With pandemic guidelines loosening up and life returning to some normalcy, many people are wondering what’s going on at the Co-op. Here’s a Summer update!
First and foremost – what’s up with the Co-op cafe and deli?
Our Prepared Foods dept has faced many challenges over the last year and half. Simply put: our Co-op Cafe, and some of the services it provided, is not returning this year. You will continue to find healthy and delicious options made from scratch by our kitchen crew in our Prepared Foods cases. We continue to offer fresh coffee during the hours of 8am-4pm. Our sit down cafe space and made-to-order food options, namely, will not return this year.
Our ability to return all our pre-pandemic services is severely limited by a number of factors. For example, we made a rapid shift to accommodate contactless shopping and remain committed to continuing our free Shop for Me service (housed in our former cafe space, learn more at belfast.coop/shop-for-me). In addition to the physical limitations, we are in an unprecedented period of demand on the labor market as many areas of our local economy are opening back up, making hiring for open positions challenging.
That said, we have a path forward. From our GM, Doug Johnson: “We have a renovation plan that is before the Board of Directors to completely reimagine the Prepared Foods department, revamping the customer area and work spaces, increasing production capacity, and providing a greater variety of offerings for sale. The plan is part of a larger renovation strategy for the co-op, and my hope is that we can bring that department back better than ever. I don’t have a timeline as of yet, but know that we are working towards something really exceptional.”
We know how much the cafe means to the community- we ask for your patience and understanding and urge you to support the many wonderful restaurants, shops, and eateries in Belfast. Many of these businesses need your support after a tumultuous 16 months!
We remain committed to offering Shop for Me for the future. Shop for Me (belfast.coop/shop-for-me) is our free online ordering and curbside pick-up grocery shopping service, personalized with the Co-op touch.
Where is my favorite prepared dish or why don’t I see it in our service cases?
Over the last year and a half we have also been re-envisioning how we work. Doug says: “we have found that the way that we were managing labor prior to the pandemic in that department was not necessarily efficient and the forced evolution we have experienced has actually made us better operators, even if it is in a diminished capacity.“ To accommodate an extensive training program for our Prepared Foods team, we’ve been adding in vendor made options for the short-term to continue to provide for our hungry community while we build back our production capabilities. You will continue to see new and returning options of packaged prepared foods as we train up and build back our kitchen crew and their capabilities. It’s not forever, but it’s necessary for right now.
Will the Meat Dept’s counter service come back? Where did the seafood and meat cases go anyway?
As part of the aforementioned renovation plan we are implementing some changes as we are able, in advance of the whole project. For example, we had upgraded our Cheese service case right at the beginning of the pandemic (planned well before the start) to great success and customer enjoyment. More packaged options and better displays have benefited our sales, customer selections, and the labor for the dept. We are continuing this theme with the upcoming delivery of new freezer cases! Three freezer cases will take the place of the former meat counters and offer an even greater variety of selections to our customers. The counters are gone but we’re still making our own fresh sausage, weekly, and we offer packaged fresh fish in our cases along with everything else!
Additionally, our entire back wall of freezers will also be replaced and upgraded. Our current cases are inefficient, expensive to operate, and not as environmentally friendly as the new cases we will be receiving. Due to shipping issues (that have plagued the nation) we rescheduled installation of all the new cases for the end of Summer. Stay tuned and watch for signage announcing the shift!
We’re planning on the end of August for the delivery and installation of all our new freezers and compressors. More updates will be provided as the date approaches.
What’s happening to the front of the store, outside seating area, and the Co-op entryway?
When the Governor’s State of Emergency expired, we followed suit and relaxed our guidelines to recommend mask use and remove the protocols we no longer needed to continue. We’ve been able to relax our customer metering as well and no longer need the waiting area outside the store. Due to the lack of the cafe, we are committed to providing seating and community space in our lot for the warmer months. You will also find our free community bulletin boards in that space outside as well! With unprecedented levels of visitors to Belfast and tourism returning in full force, all our efforts are focused on serving people as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible.
What about all the other changes I’m noticing?
Everyday, we’re working to serve you better. Some changes we can make quickly, others take months and months of planning and face hurdles along the way. As we’re able to, we bring those improvements to you (have you noticed the new 2-tiered shopping carts?). Some things take more time than others. We too miss the way things used to be, but some changes have provided us opportunities to be a better business. Being a better business ultimately means we can do more for our community. As always, our community is at the heart of everything we do.