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Social media buzz amid COVID-19 leads to Edmontonians rushing for local carbs

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Edmontonians are rushing to support local amid COVID-19, and for some restaurants in the city, demand is so high that some people are calling hundreds of times to get their hands on a piece of the pizza pie from a new joint that actually opened during the pandemic.

“At first, we started off with pretty small numbers. So they would sell out pretty quickly. It was just the amount of people trying to call in and order these pizzas that really caught us off guard,”  Brayden Kozak, the owner and operator of High Dough, said.

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Kozak also owns Three Boars in Edmonton, a small restaurant on 109 Street that focuses on small tapas-style plates. He launched High Dough in early April after Three Boars went on hiatus due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

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“I had already been working on a Detroit-style pizza concept, and had acquired some of the pans, and had been building some recipes. So we kind of decided that we really had nothing to lose and thought we’d give it a try and see how it went.”

Brayden Kozak, the owner of Three Boars in Edmonton, launched High Dough, a Detroit-style pizzeria, as an alternative venture amid COVID-19.
Brayden Kozak, the owner of Three Boars in Edmonton, launched High Dough, a Detroit-style pizzeria, as an alternative venture amid COVID-19. Morgan Black / Global News

High Dough initially began taking orders by phone-in only. While it now offers limited numbers on Uber Eats, some customers initially had to try over 200 times to get their orders in.

“There’s one oven in the back, there’s one cook cooking pizzas,” said Kozak.

“There’s really nothing we can do about it, other than just answer the phone when we can get it.”

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“I really wanted to try the pizza, so I was just really persistent,” said Stephanie Truong, who runs the Miss Hangry Foodie blog.

She said she heard of High Dough through Instagram and decided to make an order the first week it opened.

“I just kept doing it. I just sat here with my phone, just kept pressing the button over and over again.

“When they finally picked up… I was so happy, I felt like I won the lottery,” said Truong.

High Dough only makes about 70 pizzas each night, something associate professor John Pracejus, the director of the University of Alberta’s Business School of Retailing, said could be compared to “managed scarcity.”

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“If you limit supply a little bit, as soon as demand ticks even just a little past supply, people start going crazy trying to get something,” Pracejus said.

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He added that the fact that people are spending more time on social media could also be increasing demand as more people share their experiences online ordering.

“With everybody sort of not interacting as much, there is no sort of water cooler at work where people talk about the hot new restaurant to go to. People are spending more time on their devices.”

READ MORE: Some Alberta businesses seeing success during COVID-19 pandemic

Pracejus said that whether people continue rushing post-COVID is hard to predict.

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“Part of it really depends on the value proposition of these companies. Is it really substantially better than other pizza? Or is it just a fad everyone is doing because they can’t go to their favourite restaurant?”

Bagel buzz leads to online rushes

High Dough isn’t alone in seeing a massive rush amidst COVID-19.

Bagel Bar opened as a pop-up artisal bagel shop in Edmonton in May 2019. Since then, the store — which normally operates out of DeRose Fine Foods on 99 Street — had often sold out in early morning.

But after COVID-19 restrictions, the store moved online, which owner Gemma Davis said has seen traffic she never expected.

“I don’t think i expected it to be as busy as it has been. It’s been crazy,” Davis said. “We haven’t been able to keep up.”

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Bagels are posted online on the site at 8 a.m. for next-day curbside pickup. Shortly after they go live, almost all the product is snagged by shoppers. But customers still hang onto hope they can get some.

“I got onto the website right before 8 a.m., and kept refreshing,” Truong said, who also has fought to get her hands on the holey bread.

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“Once 8 a.m. hit, I added everything I wanted to my order… [but] the only thing that went through was one cream cheese.”

The site has an expiry of five minutes for orders to be placed, meaning that sometimes, bagels can pop back into the shop if a cart expires.

“I started to refresh the page again… and then things started coming back in stock. I ended up being able to purchase two cream cheeses and I think five bagels,” Truong said.

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Davis said she is working on expanding her business so more people can get their hands on her bagels.

“We were already in a process of going through growth [before COVID-19],” she said. “[We were] looking at increasing production, upgrading equipment. We’re kind of fast-tracking that right now to try to keep up with demand.
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Davis added they hope to move away from a daily rush for product once they can increase production, with plans aiming to allow online orders to be made weeks or months in advance.