When pandemic shutdowns came into effect in March, Mary Chiarot, vice-president & general manager, Garland-Welbilt Canada says her company saw “the whole pipeline come to a standstill.” But, rather than shut down completely, the Mississauga, Ont.-based company operated factories on reduced hours and adjusted to accommodate whatever demand remained from hospitals, institutions and retail. Our approach was less about hunkering down and being focused inwardly, but rather we focused outwardly,” says Chiarot. “Part of our success in the Canadian market is not just what we do every day [as a manufacturer], but our leadership position within the foodservice industry. And, we believe we have a responsibility to support the industry,” Chiarot explains, noting her philosophy has long been a pillar of Garland-Welbilt’s strategy. Among its key efforts is scholarships and bursaries to help develop the industry’s future leaders. But, in the face of sudden challenges created by COVID-19, this commitment was not only maintained, but greatly expanded.
When considering how best to offer support, Garland-Welbilt’s industry partnerships, such as consultants, servicing partners and industry associations, as well as customers/operators, were top of mind. The company looked at how they were being impacted and searched for ways to “work closely with them in order to support them and, in turn, [have] them support us,” Chiarot adds.
“We quickly tabled a bunch of things we could do and set out with our troops to try and reach out and drive some of those initiatives forward,” shares Jeff McMullen, vice-president, Sales, Canada at Garland-Welbilt Canada.
Among the initiatives put in motion was outreach to community kitchens, including Community Food Centres Canada, offering additional equipment and support preparing food and meals. “We quickly reached out to partners like Gordon Food Service and Bridor…and asked for donations; they quickly ponied up and chef Geoff [Scott] produced those meals,” says McMullen. “In excess of 2,000 meals were delivered out of [the Welbilt Canada Culinary Centre] within the first 30 days.”
The company offered additional support communities by loaning equipment to charitable organizations,temporary kitchens and food centres. It also worked with its service partners to subsidize repairs and installation costs. These partners were also mobilized to help deliver the meals prepared at the Culinary Centre.
Recognizing the strain on restaurants, Garland-Welbilt also took action to support the industry’s displaced workers as a founding partner of the Canadian Hospitality Worker Relief Fund (CHWRF), which distributed more than $1-million in one-time, $500 grants to applicants from the industry.
Chiarot describes the CHWRF’s creation as a grassroots initiative developed prior to the introduction of many government-support measures. “We used our resources, as well as our brand and our business name in order to bring more funds into that bucket of goodwill,” she adds.
Other efforts included support for Canada Takeout’s #TakeoutDay campaign (see story p. 34) and the launch of a financing program to help cash-strapped operators access new equipment.
“We worked on making it more feasible and economical for that operator to stay in business,” says Chiarot. This also includes “providing guidance and consulting to those operators that are re-thinking or re-inventing their business.”
“We provided some demo equipment so [restaurants] could augment their foodservice to be able to get through and switch over to more takeout,” adds McMullen, pointing to an example of an Italian fine-dining restaurant that pivoted to a pizza-takeout concept.
As the industry continues to face challenges, Chiarot says food insecurity will remain a main focus of the company’s support efforts, adding it’s been part of the company’s calling for more than five years. This will include “working with community kitchens, but not only address food insecurity by delivering fresh and hot meals, but also teaching people how to cook meals that are economical for their for themselves and their families,” she explains.