Oshawa’s Portobello Road scales up with help from My Main Street
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Lindsay Cotton)
For Oshawa restaurant Portobello Road, Wednesday is “pizza day,” but there’s nothing conventional about it. For Portobello Road, this day sees the restaurant's co-founders and partners Lindsay Cotton and Alex Van Camp setting up a tent and propane-powered ovens to prepare 150 plant-based pizzas for a seemingly unending line up of guests at the Whitby Farmer’s Market.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Right: Lindsay Cotton Left: Ashleigh Abbot)
“It’s crazy! We love it so much,” says Cotton. In essence, that’s Portobello Road’s approach to everything – find the opportunity and go for it. That’s how the business started. In the midst of Cotton’s maternity leave, a friend asked her for some help preparing some plant-based meals at the advice of her fitness trainer. Cotton and Van Camp (who, alongside their kids are both vegans) were quick to offer their friend help. Word got out about the beautiful plant-based meal the pair had prepared, and soon they found themselves making a growing number of plant-based meals out of their house.
“We got DineSafe certified, and it was getting bigger and bigger,” says Cotton. “We had six fridges in our house.” They moved their kids into bunk beds and used the other bedroom as dry storage.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo
Soon it became clear they needed a designated kitchen and restaurant space outside their house. They found a spot in Oshawa. After some refitting nightmares, they opened the doors to Portobello Road in March 2021, eventually expanding into the unit next door. Cotton says it’s currently the home base for the restaurant. “Our kitchen’s there and our meal prep pick-ups – we’ve got big display fridges there,” she says. “We generally have about a hundred people coming every Tuesday.”
However, from Cotton’s perspective, events are where they get their name out into the community. “If we just stood in the restaurant on Bond Street and hoped people would come, we'd go out of business very fast.”
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo
That drive is what drew Andrea Rowland, My Main Street Ambassador for Oshawa, to Portobello Road. “I could see the entrepreneurship in her and the determination to do it. I knew there was no way she was going to fail.”
Rowland introduced Cotton to the idea of the My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program, which aims to revitalize business communities through hands-on support. The program is funded with a $23.25-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and delivered by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO). Cotton was receptive to the resources immediately.
Drawing from My Main Street’s in-depth market research on demographics, interests, and social media use in Oshawa, Portobello Road was able to identify some opportunities for growth. The data pointed out that the residents in the business’ catchment wanted to connect with people in small groups. The size of Portobello Road’s retail and café space captured that high degree of social intimacy, allowing customers to chat with the owners and learn more about the products and health benefits.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Ashleigh Abbot)
That curiosity was also identified in the market research, which found the business’ target market is guided by reason and logic rather than spontaneity. To capitalize on that data point, Cotton says they plan to use their digital presence to continue to educate customers on the products they’re selling with the bonus of making plant-based meals more accessible through their pre-packaged model.
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Left: Andrea Rowland, Right: Lindsay Cotton)
That’s where the $10,000 non-repayable contribution received through My Main Street really helps says Cotton. They want to boost production and have used the funds to replace outdated kitchen tools like their Vitamix and invest in new ones like a pasta maker. “We have a super old mixer that shakes, and you have to stand there and babysit it in case it just stops mixing,” she says. “I always thought one day we'll have a really nice mixer that we can just turn on and walk away for five minutes and we got that mixer with the My Main Street (funding).”
They plan to open their dining room in January 2023 and have used some of the non-repayable contribution to get a mural painted in their space. “There’s some really cool stuff coming up,” says Cotton. “The (funding) has really helped us greatly.”
About My Main Street
My Main Street is a $23.25-million investment by the Government of Canada through FedDev Ontario to support the recovery and revitalization of main streets and local businesses in southern Ontario. The Canadian Urban Institute and the Economic Developers Council of Ontario have partnered to deliver My Main Street through two program streams. Learn more at www.mymainstreet.ca.
About FedDev Ontario
For 13 years, the Government of Canada, through FedDev Ontario, has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation, growth and job creation in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving productivity, growing revenues, creating jobs, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the impacts the Agency is having in southern Ontario by exploring our pivotal projects, our Southern Ontario Spotlight, and FedDev Ontario’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.