When we found out about Burrow Shop, the online store that sells goods from local farms and suppliers, we were pretty excited. Not only because it offers a way to get the great local products we love and support the people behind those products, but also because it’s lead by Patricia Larkin, who always seems to have the inside scoop on the local food scene.
I last spoke with Larkin in 2017, soon after she launched Buchipop, a kombucha operation that has since become very successful, selling in retail and cafe locations around the region. We know about her big space in Little Italy, and her connections to the food scene, and her understanding of restaurant operations, having been the chef at Black Cat Bistro and other well-known Ottawa restaurants.
With Burrow Shop, she’s leveraging those connections and all that knowledge to get the goods to the people who want them — and to help small businesses stay afloat. The ordering system is very easy, allowing shoppers to select from pick-up or delivery options (Fridays only for deliveries).
We caught up with Larkin to find out how she conceived of the online shop, how it’s going so far, and the future of Burrow Shop.
How did you decide to launch Burrow Shop?
It was a spur of the moment thing. Buchipop is sold mostly in restaurants and coffee shops, so our business took a major hit overnight. But we have our network of customers and we have our manufacturing space. We just thought of the idea, and thought “we could totally do this”. After some quick outreach to potential vendors got enthusiastic responses, we knew we were onto something.
What challenges did you face in operating during the pandemic?
Honestly, the biggest challenge is managing the immediate scale. Within 48 hours, we conceived of the idea and launched the website with about 15 vendors. Most of that is a testament to how awesome Ottawa’s own Shopify is (even our e-commerce platform is local!) We very quickly realized we had a tiger by the tail. It was pretty overwhelming, actually. But things feel a bit more under control now and we are steadily refining the store and adding awesome vendors.
What are the most popular items in the shop? Did the popularity of certain items surprise you at all?
Topping the list are eggs, lettuce, and pizza kits.
The eggs are coming from Ferme Rêveuse, where chickens are raised on pasture. These chickens are raised in greenhouse-style buildings, which are moved each day to a fresh patch of grass for foraging. Their birds have access to the outside, and can seek shade or shelter in the greenhouse at any time. We are proud and fortunate to be able to offer eggs from Kornel and Olga at Ferme Rêveuse.
To our delight, Fieldless Farms lettuces have done extremely well. Fieldless is actually a sister company of ours. It’s a brand new indoor controlled environment agriculture farm set up in Cornwall. They were just getting started when all this hit. The demand for their product has been eye-opening and exciting for us and them.
We have also been happy to see how popular the pizza kits have been from our good friends at Heartbreakers. They opened only four days before this Covid thing got real and are now a bit overwhelmed themselves with delivery and pickup. But we are so thrilled to have them in our shop. You can expect to see more products like this in the future at Burrow as we reach out to our network of restaurant owners, many of whom are Buchipop customers, so it’s really nice to be able to support them.
Do you think you will continue Burrow Shop after social distancing is no longer part of our life?
It certainly wasn’t our intention when we got this thing going, but yes. We think there is something sustainable here and it’s really exciting for us and for smaller makers and growers. So, as long as people see value in this service we will continue to offer it.
We see this as a sort of virtual farmers market. Basically Etsy but fresh and with local business. So the tiger is getting bigger and scarier, but we are up for the challenge!