Janice Buckingham logged onto her plant-based restaurant’s Instagram account on May 22 to write a post about its impending closure.
“I love this place. I love the team. I love the food. I love the customers and all of you. I appreciate every. single. thing anyone has done to support the dream,” wrote Buckingham, owner and head chef at Daydream in Calgary’s Bridgeland neighbourhood.
“We are facing closure within a month without at least a 30 per cent increase in revenue. I’m afraid we haven’t reached enough people in enough time to get established and stable.”
After hitting publish on her post, everything changed.
Influencer and business woman Jillian Harris, former star of The Bachelorette and former host of HGTV’s Love It Or List It, shared Buckingham’s post on the stories section of her Instagram account and encouraged her 1.3 million followers to support Daydream.
“I didn’t expect a miracle to happen, that’s for sure, but that is kind of what did happen,” said Buckingham.
The restaurant, which opened in March, received an outpouring of support online and business skyrocketed.
“We increased our sales by around 300 per cent,” said Buckingham, who saw more than double the usual number of customers come in that week.
The trained chef credits Harris, a former Albertan who now lives in Kelowna, B.C., as being a big part of this shift in revenue.
“There’s no question,” said Buckingham, who trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
“[Harris] shares the best stuff. People really trust her as an influencer. She shares things from the heart as well.”
Peeling back the curtain
Buckingham said she decided to share the vulnerable post only after “pulling out all the stops,” including extending her hours and starting a loyalty rewards program, to try to attract people to her restaurant.
She already has a four-year-old business producing vegan cheese called Flora Fromage, which can be found at 17 local retailers, and she had hoped customers would carry over to Daydream.
After seeing a few months of losses, and sinking most of her money into building the restaurant, Buckingham didn’t have money left for marketing and was feeling “a little desperate.”
She told her six staff members they were likely going to lose their jobs in June.
“Tears were shed. It felt like grief, honestly,” she said.
And then she took that grief online.
“I felt like, OK, if I let people know, and if I’m vulnerable and kind of peel back the curtain and show them the struggle of making it not as a chain restaurant but as an independently owned restaurant, that maybe people would want to come out and help. I really believe in the food so much,” she said.
After making the post, people started tagging Harris, who often promotes plant-based eating, and it caught her attention.
“We chatted back and forth, and she said she’s had some businesses closed and she knows how hard that is, and it just weighed on her and she wanted to do what she could.”
On her Instagram story, Harris wrote in one of her posts: “I know all too well the struggles of trying to start up a new business and failing … I will never forget this feeling. I believe this little shop is in Calgary … please flood her with love and business if you can.”
Buckingham said that after Harris’s posts, things started gaining traction.
“It was happy tears for me,” she said.
“Finally, the traffic coming through our doors was what I projected in my business plans, and so it was surreal. It was surreal that I was finally witnessing what I knew all along was possible.”
Business has picked up so much, Buckingham has hired an additional dishwasher for the weekends.
“I’m very optimistic,” she said.
“If we can get through this summer with good numbers, then we’re golden.”