The Hub The art of the ‘pivot’
Professional Development with PowerED

The art of the ‘pivot’

One year ago, we were carrying on in a regular fashion.

The social conventions we adhered to were normal ones: we were maskless, socially spaced in a standard way. We travelled by air, and gathered with friends and family in common ways—ways we never expected we would have to be without. Fast forward to March 2020, thrust head-on into a new normal. Masked, socially distant, facing a completely shifted travel paradigm, hand-in-hand with a restructured social gathering agreement.

This shift took everyone by surprise; it was (and is still) a shock to life as we know it. One area specifically altered was the restaurant industry. Businesses were forced to immediately convert to a new, constantly changing model; arming themselves with tactics to remain efficient and stay afloat.

At the beginning of the pandemic, PowerED™ by Athabasca University spoke to Mike Angus, co-owner of Pip, a restaurant in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona that serves brunch every day and hosts intimate date nights. His blog on positioning business for unchartered waters is a pivitol piece of the Navigating Extraordinary Times micro-course .

We had the opportunity to chat with Mike Angus again. We wanted to see how business operations shifted at Pip, to understand how kindness, empathy, and his personal mantra of business zen has provided his foundation as a leader and partially prepared Pip and himself for this moment. He also provided us some insight into how challenges behind the scenes have helped scale and adapt the restaurant to these unprecedented times.

 

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

How do you think COVID has unearthed the values of the restaurants and really exposed them?

Our values were in place which made our pivoting a bit easier. It sounds tacky but our first value is product value, great experience, and great service. Second value for us: let’s be local and involved in our community… every dollar that was spent in our restaurant stayed in our city. Our head office is at the end of the hall, not in Mississauga or Kansas City. Our third value was people: we’ve all worked for terrible managers and been treated terribly. Let’s be the bosses we always wish we’d had—let’s make sure the people who work with us get the respect they deserve, feel valued, and give them opportunities to grow.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

How did COVID change priorities?

It forced us to re-evaluate what experience we can still offer to guests but the very first thing was ‘how do we keep our staff safe?’ If you think about an original hierarchy, it is: ‘let’s make money, let’s create great value and have a great brand, and let’s have great people. Suddenly we had to flip that pyramid and our staff’s health was the most important thing. Then it was: let’s make sure our brand is trustworthy, and if we can make any money this year, that’s a win.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

What measures did you already have in place that helped you prepare?

It’s more of a mindset. One thing that I feel that drew me to this industry are that no two days are ever the same and there always challenges popping up to rise to. So there was this ability to react but also to, sort of, see what’s coming and be proactive about challenges. That’s a mindset that already existed.

It was emotionally traumatic. But we have some tools and skills that drew us to this industry to begin with. So we had to create a solution that brings our experience to them, the customer. Rather than greeting at our door, we drive across town and leave at their doorstep. That’s one way we’ve been able to pivot; how can we still host when we don’t have a space? How do we bring our experience to their doorstep?

So, we fired Skip the Dishes and hired back half our staff as drivers. Now we’ve got our own staff serving people—it’s not on a plate, there’s not a fancy cocktail and there aren’t any candles—but you can get a sense of normalcy of our brand and experience. You can’t train Skip the Dishes drivers to have a little promotion spiel at the door. There’s just little things you can do to put your brand in a 30 second drop off.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

It really makes you lean on your restaurant supporters, doesn’t it?

Absolutely. One thing that is something we’ve been pushing in the last ten years is ‘support local’. The dollar that you spend goes so much farther locally then going to Walmart, or Winners, or Tony Roma’s. And you see that now: they’re gone. They all packed up and left—they didn’t stick around to see this through. They were never invested in this community.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

What ways have you stepped up as a leader during COVID?

Employees don’t always want to be your best friend… they want you to respect them. They want to take ownership and they want opportunities. I provide them with the tools and get out of their way.

During COVID they need to know they are cared for as people, not just as employees. One thing I’ve learned during this year about the power of leadership is your ability to make decisions with as much information as you have and to be accountable to that. There were decisions we made that we knew were going to impact our restaurants and our staff for years to come but you have to be able to make a decision. No one knows the outcome. It took a lot of courage as leaders to do this— we just didn’t know what was going to happen.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

What has been a silver lining of COVID for you?

I remember thinking ‘if only Pip had 20 more seats it would be perfect’ and being too stubborn and too vain if people called and asked about takeout—we were busy enough as it was and I certainly wasn’t going to make our food stoop to the low level of takeout. Two minutes before that I was sitting thinking ‘how do I get more space in the restaurant?’

The very first time we turned on our system for takeout after COVID, we were so busy, we had to turn off the computer. This is how dim I was about the whole thing: I was looking for more seats in my restaurant,  and the whole time I was completely blind that the internet is an infinite dining room. You can have as many orders as you can handle…

I’m not above any new ideas to be thrown at our business. That was a humbling moment for me.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

What does it say about the concept of buying local after the pandemic?

There was a surge in [the buy local movement] in the last year since the COVID lockdown. People waking up to being like ‘You know that favourite restaurant you love to go to on Friday night? If you want it to still be there when this is all over, we’ve got to keep supporting them.’ People really started to recognize the pride of what Edmonton has to offer.

Mike Angus

Athabasca University Shield

Athabasca University News

Any last thoughts?

  

If I never have to hear the word ‘pivot’ again, I’d be okay with that.

Mike Angus

“You need people who really care about this industry. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t wish this job on my worst enemy—if you don’t love the challenges and you don’t love the bad days, it’s just a grind. And this year has been a perfect example of that.”

– Mike Angus, General Manager of Pip

Pivot: 2020’s number one buzzword, captured everything we were collectively pushed towards and overwhelmed by. Shifting our processes, altering our mentality and kindness barometer, adjusting our patience and expectations, and determining a up-to-the-minute inventory of personal and business capacity.  

“Gathering is at the heart of hospitality. We provide an intimate space for people to gather, to share a meal. All of these things—the cozy gathering, the intimate sharing—were now deemed unsafe,” said Mike Angus in his In Real Life blog, where he dissected how he helped shift Pip, steadying the restaurant for unchartered waters in the PowerED™ by Athabasca University micro-course Navigating Extraordinary Times. In 2020, and beyond, things have changed. A lot.

And while we’re still getting through this moment, small and large businesses and even personal adjustments are essential to stay afloat. The changing paradigm Pip has taken on, proves the need to move quickly, make tough decisions—all with a certain business zen.

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Published:
  • February 5, 2021
Tagged In:
business, COVID-19, shop local,