Since the day after Christmas 2020, Ireland has been in a strict lockdown. Non-essential businesses are closed and people cannot travel farther than 5 kilometers from their home nor cross county lines. Only recently, in late April 2021, did they start loosening that up. People can go up to 20 km and they can finally cross county lines. Slowly, some businesses are starting to open up.
For the three months I was there, we were in the stricter version of the lockdown. However, I noticed something interesting happening. Reinvention and innovation.
Pop-up Coffee Shops
City based coffee shops partnered with pubs outside of the city to set up pop up coffee shops. For pubs, who were hurt significantly since they didn’t have a takeout business to rely on, this was an interesting opportunity. They had the space, so why not become a coffee shop by day?
I asked some of the coffee shops about this strategy. They said that their usual city customers were people from outside of the city who used to commute into Dublin daily, pre-pandemic. Many missed their favorite coffee shops, so they figured why meet them where they are right now – working from home. Popping up outside of the city was also a great way to find new customers. It was an opportunity to validate a future opportunity to set up shop in smaller towns.
Pandemic? Lockdowns? Let’s Expand!
Right in the middle of the pandemic, Ciara Lennon, founder of Bear Lemon – a vegan bakery and coffee shop – decided it was time to expand her business and open up a shop. Up until Fall 2020, she was making vegan pastries and delivering them to clients around the city. Then, during the pandemic, she saw an opportunity to rent a small place in the city and open up a shop. I discovered Bear Lemon a few months later in February 2021 and unless I got there 30 minutes before they opened on a weekend, I would have to wait in a long queue. Her big bet paid off.
Another great coffee shop, Catalyst, in Bray, Ireland, decided to take a little coffee stand they had by the beach and rent out the rest of a former restaurant and turn it into a large coffee shop and cafe. They did this in 2020 during the pandemic when they saw an opportunity to get a great deal and start building for post-pandemic. They already have queues going out the door and into the street. Once they can host customers for indoor seating, they will have more than enough room to accommodate the awesome following they are building right now.
Restrictions drive innovation
It seems that in the moments when we have less, we find a way to do more. It’s crazy when I reflect on my own thinking about getting more done. I often think if I just had more time, more funding, more opportunities, more of anything, then I could make more things happen. But my success has mostly come when I had less than what I thought was ideal. These coffee entrepreneurs definitely have less right now and yet that doesn’t stop them from making more.
In hindsight, this is so clear. Looking forward, it’s really hard to see.