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'It's always good to be nimble': Catering company survives — and thrives — during pandemic


HALIFAX, N.S. —

The owners of a catering company in Nova Scotia, who at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic followed their survival instincts and transformed their business model, are seeing the payoff from their innovative solutions — and continuing to explore new ones.  

Scanway Catering, a food and beverage management company in downtown Halifax, started losing most of its business when hotels shut down and events stopped happening in Nova Scotia beginning in mid-March. 

So, the Gupta family, who purchased the business three and a half years ago, got brainstorming.  

“When COVID-19 hit, we sort of realized that there’s still going to be a need to supply food into the market, but it’s going to need to be done in a little bit of a different way,” said Ankur Gupta, co-owner and vice-president of business development of Scanway. 

They moved their catering service to a delivery, a-la-carte meal service — accessible through the platform Tock — and called it “Pantry by Scanway.” They started producing and delivering meals to the general public and people working in emergency services.

Through the Pantry delivery service, which still runs today, meals that range from about $13 to $17 are delivered — completely contactless — in biodegradable, eco-friendly containers that are both microwaveable and compostable after use.

The business also partnered up with hotels to supply breakfast, lunch and dinner to workers required to isolate in hotels, such as Northwood workers, and partnered with the Brunswick Street Mission to supply free meals to shelters across the province. 


Ankur and Raj Gupta pose for a photo in the Scanway Catering kitchen on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
Ankur and Raj Gupta pose for a photo in the Scanway Catering kitchen on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. - Ryan Taplin

Essentially, a business model that was likely to tank because of its event- and venue-dependent nature, was transformed into one that has survived throughout the pandemic. 

In Scanway’s peak time, from mid-April to mid-May, Gupta said the business was dishing out between 1,200 to 1,500 packaged meals a day. 

“So it was quite a big shift for us, doing maybe like 30 to 40 packaged meals a day for one of our hotel partners who have a grab-and-go sort of situation, to really full-fledged becoming like a packing company, which from an operation standpoint is quite different,” he said.  

With more focus on their back-end operations, Scanway also hired five or six new people, some of whom are “high-skilled immigrants” from the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, to help prepare the meals. 

Scanway explores new avenues

Now that the pandemic has “settled down a little bit” in Nova Scotia and the Scanway team has “gained a bit more of an understanding” of where the long-term future is headed for the business, Gupta said Scanway is looking to continue delivering packaged meals. 

“We realized that delivering these packaged meals or becoming a packing company is useful, it’s something that we’re good at, it’s something that we can do as part of our business model continuing to move forward,” he said.

At the moment, Scanway is dishing out an average of 600 to 700 meals a day.

The company is also planning to launch a “co-packing business,” according to Gupta. In other words, Scanway will partner with local businesses to prepare and package meals for them and get their products out into the community. 

Scanway has started supplying a few Ultramar gas stations in Nova Scotia with Pantry sandwiches and other packaged meals and has signed contracts with two local schools to offer its meals in school cafeterias as well.

In exploring these new ventures, Gupta said the “doors of possibilities” continue to open up for Scanway. 

“We really want to extend our brand,” he said.

“We realize that food is a requirement in a lot of places and a lot of different businesses.”


Raj Gupta works in the Scanway Catering kitchen on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
Raj Gupta works in the Scanway Catering kitchen on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. - Ryan Taplin

Tips for other businesses

Reflecting on Scanway’s ability to survive and thrive during the pandemic, Gupta said flexibility is key for businesses at this unprecedented moment in time. 

“It’s always good to be nimble. It’s always good to be unique,” he said. 

By running a “lean business,” or having few fixed costs, it’s easier to be flexible, he added. 

Gupta advises businesses owners to adapt their business models and not be afraid to do so, such as by providing delivery options or online services, adding “it’s foolish” for people to not recognize that “things are changing rapidly and constantly.”  

In addition to being flexible and pivoting a business model, Gupta stressed the importance of hard work, which he said he learned from his father and Scanway co-owner Raj and has been Scanway’s ultimate strength.

“You can’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up,” he said.

“One thing I learned from my father is: it’s your own business, so you can’t be afraid to do anything. You kind of have to be able to do everything. So not being afraid and not being afraid to get your hands dirty.” 

With files from Francis Campbell

Noushin Ziafati is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.

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