01:35 – About Little Mushroom Catering
03:54 – How a caterer pivots during Covid
05:50 – The power of Google Forms
06:48 – A web ordering walk-through
12:25 – How Mother’s Day was made soooo much easier
14:06 – #MadeWithMushLove
14:38 – How to Pay It Forward and buy lunch for a Front-line worker
15:15 – Summary
16:56 – Little Mushrooms’ Mission and Vision
18:00 – Things to try differently next time and also helping former staff
Click the “Connect” tab to browse web/social links …
Grocery Order Form: Click for Form
Jason Bavington (00:02):
Hey everyone. It’s Jason with DUX — Your Local City Guide and welcome back to another episode of our video blog. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been doing these filmings all week and it’s incredible the kind of ingenuity and creativity and contribution that various businesses and organizations are making out there during this current Covid crisis. As of the time of this filming, we’re still in Covid-19. We’re still at home. Places are still shut down, and regardless of all that, people are still doing whatever they can to help everyone else and get through this situation collectively and contributing to the community as a whole. And to that end, I have Stephanie Soulis of Little Mushroom Catering on the call today. Welcome Stephanie!
Stephanie Soulis (00:47):
Thank you, Jason.
Jason Bavington (00:48):
So is that your, is that all your cookbooks on your shelves back there? Is that what it is?
Stephanie Soulis (00:53):
No, I’m married to a history teacher. There’s a little bit of everything back there, though. We’ve got everything from James Bond and Stephen King on one side to history and arts books on the other side.
Jason Bavington (01:07):
It’s quite the eclectic collection then. Yeah, kind of like catering as a whole variety of foods and culinary styles and cuisine.
Stephanie Soulis (01:18):
And the cookbooks are all in the library at the kitchen, actually. We have a library as part of our office so that any of my staff can take out cookbooks or business books or anything of the like.
Jason Bavington (01:30):
Nice. So, yeah. So Stephanie is President and CEO of Little Mushroom catering and, Stephanie, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your catering business, you know, pre-Covid, how it would typically look at this time of year in the Spring, how you guys normally operate?
Stephanie Soulis (01:43):
Yeah, so we’ve been in business, Little Mushroom has been around for almost 10 years now. Over the last probably five years, we’ve really been focusing more on weddings and conferences, which, you know, hindsight’s 20/20, but looking back now, I kind of wish we wouldn’t have done that when we did. But we cater large group, special events all across Southwestern Ontario. So we do a lot of work in Guelph, Fergus, Elora area, but also down towards Woodstock, Hamilton. And then our focus is really Waterloo Wellington County. As far as our business, special events for people in their backyards or whether it’s at the Guelph Youth Music Hall or River Run or Centre in the Square in Kitchener. We do a lot of cultural events as well.
Jason Bavington (02:33):
Wow. So you guys really get around. That’s really nice to be able to feed the masses like that. And how big is your team? Is it like two amazing chefs behind the scenes? Or you’ve got a team of, like, a huge amount of elves behind the scenes?
Stephanie Soulis (02:46):
So pre-Covid we had about 38 on staff. Usually our peak in the Summer, we usually do a big hiring right around now. So usually in the Summer we’re anywhere from 42 to 48 employees. Wow. Yeah.
Jason Bavington (03:04):
So a bit of a shift this year probably.
Stephanie Soulis (03:05):
Big shifts. So on March 15th we did a big layoff. It’s hard. I kept four managers on full time and we did a big clean. We did, we had actually just moved to a new location in February. I invested a lot in renovating a warehouse space into a 7,000 square foot kitchen, with a small restaurant. So we were hoping to open that last week. So yeah, we’ve got a small, what would have been a 30 seater restaurant. But we’re ready to open it once the government says we can. It will be opening as a 12 seater restaurant, in Cambridge.
Jason Bavington (03:52):
Wow. That will be exciting.
