While planning a response to a pandemic is difficult for any business owner, one local entrepreneur has viewed the operational challenges presented by COVID-19 as an opportunity for innovation.
Northern Lights Estate Winery Owner Doug Bell made some hard decisions after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March to ensure the well-being of his employees, including closing dine-in service at the Bistro and setting up many of his administrative and sales teams to work remotely. “As the weeks progressed, however, our teams turned their attention to the future. Whenever there is a problem, there is an opportunity,” says Bell.
Bell’s team came up with innovative ideas for continuing operations during the pandemic, including working with other local businesses to create unique bundles of products for sale. These “Isolation Packages” include an assortment of wine, games, snacks, soaps, and other locally made or sourced items. They also worked together to offer options for take-out and delivery of food from their Bistro and of their wines locally and across BC.
Now that the Province is allowing limited dine-in service to resume, Bell has put strong physical distancing and cleaning protocols in place to protect staff and customer health. People must now order food from the Bistro at an order station that includes a plexiglass barrier to separate staff and customers. After ordering, staff direct patrons to a disinfected table to which they deliver food and drink. All tables have 6-8 feet of space between them and new procedures ensure adequate distancing between people who are in the winery at all times.
While the challenges presented by the pandemic have not been easy to face, the outpouring of local support has buoyed Bell. “The community has been unbelievably supportive and generous with their dollars. Now that we are re-opening [the winery and our other businesses], people are cautious but supportive to get back into our locations to experience the new style of service which highlights safety first while providing great experiences that will allow people to come together and feel normal again,” says Bell.
About the author: Christina worked first as a radio journalist and then a public relations specialist in her hometown of Prince George for almost a decade before transitioning into her current role of Workforce Development Officer in the Economic Development Division at the City of Prince George. She has public and private sector experience in economic development, external and internal communications, marketing, social media and website management, event planning, and research. She has a passion for storytelling and for providing support to local businesses to help them grow and thrive.