Amid the sombre, monotonous days of COVID-19 lockdowns, Josie Montanaro takes pride being able to offer Thunder Bay residents with locally brewed and baked comforts.
Montanaro, who co-owns and manages Club Cappuccino Café and Desserts, has seen first hand how one sip of an amaretto latte or a bite of a turtle cheesecake can spark some much-needed joy.
“People are treating themselves right now and many people have told us that the highlight of their day is coming to get a coffee or a dessert because it’s the only thing they can do,” Montanaro says. “It feels nice to be able to provide the community with something that makes them feel better during these tough times.”
Club Cappuccino Café and Desserts, which has been in operation for 26 years, has been known for its soups, salads, specialty coffee and multitude of pastries, cakes and biscotti that provide customers with a taste reminiscent of Italy. And while business has been steady for the past few months, Montanaro says when pandemic restrictions first hit, she faced uncertainty about her café being able to ride out the storm.
At first, she adds, it was hard to imagine how her business might make a successful transition from being an intimate café where people gathered for food and drinks to a model that relied primarily on takeout. But after closing her doors for a few weeks to come up with ways to adapt to the unprecedented situation, menu modifications slowly won patrons over. Most notably this includes additions like individual dessert packages, seasonal or holiday dessert boxes and regularly occurring specials that feature one dessert and a specialty coffee.
“Your ability to adapt and change things really quickly has been the key for us,” Montanaro says. “Before, it was easy to get stuck in your ways of doing things and it becomes your normal, but because of the pandemic, you’re forced learn to change in a short amount of time and do what is best for business.”
Also central to her business braving COVID-19, Montanaro acknowledges the support from the Thunder Bay community. This includes the people who have been loyal for many years, but also the fresh faces who have stepped up over the last year and put local shops first. It’s something that provides her with a little piece of hope for the future, as she plans to eventually open up her patio and offer indoor dining once it’s safe to do so.
“There are better things to come,” she says. “But I think that people should remember that even after this is all over, supporting small business will be important to keep us here, especially for the ones that have struggled.”