WEST LAKE – Chris McDonald had just made a major career change before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada. When the pandemic did arrive in Canada, it put a halt to McDonald’s new business. But not his entrepreneurial spirit, as the West Carleton resident pivoted again, now providing restaurant-quality groceries through his online ordering company West Lake Market.
McDonald spent 20 years working for Nordion in Kanata but had recently left the pharmaceutical company to start his own business as a renovation contractor, C.K. Reno. That was in April, 2019.
“There is a lady in our neighbourhood who owned Total Refresh Home Staging and there were a couple other Real Estate agents I knew,” McDonald told West Carleton Online Thursday, May 21. “They were looking for someone to fix up the homes they were selling. I’ve always done that. I was the contractor for our own house here in West Lake. That was going really well and then COVID-19 shut down the industry.”
Work was absent but McDonald noticed something else that sparked his imagination during the shutdown brought about by the pandemic.
“I was ordering groceries for delivery and I noticed often things were missing,” McDonald said. “Things on our lists would be sold out and shoppers would just have to keep going.”
McDonald knows someone who works for Sysco Corporation – a large food distribution company.
“They supply restaurants, so they were hit hard by the pandemic too,” McDonald said. “So, I was able to arrange a connection. I started ordering for friends and family and others just kept asking if they could sign up. So, I made the website and started the business. The initial idea was March 17. The first time we put in a grocery order was around March 20. By the end of March, we were up and running. It was pretty crazy, pretty intense.”
McDonald said the people he was talking with didn’t want to wait in hour-long grocery lines or wait two weeks for an order. There was a lot of anxiety around going to the grocery store.
Now anyone interested in restaurant-quality meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables and fruits can order directly from the site and pick up their groceries in West Carleton.
West Lake Market provides curbside pick-up at the Irish Hills Golf Club and in Carp.
Now that golf courses are able to open again, McDonald may have to do some re-organizing, but he said it was a convenient location that provided many perks.
For one, they had many freezers and refrigerators sitting empty. They had a membership base to make connections with and they provided a safe and central place to provide delivery.
McDonald says he was happy to meet the Irish Hills’ Trish McBride.
“Boy am I ever,” he said. “She was looking to provide a similar service but didn’t want to deal with the front end. She offers a nice, safe location for pick-up and people are pretty on to curbside pick-up now.”
McDonald says his customers are pretty happy with the somewhat bulk ordering process as well.
“Everything seems to be working well,” he said. “For us, it’s kind of like shopping at Costco – they’re big orders. You are ordering five kilograms of berries for example. If someone buys a veggie and meat box, you pretty much have dinners for the rest of the week with restaurant-quality food. You may want to partner up with a neighbour.”
And what also happens is you get what you order.
“I check the inventory every day,” McDonald said. “If it’s not in there I take it off the website. When you order it, it’s going to be there.”
McDonald says he is enjoying the challenge of starting a new business from scratch.
“Every day there’s a problem and we look to solve it,” McDonald said. “The response has been good. At first people wanted to know who this person was and what their reputation was. The nice thing is, it has been repeat customers, so that means they like the food.”
McDonald is also keeping his eye on the future. After all the pandemic will end.
“As a start-up I’m reluctant to put a lot of money in to this,” McDonald said. “We have to see where it’s going to go.”
McDonald does envision growth though and hopes to connect with more local businesses in similar industries.
“I’m trying not to tread on the local restaurants’ territory,” he said. “I’m always interested in talking. We want to be something different.”
To see what product is available at West Lake Market, click here.