Stephanie Soulis (03:53):
Jason Bavington (03:54):
And so what has Little Mushroom catering done during Covid to kind of, obviously you had to pivot your business and shift. Because as everyone knows, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of big huge events and weddings and catering events happening right now. So I know you said you had to lay people off, but what else have you guys had to do to continue to get money flowing through the doors and helping people? Have you guys shifted in this period?
Stephanie Soulis (04:18):
Our business basically as of March 15th went from growing by 20% this year to dead stop. So it took a couple of weeks to figure out exactly what was going to work. But we were able to use the resources that we already had. So things like our software for ordering. We use Google forms a lot. It helps streamline our onboarding process. And so we were already really familiar with using Google forms. We have delivery vans. We have people who are already trained on driving those delivery vans. We have a good system for inventory control as well. So we were able to take all of those pieces that we already knew well and figure out a new way to help solve people’s problems. We kept hearing that grocery store shelves were empty. People couldn’t find toilet paper. Or the big one has been yeast.
Jason Bavington (05:15):
Ah, I heard about that too.
Stephanie Soulis (05:16):
Yeah. Yeast and flour. We have sold a ton of yeast and flour. Lots of people baking bread at home. We were able to take the resources that we already had and turn it into something new. So about a month ago now we started doing grocery and take out delivery services. So we’ve got curbside pickup for three days a week and then we do delivery two days a week. This week, because of Mother’s Day, we’re adding an extra delivery day as well. So we’ve got Saturday deliveries this week, too.
Jason Bavington (05:44):
So do people go to your, do they go to your website? Do they phone you? Do they email you? How does it normally work?
Stephanie Soulis (05:49):
All of the above. We have, again, I mentioned that we’re using Google forms. Part of the reason why we’ve chosen to use Google forms is because they’re living documents. So we can send out a link to someone once and they can use that link every week. Because our menu changes twice a week. Every week. So this week, yesterday we had KW October Fest meals going out, with schnitzel and sausage. We also had Cinco de Mayo, was yesterday. So we had some taco kits going out. Tomorrow we’ve got a beef brisket meal with our house-made cornbread and honey butter and our Mac and cheese, which is a little bit famous around here. So, yeah. So it’s sold out already. We’ve got Mother’s Day quiches. But yeah, our menu is constantly changing. We also have frozen meals as well. So things like chilies and soups and other chicken and chick pea curry, flavors from all over the world.
Jason Bavington (06:46):
That’s really, really cool. Okay. Let’s, let’s take a look at your website here and you can walk me through it and you can see all the yummies that you have for people. Alrighty. On your website
Stephanie Soulis (06:58):
Scroll down on that home page.
Jason Bavington (06:59):
I’m already hungry.
Stephanie Soulis (07:00):
Yeah, just scroll down on that homepage and it’ll take you right to our grocery form. There you go. So that’s a little bit about what we’re doing. We’re also doing, there are still quite a few businesses that are operating. That are essential. So we have a couple of different programs for that. We’ve got things like hot lunches, hot or cold, that we’re doing for a lot of local companies. So if you’ve got, you know, 5 or 10 employees still working. We’ll come in and drop off lunches for them as well. And then the big thing that’s been really awesome is that we have a Pay-It-Forward program. So we’ve already sold, I think it’s 160 Pay-It-Forward lunches, that have gone to St. Mary’s Hospital too, we’ve got one coming up next week to go to Grand River Hospital for the childbirth nurses.
Stephanie Soulis (07:49):
And OB’s. I have two staff members who just came back from mat leave. So that’s kind of near and dear to our hearts. We’ve been able to send to a lot of the long-term care facilities as well. There’s one in in Kitchener that’s been hit especially hard, so we’re able to send them some goodies. We’ve been sending out baked goods as well. We have our “Nom Nom” treats as part of our business. They’re cookies with company logos on them. If you want to click on that. So we have our “Keep Calm and Nom Nom” cookies. We’ve been making for years, but they’re very popular right now. And we also have some of our cookies that just say, you know, thank you for all you do. And so we send those to a lot of the front-line workers as well.
