In the earliest days of the pandemic, Andrew Murchison gained an understanding of what it takes for a small business to thrive. Last year, amid bungled supply chains and barren supermarket shelves, Murchison, founder of Big Lake Pasta, sought to rethink his business model and focus on feeding the demand where COVID-19 left a void.
“If something gets taken away from you, you have to find another opportunity and latch onto it,” he says, noting that two primary avenues of revenue in restaurants and farmers markets, vanished for an extended period of time. “You gotta just regroup and explore other opportunities – everyone still has to eat, right?”
Noticing people’s tendencies to stockpile food under lockdowns and restrictions, Murchison decided to ramp up the production around dry pasta, which can be stored for longer than their fresh options. Murchison discovered that the market for his locally made dry pasta was bigger than imagined online and at local retailers. He says during the pandemic about 85 per cent of his total sales have been dried pasta. He’s gone from having about 15-20 per cent dried product to 50 per cent dried product, and adds it will likely stay that way.
To Murchison, who has seen a large number of small businesses struggle during these unprecedented times, the response is validating to him. Big Lake Pasta, which has been part of the fabric of local businesses since 2015, is a name known for its artisanal pasta that blends traditional Italian techniques with a modern day vision.
Those who are familiar with the product would likely have stumbled across signature noodles like the Cresti De Gallo, Casarecce and Lake Superior. And though Murchison strives to create a thoughtful variety of shapes that take well to sauce, it’s also careful sourcing of local, seasonal ingredients he feels are signature to his brand.
“I’m a big proponent of buying local, but I want people to buy local because it’s the best possible product that they can get. Seeing the money stay in the community is the cherry on top,” he says. “We strive to make the best pasta people can get. That’s a goal I wake up with and set pretty much every day.”
Due to the positive reception around Big Lake Pasta’s dry options, Murchison is in the process of securing contracts with a number of chain stores throughout Thunder Bay. Eventually, he says, it’s his hope that his brand will become well-known across the region or province. And ideally, he adds, he’d like to expand to stores across Ontario, Manitoba and northern Minnesota. But despite these aspirations, he knows that the brand’s home base will always be in Thunder Bay. After all, without the support of city residents, he wouldn’t be where he is today.