started?
Yes! We’ve definitely reached many more people locally than we did before. Our regular market stall in Oxford and pop ups around town had already given us a good following, but we have definitely found new customers, and we hope that these people will come and seek us out once we open our own place later in 2020. Driving out to Oxford’s surrounding villages has also grown our customer base significantly: people outside the city are hungry!
What advice would you give to other businesses in a similar situation?
We’ve found that our customers have been really accommodating in these new circumstances, so if there was ever a good time for trying out all the crazy stuff then it is now! We’ve found that people are very open to new ideas and ways of working. There is a real willingness amongst our customers to try something new, and people have been very forgiving when things haven’t gone to plan! Our customers have really enjoyed watching us adapt and grow during this period, and if you can involve them in your journey – for better and for worse – you will find a high level of engagement and commitment to your brand. Obviously, these are tough times, but if you can summon up resilience and adaptability then you will find support, whatever hare–brained plan you have up your sleeve. Good luck!
Thinking of offering a delivery, takeaway or collection service?
If you’re on the lookout for an online ordering platform to sign your business up to, we currently have some great deals for NCASS members with Slerp, Flipdish and Hungrrr. To find out more, or to catch up on our latest webinar: Online Ordering Systems Explained.