Jason Bavington (08:32):
Wow. That’s really cool. I’m sure that all these organizations really, really appreciate the Pay-It-Forward lunches that you’re providing because, you know, everyone’s stressed out to a higher degree. Everyone is working really hard. Probably a lot of people aren’t thinking a lot about, you know, “where am I going to get my next high quality meal from” when I’m, you know, a front-line worker and just dealing with essentials. And so to be able to provide high quality, well-made, well-prepared, highly nutritious meals is extremely important versus just trying to grab something at a fast food restaurant and just filling your stomach but not really, really feeding yourself and giving yourself nutrition and the fuel that you really need to keep going. So to provide these high-quality meals is a really, really good service so that all these organizations can continue doing the essential services that they need to do. So that’s fantastic.
Stephanie Soulis (09:19):
Yeah, it’s been really great. And we’ve also been able to introduce a lot of our clients to the foods that we would normally use in the kitchen anyway through our grocery program. So through our grocery link, if you wanted to go to the link there, look down the screen a little bit. You can get things like organic pork from 3Gen farms. You can get a duck breast from King Cole duck. We’ve got bison burgers and beef burgers from Oakridge Acres in Ayr. We’ve got a bunch of Ontario cheeses on there. We’ve got lots of Woolwich goat cheese, but we also have Thornloe. You can get blue cheese from us. You can get a nice aged cheddar. And then we’ve got lots of produce from local farmers as well. There’s tons of options.
Jason Bavington (10:06):
Yeah. So in addition to people being able to order, you know, prepared meals, you have the basics here. Like, you know, here’s my butter, here’s my sugar. There’s that yeast that, you know, the hard to find yeast these days and that’s amazing. Right down to tomatoes, green peppers, lemons, celery. So yeah, I can see how your service…there’s the Woolwich goat cheese — that’s one of my personal favorites actually.
Stephanie Soulis (10:27):
And then we also have things like Settlement Coffee grounds. So Settlement Coffee shop, there’s two locations — one in Kitchener, one in Waterloo, I think. And so we’re selling their coffee grounds. We’ve got Grand Tiver tea bags. Right now we have cloth masks as well. If you do want to go to a Costco or whatever and then need the cloth mask. We’ve got those available from a local supplier as well.
Jason Bavington (10:51):
I’m just going to check off all these, all my things there and then I know they’ll magically appear at my house like tomorrow, right? Like that’s what we arranged? It’s fantastic, because as we know, with a lot of people who are housebound and can’t get out and they might be able to get a friend to deliver groceries, pick up groceries for them, might be able to get an online service to deliver groceries for them, which is great. But at the same time, a lot of people aren’t used to having to cook for themselves. You know a lot of people rely on a lot of their meals as prepared foods as simple as picking it up at the grocery store, which they can’t do these days. So being able for Little Mushroom Catering to “A” not only to drop off the groceries, do your grocery shopping for you, but “B”, if you do need those prepared foods because you’re not able to do them for yourself for whatever reason to have all these options…
Stephanie Soulis (11:38):
We had one lady who had just broken her arm. She can’t stir, she can’t, even cutting things. She’s not able to cut up a piece of meat. So she was looking specifically for meals that she didn’t have to worry about.
Jason Bavington (11:51):
And so do you have regular customers who order once a week from you? Do you have just a lot of one-offs or have you like, have you really grown your family right now?
Stephanie Soulis (11:58):
Yeah, actually, speaking of family, it’s been great because our staff’s families have been very supportive with getting the word out, too. We absolutely have some people who are, we see every week, every week for the last four weeks. And then there’s other ones where I’ve never, they’re not a customer of ours normally. I’ve never heard of them before or we don’t know them, but they’ve heard about us either through something like this or from our social media.
