Big Wheel Burger and The Bread & Butter Collective: Fighting for Small Businesses

Everywhere we look, there are stories about inflation. Whether you’re a consumer or a business owner, it’s a lot to handle. Arguably no industry deals with the brunt of inflation more than the food and restaurant industry do.

Our food services industry is a high-cost, low-profit industry that’s full of volatility for owner-operators. Throw all that together with the ever-increasing threat of off-Island companies overtaking our business landscape, and it’s a tough time to be the Little Guy in food. 

That’s why you’ll see the “Bread & Butter Collective” sticker on the windows of our Big Wheel Burger shops. But we’re not alone, because a growing number of Victorian hospitality businesses are joining the Bread & Butter Collective. It’s how we’re coming together in a historically tough time for our industry — on the heels of another historically tough time for us. 

In April 2020, there was a 274% increase in the number of food-related business closures in Canada, with losses mounting ever since.

Luckily, here in Victoria, the pandemic showed the industry how important innovation and teamwork were – and the public stepped up to support our efforts to serve them in new ways.

Because of that, despite massive losses elsewhere, many Victoria companies successfully pivoted quickly in the pandemic’s outset. We gave our customers a way to keep our cashflow churning, and it’s kept many of our unique neighbourhoods intact. 

But for others who tried riding things out without adapting their business models, outcomes have not been so successful. 

With the Bread & Butter Collective, we’re hoping for a more resilient future in Victoria’s food-related community.


Finding Strength in Numbers

That’s why local hospitality businesses are collaborating to share their business savvy, innovations, and best practices through the Bread & Butter Collective. 

Small businesses need all the advantages we can get, as we operate with threats like the pandemic and the onslaught of “big box” and franchise companies, while having to weather the twin economic pressures of rising operating costs and transitioning our payroll to living wages.

Big Wheel was onboard with the Bread & Butter Collective from the get-go, because it was started by our longtime friend, Jeff Hetherington, when the pandemic began. If you remember the tasty eats at Pig Restaurant, you remember Jeff’s contribution to the local food scene. Jeff truly knows the restaurant industry’s pitfalls inside and out. 

Like most of us, Jeff got into the food industry because he loved putting delicious things in people’s bellies. But as a guy with a social conscience, he learned that’s a tough line to walk when trying to pay employees what they’re worth while offering fairly priced meals that average folks can afford. That’s why he’s trying to find ways to make the industry a career-worthy job for people who love food.

Still, that “tough line to walk” is why, when the pandemic struck and restaurants lost dine-in service overnight, the food industry worldwide saw mass closures. Jeff, like many in the industry, saw how bad things might get. He reached out to us at Big Wheel, and to other local business owners, to suggest we band together in the face of adversity. So, we did.

Simply put, food businesses run on the tightest of margins, often with single-digit profits or no profits at all, because so many passionate people get into the business with a lack of business basics savvy or money-management skills. 

At Bread & Butter Collective, we’re changing that.


We’re Neighbours Helping Neighbours

Give his experiences running and closing Pig, Jeff Hetherington understood that broad business knowledge is critical for success, well beyond what businesses sell or make. Success takes knowing supply-side challenges, government support systems, banking tools, and so much more. 

Jeff knew most small-business restauranteurs lacked the time, energy, or know-how to find the extensive information and business tools available to help them grow. 

The trouble with start-ups is that many entrepreneurs think they’ll learn as they go, but they find out that it doesn’t work that way, not alone. And they usually find that out too late.

But what if small businesses could share that knowledge and help each other navigate the ups and downs of business together? 

So that’s how the Bread & Butter Collective came to be.

In Canada, we’re lucky to have many government incentives, support, and business-growing programs that make the difference in surviving downturns or not. The trouble is that most entrepreneurs don’t know where to look or turn to for help, or even that help is there. 

Jeff dreamed of the Collective being that place where business owners share what they’re working on, negotiating, struggling with, and aspiring for. He wanted it to be a hub for information and education, and mentorship, within the food industry.

Today, that’s what the Bread & Butter Collective is — a hub of help and community. 

We love being involved with it. We’re lucky, because Jeff works both at Big Wheel and within the Collective, so that hope and aspiration can be contagious at Big Wheel.

