It all began in March 2020, when the first wave of COVID-19 came to North America. Academic institutions, services, local businesses and restaurants all began to close down to comply with new health guidelines put in place. In order to flatten the curve, the Canadian economy couldn’t continue to operate in its regular capacity.
UBC Sauder School of Business professor Rajesh Vijayaraghavan saw how gravely local restaurants in Vancouver, BC were being impacted by COVID-19. After speaking to UBC students Catherine Li and Aarti Kamat, the initial idea for the VanBCToGo platform came to life.
The concept was simple: a listing platform for local restaurants in Vancouver that were remaining open for takeout and delivery in the early months of the pandemic. At the time, most consumers in Vancouver were eating at home and restaurant industry sales plummeted. There was an overwhelming lack of information for restaurant-goers, and consumers were left in the dark about what restaurants remained open in the early stages of the pandemic. The VanBCToGo team recognized a need to share relevant industry information, such as operating hours, delivery options, etc. It was a simple way to help the local restaurants that bring life to the city of Vancouver in their time of need.
He went on to recruit a few other UBC Sauder students to help him with the project. At first, the students were primarily working on collecting information for restaurants in Vancouver and surrounding communities. Catherine Li spent her time working on website development, building the actual platform from scratch while Aarti Kamat spoke to local BIA’s and made hundreds of phone calls to collect information about local restaurants. After nearly 200 restaurants were listed on the original VanBCToGo website, the VanBCToGo team was able to connect with other UBC Sauder students quarantining in their different hometowns across Canada. After speaking to Sienna Lalonde, a new member of the project, the team realized the possibility of expansion. From there, CanadaToGo was born, another simple listing platform, but this time for local restaurants all across Canada.
The research team of students began to grow, and CanadaToGo was able to expand their listing database to sixteen cities in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia. Lead by Francois Clement, an international UBC student from France, the CanadaToGo listing platform now has data on over 2000 local Canadian restaurants. It was his idea to expand to French-speaking cities, as he’s fluent in the language. A few of the students have had the opportunity to survey and interview local restaurant owners across Canada to truly understand the state of the industry and how they’ve been impacted by this pandemic.
The team is working to continuously adapt the platform to industry and health guideline needs. Catherine was able to integrate an interactive map feature, which allows users to explore their area and see what local restaurants near them are open for dine-in, takeout and delivery. The next step for the platform is to show how many people are at a restaurant at any given time, which will allow Canadians to avoid big crowds and abide by social distancing guidelines. In the case of a second wave, this feature will help people stay safe while supporting a vital industry.
This project began as an idea and has grown into a website supporting thousands of local businesses across Canada. The team hopes to continue their efforts and encourage Canadians to support an industry with razor-thin margins while staying safe.