New local businesses launched during COVID-19 pandemic surprised at great response

New local businesses launched during COVID-19 pandemic surprised at great response
WatchEntrepreneurs are opening new businesses in Greater Victoria during the COIVD pandemic and as Tess van Straaten shows us, it's not as crazy an idea as you might think.

At an unassuming south Oak Bay storefront, there’s a sweet surprise.

“You can see the smile on their face,” says Casey’s Chocolates owner Bob Attwell. “It’s one of the happy things they spend their money on.”

The life-long chocolatier is coming out of retirement — hand-making truffles and other delicious treats — at the newly launched Casey’s Chocolates.

“The response has been really, really good for me, actually,” says Atwell, who’s been making chocolates for more than four decades.

The 75-year-old admits he’s a bit surprised at just how good it’s been since officially opening Oct. 1.

But he says he wasn’t worried about opening a business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In recessions, in times when people are depressed, chocolate really is a go-to thing,” Atwell explains. “It gives them a treat.”

It’s a similar story at Victoria’s Bear & Joey Cafe, where business is booming.

“We were not expecting the trade that we’re doing, which is a wonderful surprise!” says Bear & Joey owner Peter Wood.

The now-popular breakfast spot opened in May — less than two months into the pandemic.

“We took it on with a build-out based on 75-seats plus a tea cart and now we’re at 50 per cent so that was definitely a curve ball,” Wood says.

Another big test came last month when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and Wood made the tough choice to shutdown for two weeks.

“We were not required to close and it was a big financial hit but we have a small staff,” Wood explains. “We just figured there was no other option for us.”

Health food restaurant Tractor in downtown Victoria’s the latest business to open with a ribbon cutting on Tuesday.

“It’s been a lot busier than we thought it would be, considering COVID,” says Tractor Foods general manager Sarah Flynn.

That’s because in crisis, there’s opportunity.

“A lot of the news has been challenging that people have been hearing about businesses but despite the pandemic, Greater Victorians have been so good at supporting new businesses,” says Jeff Bray of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA).

“Being local, loving local and shopping local is more important than ever,” adds Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “It’s because of our residents who love our small businesses that (these) businesses will survive and hopefully thrive after we get past this pandemic.”

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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