Jason Bavington (12:23):
That’s fantastic. And I know just before the call we were talking about Mother’s Day and I see your Mother’s Day specials here. That’s really nice to have these prepared bundles, prepared boxes that you know, that makes Dad’s lives easier and son’s and daughter’s lives easier.
Stephanie Soulis (12:38):
The kids won’t be making cards at school this year. So the Dads have to step up.
Jason Bavington (12:42):
I know, you know, what are we going to do, I don’t know. It’s kind of good, though. You know, it’s all about that whole relationship-building and, you know, for some people might be like “trial by fire”. It should be kind of interesting.
Stephanie Soulis (12:54):
Another fun thing to note, too, is that we’ve had people from, Northern Ontario, like from Sault Ste Marie place orders for their families that live here. We had an order from Nova Scotia. She sent her sister a dinner and some groceries. And then just last night we had a lady from New York order for her parents, who live in town.
Jason Bavington (13:15):
Wow. Isn’t that nice?
Stephanie Soulis (13:16):
Yeah, it’s, you know, again, it’s not something that you would normally think to do, but especially around Mother’s Day or birthdays or you know, was just a nice treat to let people know that you’re thinking about them. Even if you’re not in the same city, you’re able to do something like this.
Jason Bavington (13:30):
Yeah. Especially in our connected world now where, you know, everything is basically a click away. And so to be able to be in a different province, state, country, just to go to the website and say “hi, I want to send Mom something” or “I need to do something for a special friend or relative” and to know you guys will deliver it and it’s going to be amazing quality. It’s not going to be a bunch of junky ingredients and just like a factory made meal. It’s made by hand. It’s made with love and attention and caring and then dropped off, with the same intention. And so all of that, all that intention and all that contribution towards the delivery for me is really, really equally important to what’s being delivered itself. It’s the intent behind it.
Stephanie Soulis (14:06):
We also like to say that, like our hashtag is “made with mush love”. And we don’t deep fry anything. And a lot of parents really appreciate us because we’re a nut-free facility, as well. So all of our desserts are made in-house. We do have some treats from Crumby Cookie Dough and Four All Ice Cream right now as well, which are not guaranteed to be, nut-free, although we pick their nut-free options. But anything that we make in house is nut-free and from scratch.
Jason Bavington (14:37):
That’s great. And I see at the bottom here, you have your Pay-It-Forward, add-on. So someone can do a regular order, but if they, you know, want to send that karma forward, with those positive vibes. You can click off, you know, buy someone a lunch or add $2 for the Nom Nom treats and then you’re Gfit Certificate options.
Stephanie Soulis (14:53):
So that we’re ready for the restaurant to open. We’ve already gotten quite a few people helping us out there, with purchasing gift cards for the restaurant.
Jason Bavington (15:03):
That’s fantastic. And so when you’re, when this is all done, you expect your restaurant to open and welcome everyone to your new facility.
Stephanie Soulis (15:11):
Jason Bavington (15:13):
That’s exciting. So yeah, so it looks like you guys have, you know, tried to make the most of what’s a very challenging situation for everyone and it looks like you’ve pivoted your business really, really well. Very successfully, you know, as successful as can be given all the challenges that we have right now. You’re using the Google form which is a great platform. It’s Google, so highly reliable. Works really, really well. And you offer, not only do you offer grocery items, which is, at least from my perspective just being someone who just like an average average citizen, pretty unique for a caterer to do. But you also offer these catered, well-made, well-produced, well-crafted, well cooked items. Frozen forms, people can throw in their fridge. Fresh, they can have it that night. And then you have the whole, you know, Pay-It-Forward program as well and, and you’re taking care of all the Moms, which is kind of important, too.
