If you live in Niagara, then you’ve likely heard of The Smokin’ Buddha before, or seen their food truck at a local supper market. However, their newest undertakings, Go Buddha Food Shop and the Humberstone Event Hall, may be new to you.
In order to make them household names as well, Kyla Pennie and Kevin Echlin, partners and Co-Owners, turned to Niagara College’s (NC) Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre (BCIC), to help her team discover ways to promote and market their new businesses to various audiences.
The Smokin’ Buddha, their flagship property, is a Niagara-based food business that has been inspiring global food journeys since 2005. The Smokin’ Buddha got its entrepreneurial start at the Port Colborne Farmers’ Markets offering curry kits out of a Coleman cooler. Their food trailer, known as “one for the road,” has worked the farmers’ and supper market circuit for 17 years. After the markets success, they opened The Smokin’ Buddha, a full-service restaurant and alongside the restaurant, have continued to offer catering and event services.
With multiple business lines happening out of the tiny kitchen at The Smokin’ Buddha, Kyla and Kevin knew they needed more space. In 2018 they purchased the old Country Store Kettle and Grill building on Main Street in Port Colborne with the vision to transform it into a culinary operation featuring two distinct businesses: Go Buddha Food Shop offering fresh, global fare to-go, and the Humberstone Event Hall – a modern, warm, event space designed for local and global gatherings.
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 made things a bit complicated! Renovation timelines, costs, labour, and many other factors become bigger than expected and growth on the new endeavour was delayed.
Given the financial setback generated by COVID, they began to look at ways to partner with external organizations that could help them fulfill their growth strategy of creating the Buddha Hospitality Group, under which all their culinary operations and brands could conceptually operate.
The Buddha Hospitality Group required support to help them unify the brands, build the brand’s stories and narratives, and the expertise, resources, time, and creativity to help them develop digital collateral with a unique voice and audience for each wing of the business on social media.
“One reason I reached out to NC was to access the people, resources, fresh ideas and find a vote of confidence that we were on the right track. The BCIC team reminded us that small business matters and provided us with encouragement not to mention a significant and robust report,” said Kyla.
The report that Kyla is referring to includes strategic plans for the Buddha Hospitality Group to implement across their social media channels. They were handed marketing collateral, such as graphics, videos for Instagram, content calendars and more to help them be successful. “The NC brand is one that I trust so we felt confident that we’re going to receive excellent work from them,” said Kyla. Prior to the pandemic, they were not operating fully online, and now, thanks to the efforts of BCIC, all three brands have distinct identities across multiple social media platforms.
“The BCIC team reminded us that small business matters and provided us with an injection of support and confidence that we have a good product that offers something unique to our community.” – Kyla Pennie, Co-Owner, Buddha Hospitality Group
The future work will be to continue to work on communicating and developing the three brands and seeing how they link together, but BCIC has helped define each brand and pull out their differentiating qualities.
“How the report was written up was fundamentally critical,” said Kyla. “It was eye-opening and a different way of approaching marketing for us. I found the tone to be corporate but accessible which has made it easy for us to execute the strategies.
“BCIC has built a strong foundation for us, and I can’t stress the importance of technical expertise, the HR support and funding. The funding was critical because we would not have had the money to do this work with an agency,” said Kyla.
She applauded BCIC for creating, in her own words, “actual tangible awesomeness in supporting small business” – an accolade that would make any team smile.
As Kyla looks to the future with this report in hand, internally, success would be institutionalizing the lessons that BCIC taught them. Externally, success is driving traffic to the stores. While it can be tricky to quantify where customers find out about them from, she notes that for some, they walk into the store and say, “I saw your Wes Anderson-style Instagram reel and I came right over!”
“I can see now the potential of story lines developing and how I can create something out of those by using Canva to create quick posts, or find ways to use content on multiple channels,” she said.
Of course, having worked at the College herself for several years and being a juror in R&I’s pilot Innovation Mentorship Program back in the spring of 2023, Kyla loves getting to work with the students. “They were so excited about the project and brought a youthful, energetic energy which my whole team enjoyed,” she said. Kyla hopes to work with BCIC again in the future because, as she noted, “The team is always professional, communicative, and fun to work with.”
BCIC services and capabilities
From initial market research to commercialization strategies, the Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre offers a full suite of solutions to make businesses more successful.
The team pairs industry partners with highly qualified and experienced staff researchers, faculty, recent graduates, and students with the expertise to meet applied research and innovation needs in many areas, including market research, business strategies, primary research, media execution, promotional plans, and brand development.
Contact our team today.
Project intake is ongoing with funding available to help make these services accessible to small business, covering a portion of the cost of a total project.
For research and development partnerships, contact David DiPietro, Manager, Business Development, at [email protected] or by calling 905-641-2252, ext. 7056.