It’s why we want to help Victoria’s world-class food scene stay strong, because we believe it’s a big enough community for all of us to thrive.


Busy Shops Create Bustling Communities

Our boss’s favourite saying is that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” He even did a podcast about what it means in the restaurant context — that, when one business does well, others around it do well, too, and so does the community.

Take Cook Street Village as an example. It’s always been a thriving community, but when Root Cellar opened in 2021, it increased foot traffic and destination visits. As a community, we all benefitted, and still do. 

Conversely, when businesses close, it’s a potential downturn in traffic for every other business.

And every vacant business space following a closure means an opportunity for yet another off-island corporation to take over yet another local space, eroding our unique island culture.

Islanders understand the importance of having local island-based businesses ruling the roost. We keep our money here, in our communities, by supporting small businesses. 

And when you “shop local,” it ripples through your community in so many ways, because so many of us sell Island-made, Island-raised, and Island-grown products — and every product is the result of another Island-based employee or owner-operator’s hard work.


Why You Should Support “Collective” Businesses

What’s different about the Bread & Butter Collective is that it’s businesses supporting businesses in a tangible, nuts’n’bolts way. We’re talking about how to negotiate a better price for sirloin tip, or why every percentage point of cost for, say, rent-to-revenue ratio is a hill to die on.

Because, like our friend and fellow Collective member Sam Jones realized over at 2% Jazz Coffee a long time ago, making a great product isn’t enough if you’re not on top of the dollars-and-cents of management.

At Big Wheel, we know burgers better than most folks. B&B Collective member Foo Asian Street Food doesn’t need our advice on making a great Vietnamese caramel chicken. But if they wanted to open another location, we could help them with our experiences in doing opening locations repeatedly over the last decade. Meanwhile, if someone else struggles to keep costs down on their menu, Foo can provide sage advice about maintaining a great menu at a competitive price while still profiting. 

Together, the Collective is a powerhouse of shared experience. 

We share information about suppliers, real estate, equipment maintenance, government programs, banking, and everything else that can help a business shave a few percent off their operating costs, so they can stay open long-term and keep their community’s culture thriving.

And that’s what the Bread & Butter Collective sticker means. 

It means community.


What Else Do We Stand For?

When you see our sticker, you’re supporting companies who pay employees fairly and who reward loyalty and expertise. Living wages, employee benefits, and fair employment practices are all things Bread & Butter Collective members are doing or are striving toward together. 

Other Collective goals include fighting to end food insecurity in the community around us. We’re also all adopting sustainable food practices and making better packaging choices. In fact, some of our members offer re-usable takeout containers to invest in, so we dramatically reduce landfill waste and greenhouse gases.

Bottom line is, if you love your community, then support it. 


If you love Victoria, support Victoria-based companies, and Island-based producers. 

In the Collective, we prioritize sourcing food and supplies locally, because Vancouver Island’s food sovereignty means we all need to buy local.

“Supporting local” isn’t just about community pride. It’s about protecting our food providers, ensuring generational family farms stay operating. It’s about protecting our access to quality food so we’re not depending on Florida or Mexico to feed us. 

It’s about protecting food culture in every way.

We’re so proud of the Bread & Butter Collective’s achievements so far. We hope that, as our membership grows, Victoria’s food culture and community will be stronger and more vibrant for years to come.

With your support, it will be.


We’re In It Together, Vancouver Island

We know life’s getting expensive. Next time you’re getting takeout, we hope you’ll choose one of our great Bread & Butter Collective members. By making sure some of your food and meal purchases are through our member companies, you’ll sustain Victoria’s unique culture and community through these tough times.

That’s money well-spent.

And if you’re an independent food producer here in Victoria, the Bread & Butter Collective is available as a resource for you too. Start by listening to our free podcasts that 2% Jazz Coffee’s Sam Jones and our CEO Calen McNeil co-host — they’re jammed with a wealth of knowledge. Also, consider joining* the Collective for camaraderie and support from all our members. No one goes it alone in the Bread & Butter Collective.

If you want a career in the food industry, Bread & Butter Collective member companies are committed to fair employment practices and employee support. Come thrive with us.

Victoria may be a small city, but there’s plenty of opportunity for all of us to succeed — especially with our community’s support.


*Membership is just $100 a year. Join. We want you to thrive. Let’s help each other.