Behind The Scenes: How Crafty Ramen Went From Surviving To Thriving During COVID-19

August 2, 2022
5 min
Mary Ma
Senior Product Designer

In the early days of COVID-19, many small businesses were forced to close their doors. But a few, like Crafty Ramen, found new ways to thrive by adapting and pivoting their business models. In this blog post, we'll take you behind the scenes and show you how Crafty Ramen went from surviving to thriving during the pandemic.

Introducing Crafty Ramen

Crafty Ramen is a Japanese ramen restaurant with two locations in Ontario, Canada. After co-founders Miki and Jared Ferrall traveled all over Japan, tasting and making ramen, they settled down in Guelph to open the very first Crafty Ramen restaurant in 2017. About a year into the business venture, Khalil Khamis partnered with the two founders and with his help, a second restaurant was opened in Kitchener, Ontario in November 2019.

The Crafty Ramen brand is a careful balance of Japanese authenticity and Canadian locality. Its mission is to create quality Japanese comfort food unassuming to a Canadian audience. “This means drawing from Japanese culinary traditions without taking ourselves too seriously,” Jared told us.

Today all their meals, sold both online and in the Crafty Ramen restaurants, are made with local ingredients whenever possible — from noodles made with Ontario artisanal flour to local meats sourced from local farms to the bones used to make their delicious broths.

How the pandemic propelled Crafty Ramen to change their business model 

In March 2020, four months after Crafty Ramen opened its second restaurant, COVID-19 hit Canada hard. The entire restaurant industry was in a state of panic, scrambling to survive and adapt to all the dining restrictions and unprecedented stay-at-home orders.

Khalil recounted the nightmare of seeing their “brand new, shiny restaurant with big bank loans”, sitting empty in the early days of COVID. He told us that their team even frantically researched how to go about filing bankruptcy.

“We knew we needed to find another way to deliver the Crafty experience,” said Khalil. And that was when Crafty Ramen came up with the idea of take-home ramen kits.

In the very beginning, the team made everything by hand and released 100 to 200 units for sale at a time. They shared the news on social media, and the response from their fans was overwhelming. By the third release, the units were sold out within minutes, and that was when they realized the potential at hand.

The demand was so high that it was like concert tickets, the team told us. Crafty Ramen’s online revenue potential was bottlenecked mostly by the speed at which they could make the ramen kits. Because none of the team members at the time had any eCommerce experience, Jared recalled everything being very low tech and hard to produce. Looking back he said, “Those first 200 orders we made felt a lot harder to do than the 700 orders we’re making today.”

Encouraged by the warm reception, Crafty Ramen officially launched a direct-to-consumer ramen subscription service in December 2020, delivering ramen kits that can be cooked in 15 minutes to their fans throughout Ontario.

The Importance of Customer Experience

Hospitality is at the heart of Crafty Ramen’s core belief, and it is demonstrated through its in-person service as well as its customer support for online shoppers.

“We have a different system of hospitality from most restaurants in Canada,” says Miki. “Whereas most restaurants have waiters assigned to eating groups, at Crafty Ramen you don’t have to wait for your waiter – Every staff member will be able to attend to the needs of any eating group.”

For eCommerce customers, Crafty Ramen has a customer experience team that responds to inquiries within 24 hours, most of the time within an hour. A delivery partner with fast and transparent communication is key because otherwise, the Crafty Ramen support team cannot answer shipping-related inquiries with the same level of detail.

Joanna Silveri leads the customer success team at Crafty Ramen, and tells us that the delivery experience is significant and can make or break customer retention.

“The product is one thing, but customers have these expectations. They’re getting excited and planning for it. When that delivery doesn’t get delivered on time or has to get moved for whatever reason, it does taint their experience,” explained Joanna, “Everything leading up can be perfect, but if the product is lost or damaged, it’s tough because that’s what they remember — sometimes more than the product itself.”

“One thing we see coming up a lot in our customer satisfaction surveys is the great delivery experience,” adds Khalil, citing positive customer feedback on the branded tracking page and delivery notifications powered by Tyltgo.

How Tyltgo helped grow Crafty’s direct-to-consumer offering

Tyltgo is a last-mile logistics startup that offers affordable customer-centric same-day and next-day shipping to businesses in Canada.

Towards the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, Tyltgo became the official shipping partner of both Crafty Ramen and General Assembly Pizza and helped them launch each of their direct-to-consumer offerings. Both brands grew to be sensational in Ontario and beyond, and the Tyltgo team is proud to have played a part in their success.

Since the launch, Crafty Ramen has continued to partner with Tyltgo to expand its delivery radius beyond Southern Ontario. They expanded to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in February 2021, and then to Greater Ottawa in July 2021. These expansions enabled Crafty Ramen to reach new markets in other parts of Ontario.

While many restaurants in Canada had to lay off staff, Crafty Ramen was able to hire more people and grow instead during the pandemic.

Today, Crafty Ramen has over 1,500 subscribers across Ontario and delivers an average of 400 boxes of ramen every week.

“Before COVID, we were just two restaurants, and didn’t have anything on the roadmap for eCommerce, direct-to-consumer, or grocery stores,” said Khalil. “After we launched direct-to-consumer we started to get a bunch of organic reach outs from grocery stores, wanting to carry our products. Now we’re in about 100 retail locations across Ontario, and we’ll be launching with Whole Foods Ontario later this year.”

Looking ahead, Crafty Ramen is going to scale its business even further. They're currently in the process of expanding their direct-to-consumer reach Ontario-wide and are also exploring more retail opportunities. In addition, they're constantly working on new product releases. We're excited to see what the future holds for this innovative and creative company!

Crafty’s Advice for other businesses looking for a shipping partner

  1. Find a partner that is willing to communicate with transparency. Shipping rates aside, Joanna tells us it is critical to work with a delivery partner that is flexible, communicative and listens to feedback.
  2. Do your research. Talk to other companies who already use the shipping partner you’re considering, to get a realistic idea of what your partnership will be like. The founders of General Assembly Pizza are close to Crafty Ramen, and in the early stages offered a lot of unbiased feedback about Tyltgo.
  3. Monitor the delivery experience after your partnership launches. Delivering different products can be nuanced, and it can take some learnings for both your delivery partner and yourself to perfect. Crafty Ramen actively tracked delivery issues in the first few months and engaged with Tyltgo closely to improve the customer experience that is being delivered.

Tyltgo recently launched an Ontario-wide next-day delivery service on top of the original same-day service so that we can help more companies, including Crafty Ramen, reach their customers further and faster.

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