Restaurants help a neighborhood feel vibrant and unique. They are places to share innovation and culture, enjoy old favorites, and gather to celebrate life’s important moments.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the COVID crisis, the food and beverage industry has been hit hard. Lockdowns in most major cities have now restricted restaurants to ‘Take-Out Only’ service, resulting in massive layoffs and closures. Local, independent restaurants are suffering the most -- 1 in 5 say they may not be able to ever open again. Breaking Bread addresses this issue by providing these businesses with a platform that allows customers to:

  • Order delivery from local restaurants (many of whom were eat-in only until this week);
  • Pick-up orders via take-out and curb-side pick-up;
  • Find local restaurants offering meal prep, family meals and freezer meals;
  • Discover discounts and free meals for front-line essential workers;
  • Purchase gift cards and merchandise;
  • Get critical household items that grocery stores are struggling to provide, by tapping into the commercial food service supply chain

What’s at stake

Restaurants are key threads in the fabric of any neighborhood or city: they help a place feel vibrant and unique. For many, food is about so much more than survival: It’s about coming together to enjoy something beautiful; connecting with each other; being creative; exploring new experiences/tastes/cultures; embracing special occasions and taking time to celebrate what’s most important.

The problem

With coronavirus concerns and widespread lockdowns around the world, restaurants are facing difficult decisions: pay rent, or pay staff? Close down, or lay off? Some don’t have a choice-- 20% of Canadian restaurants say they may be closed permanently.

Simultaneously, many people are risking visits to a crowded grocery store, only to find shelves that are empty. Yet vast numbers of restaurants have separate, under-utilized food supply chains and staff that are facing layoffs. How can one struggling industry supplement another that is overwhelmed?

What is Breaking Bread?

Breaking Bread promotes the many services restaurants can offer beyond “dining in” at brick and mortar establishments. We’ve built a directory of restaurants across Canada offering special services during coronavirus lockdowns. Put in an order for a special dinner; find coveted grocery items missing from most store shelves; order family meal preps for the week--all while supporting your local, independent restaurants.

We're currently working on more tools specifically to help restaurants take grocery orders, and encouraging them to re-hire some serving staff to help repackage the commercial-size deliveries they receive into the individual-sized portions families are having trouble finding at crowded grocery stores.

How I built it

Breaking Bread started with a static SquareSpace site and form to collect info from additional restaurants. As the number of submissions exploded, though, we had to build a dynamic site to keep up. In order to not disrupt the previous submission workflow (and to avoid having to build an admin interface), we kept a Google Spreadsheet as our primary source of truth for the backend. Whenever that data is edited, a snapshot is stored on a static asset server. That data is loaded and displayed by an Ember.js front-end.

Challenges I ran into

The biggest challenges have not been technical -- by far the two biggest hurdles have been:

  1. Handling getting restaurants registered. Breaking Bread started with a small list of manually-added restaurants. When word first spread throughout Vancouver, we saw a flood of restaurants wanting to join. Now, as we’re expanding beyond the Vancouver area, we’re back to figuring out how to reach a wider audience in other cities where we don’t have a personal network to rely on. Hoping that some press from winning this hackathon may help!

  2. Encouraging those who run small, local restaurants -- and have honed their craft of in-person service over the course of decades -- to completely switch their business model over a period of days

That being said, there certainly have been technical challenges along the way, too: we quickly hit the limits of what could be done with a static site, then tried serving the data we’d collected directly out of Google Spreadsheets via the API, but this too was soon overwhelmed once the size of the dataset grew (some requests started taking 20+ seconds to complete!), so we ended up building a caching solution that periodically snapshots the data to a static asset server. This allows fast client loading, while still allowing a couple non-technical helpers to easily collaborate on making sure the data is clean and up-to-date (without having to waste time building an admin UI).

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

As of right now we have almost 400 restaurants on-boarded already, and have gotten as many as 20,000 visitors to the site in a single day!

What's next for Breaking Bread

More restaurants in more cities (and countries?), and helping expand to more services.

The most exciting new business model that we are working to promote is using the restaurant food supply chain to supplement the grocery supply chain, as it struggles to keep up with demand. We’re working with restaurant partners to figure out what tools can help them solve this shortage, and rehire some staff

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