This Montreal-based Middle Eastern restaurant discovered creative new revenue streams during COVID-19.
As a university basketball coach, David Bloom traveled to different parts of the world for tournaments — but a trip to Israel reminded him of the beloved cuisine he had grown up with. Inspired to make a career change, in 2014 he partnered with chef Raquel Zagury to open Sumac, a casual Middle Eastern restaurant in Montreal, Quebec.
Sumac offers hummus, falafel, shawarma, and other Israeli classics in a communal 50-seat dining room. “In Montreal, Middle Eastern cuisine was either fast food or fine dining,” said David. “We saw an opportunity in the middle to create a casual, accessible experience.”
Pickup had been part of Sumac’s business strategy from the beginning, but due to customer demand, they decided to add delivery as well. After reviewing several partners, Sumac joined DoorDash in October 2019. For David, DoorDash’s biggest differentiator was the personal attention — with other third-party platforms, he found the relationship was consistently one-sided.
“With DoorDash, there’s a reciprocal understanding of how our business works and our priorities,” said David. “We met with our rep many times to address issues and improve processes. We’re not just dealing with customer support, and that’s been huge.”
But once COVID-19 hit, restaurants closed dine-in service and Quebec enacted a curfew throughout the province — which meant restaurants could no longer accept pickup orders after 8 p.m. David needed a way to accelerate off-premise sales and find new revenue streams, especially ahead of Montreal’s notoriously brutal winter.
David Bloom, Partner
Sumac adjusted their menu to optimize for off-premise food quality and consumer preferences. They offered meal kits with ready-to-cook proteins and sides early on in the pandemic, then pivoted to their full menu as diners sought comfort food in the cold weather.
Sumac also offers alcohol through DoorDash and through their own pickup system. By selling full bottles instead of wine by the glass, they were able to double year-over-year wine sales. And with the curfew closing liquor stores early, David noted, “On DoorDash, there’s a noticeable uptick in our wine and beer sales later in the evening. That’s really helped with profitability.”
Another new revenue stream is selling retail items through DoorDash and an in-store display. What started as Middle Eastern snacks, sauces, and spices soon expanded to candy, chips, and other impulse purchases. “The mini market has been super popular,” said David.
Regarding his DoorDash account managers, David said, “Honestly, I have nothing but good things to say. Our reps have been very responsive and knowledgeable, and I’m surprised and impressed that we get that much attention from a large company.”
Before COVID-19, DoorDash accounted for 10-15% of Sumac’s business — today, it’s 35%. DoorDash has also helped Sumac expand its customer base, as 21% of DoorDash orders come from new clients. “Delivery services get a bad rap because of the commission, but DoorDash is bringing us new clients,” said David. “That’s how I look at the commission — we’re paying for advertising and customer acquisition.”
Comparing the first half of 2020 (January-June) to the second half (July-December), Sumac increased their average monthly DoorDash orders by 454%, and their sales by 493%. And thanks to the alcohol and mini market items, their average monthly ticket size on DoorDash grew by 7%.
“During Montreal’s curfew, having DoorDash made it make sense to stay open for those extra two hours each night, and allowed us to give staff consistent shifts so we could avoid losing them,” explained David.
Looking ahead, David is eager to expand Sumac’s retail strategy into grocery stores. He is also exploring launching a virtual brand on DoorDash, using their existing kitchen to drive additional sales. “Long-term, food delivery is going to increase based on volume, people’s interest, and the accessibility of apps,” predicted David. “People have developed a lot of habits in the pandemic, and it’s nice, easy, and convenient to order food.”