Jason Bavington (15:59):
So it looks like you have a great medley of options available to people and a great variety of ways to continue to connect with the community, connect to individuals, connect with other organizations. And just be that collective positive light that everyone can use right now, I think. A little bit of light and a little bit of love. And so, yeah. So I celebrate everything that you’re doing to do your part, to keep all that going and keep that love and community and, you know, good vibes going into all the people’s lives you touch. So, yeah, I think it’s fantastic what you’re doing.
Stephanie Soulis (16:38):
Well, and already we’re at the point now where we’re brought back two more employees. We’ve got another one starting back next week. So just it’s hard to consider anything at this point as a … because we’re still, we’re not making what we were making. We’re not having the impact that we were having. You know, our whole mission statement is that we’re an innovative, sustainable and socially responsible, catering company. And so part of that is, you know, making sure that we’re sending our food out to people in reusable containers. That’s been really hard to try and find right off the bat. So we use plastic litre containers and half litre containers and things in the kitchen. That’s pretty standard. And we were reusing in the kitchen. I’m hoping that people are reusing them a little bit at home. But that’s how we’re sending out a lot of our foods. Even from week one to week four, we’ve already been able to eliminate some of the plastic that was going out. We’re looking into getting glass jars for things like our barbecue sauce and our salad dressing that we’re selling. So whatever we can do to try and limit our ecological footprint too and also stay socially responsible in everything that we’re doing.
Jason Bavington (17:50):
That’s fantastic. Cause yeah, it’s all connected at some point, right? So yeah, anything that we can do to lighten our impact in some ways and increase our impact in others, it all works together, which is great. Now that you’ve been doing this for a little while now, is there anything that you would do differently? Now that you have chance to look back or, you know, try something in a different way, different form, you know, for other caters or simply other businesses that are in your situation? Any light bulbs that went off over the past little while?
Stephanie Soulis (18:19):
I mean I wish that I would’ve been a little quicker on the uptake, with coming up with an idea. It was a shock to the system. And I often will speak at events about mental health and we’re part of a group that put together a program, an event, called “You Are The New” and I just spoke on a panel at the Restaurants Canada show as well as at the beginning of March. You have to deal with the trauma first before you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I’m glad that we went through that process, but my kick in the pants was, I wish I would have been faster at coming up with what to do. Because it certainly would’ve, would have helped with cashflow a little bit more. But we’ve all been been taking care of each other, too.
Stephanie Soulis (19:03):
And even with my staff who are laid off right now, I’ve either been trying to broker deals and find them jobs elsewhere. So I’ve got two of my chefs who are working at long-term care facilities. I just hooked up one of our bakers with another small bakery that’s just growing now. And also we’ve had Zoom calls and we do group trivia nights and I’m still trying to keep that company culture going. But it’s definitely, once you get to a certain size, it’s hard to figure out how to keep that company culture when you can’t be in the same space.
Jason Bavington (19:37):
Yeah. It’s hard to take care of everyone. So any way you can, it all goes a long way. So Stephanie Soulis, President and CEO of Little Mushroom Catering. It was great to have this call with you. And now, you know, you made me really, really hungry. So I’m going to go back to checking everything off on that list and I didn’t have a dinner plan tonight anyways, so you know, we’ll see what happens. But yeah, if you’re watching this video anywhere else but on our website, head on over to dux.city, that’s d u x . city. And then click on our blog link. We’ll have the blog post there, just click on Little Mushroom Catering. You’ll be able to view the whole video there and also we’ll put links to the Little Mushroom Catering website and you can get to their order form directly on their site. It was as easy as you saw us doing it now. We’ll also put links to all their social media and yeah, just keep you salivating because, the food looks great. What they’re doing looks great. And yeah, I like to cook sometimes, but when I don’t like to cook, it’s nice to know that Little Mushroom Catering is around. So, yeah. Thanks again, Stephanie. It was a lot of fun. Yeah. And yeah, so everyone just keep moving forward and keep sharing and supporting your local business. Cheers.
Stephanie Soulis (20:45):