How a Winnipeg restaurant used creative technological approaches to beat a pandemic slump
‘Numbers don’t lie:’ Creative thinking and an in-depth knowledge of accounting helped Max’s Restaurant manage the impacts of COVID-19
Hipolito Alibin Jr., who runs Max’s Restaurant as president and operator of Alibin Group Inc. and is a CPA, relied on his accounting skills, creative thinking and the use of technology to fight the slowdown in sales brought on by COVID-19. (Photo credit: John Woods)
Max’s Restaurant wasn’t the first to work with local food-delivery services to recoup lost revenues during COVID-19, but it was one of the few to develop its own digital platform to avoid paying high delivery fees.
Hipolito Alibin Jr., who runs the Winnipeg restaurant as president and operator of Alibin Group Inc. and is a chartered professional accountant, realized in early March that there would be a 75-per-cent reduction in sales that month, while delivery sales through Uber Eats, Door Dash and Skip the Dishes increased 125 per cent and pick-up sales grew by 40 per cent between March and April.
In the midst of restaurant closures and competitors exploring food delivery services, action was required, and it needed to be taken quickly.
As luck would have it, his brother had recently designed an online ordering system, which had launched in early 2020 and could support the restaurant’s shift from dine-in to a customer pick-up model.
To further cut the costs of delivery, he began working with his brother on a new delivery platform that will allow Max’s to reduce its reliance on delivery services. The plan is to have a system in place soon, enabling customers to make their orders online, have them relayed to the restaurant and delivered by one of Max’s own drivers.
“We want to drive away business from those third-party delivery apps,” says Alibin Jr. “We’re trying to develop our own network to do delivery – it gives us an opportunity to be visible.”
In addition to launching the online ordering service and working on a new delivery platform, Alibin Jr. took other measures to save money. Max’s was forced to cut its workforce from 40 to three in the early days of the pandemic, which Alibin Jr. admits was a tough decision. But he wanted to ensure his employees secured government benefits, and he helped them apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
He also kept a close eye on his books, and worked with technology tools that Max’s uses to run its business, including digital inventory management software and purchase order and tracking systems to have a full picture of the operation.
Alibin Jr. at an event in support of one of the various community organizations he supports. (Photo credit: John Woods)
“Numbers don’t lie,” Alibin Jr. says, adding as a business owner he needed “the discipline of having the numbers in front of you and making a decision based on numbers – not on emotions.”
As a board member for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce as well as a board and finance committee member for Economic Development Winnipeg, Alibin Jr. also wanted to make sure Max’s did its part in supporting the community during the pandemic by donating food to local groups and front-line workers.
“We had had a good year and we felt obliged to give back to them,” he says. “While everyone was shutting down, we were very engaged.”
The payoff came in June, when restaurants were allowed to reopen in Manitoba. Max’s can now hold 70 patrons at a time with social distancing restrictions, and it has hosted about 50 diners a day. Sales went up 16 per cent month-over-month between May and August, allowing Alibin Jr. to hire back 12 employees. And delivery is still going strong, with Alibin Jr. hoping to take it completely in-house in the future.
“In June and July we serviced 6,000 people - it’s a good rebound for us,” he says, adding the restaurant’s success is due in part to the fact that the community Max’s supported is now returning the favour.
Alibin Jr. is now looking at ways to further trim costs while enhancing his operations. He also wants to launch new projects, though he’s staying mum on the details for now.
“There’s a lot of analysis at the moment on how we’re going to go up,” he says. “We’re looking at a number of vertical possibilities, projects that complement the business we’ve built,” he says. “There’s really nothing you can do but be ready. It’s ‘how do we survive until it’s over?’”
As he works to find a way forward, Alibin Jr. is grateful to have the expertise required to help him push ahead.
“I don’t think I would be able to help my family navigate through this without my CPA experience,” he says.
“We could have made other decisions, but we chose to take the higher ground and support our community (and) strengthen the technology to deliver food to our customers. We persevered during hard times.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.