Totes Together Bringing Hope to the Restaurant Industry

There’s a lot to be worried about during the current health crisis and all of the changes that have come with it. One concern on people’s minds is how small local businesses will be able to make it through social distancing closures. 

Ultimately it’s up to us, the local communities and customers, to support these businesses.

Dahlia Ishak and Raymond Turner, owners of Salty Espresso and Meanwhile Wine Bar in Hamilton found a way to help by creating Totes Together — a fundraising online sale of illustrated tote bags to help support local hospitality businesses in their communities.

The reality the hospitality industry faces with these temporary closures is not knowing how long it will be until they can re-open their doors. In the meantime, most businesses continue to pay for overhead costs. 

“We just wanted something that was easy to sell, and we thought of tote bags. And, you know, in the [time] that we were building that, many of our friends and peers around the city were also struggling and shutting their doors, so we thought we would open it up to the broader community to have access to selling the tote bags themselves as well,” Ishak said. 

A graphic designer by trade who now works in restaurants, Ishak designed the bags herself.  

“I had a bunch of artwork that was mine that I could use and donate for free to the cause…Three new artists that are close friends [have] donated their art. Potentially in the future, maybe we can have it as a shared shop for artists as well, but, with something like that, we would want to be able to pay the artists or offer them some kind of value or support for being involved,” Ishtak said. 

Supporters visited the Totes Together website, made their orders, and selected the establishment they would like the money to go to. After the cost of production and shipping, all profits went to the business of the consumer’s choice. Participating businesses are located in Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and neighbouring areas. 

They chose totes because they offer a useful product anyone can order online. Totes also don’t involve managing sizes or pre-production and promote sustainable shopping practices by reducing plastic bag usage when heading out to the markets.

“We don’t have to worry about style or fit or cut, it’s just an opportunity to get something out that’s of value, but manageable. I’m conscious of creating extra waste, so I didn’t want to create a whole bunch of skews of different types of products,” Ishak said. 

The bags themselves were made by Witly, a print shop based in Hamilton which sources the tote bags from Canadian suppliers and does the printing in-shop. 

“It’s just another way to keep things local and help the economy and small businesses,” Ishak said. 

The Totes Together shop is now closed. Their first printing production has now begun and they will be shipping the totes out to their supporters within the next 30 days. They have plans to open again in April for a second print date if there is a demand for more orders. 

Ishak and Turner are also considering creating an option where customers can buy a pack of stickers for a custom amount of money in order to allow people to make an even bigger impact with their purchase.