One Winnipeg small business is not just surviving but thriving in the pandemic, all thanks to an outpouring of support from its community, and is now giving back to others in need.
Will Gault has gone from being a homeless addict to owning his own business, Willy Dogs. Over the past several years, he has married his wife Courtney with the pair later giving birth to two daughters, Ireland and Taylor. While the past several years have brought Will great joy, 2020 put his resilience to the test.
Almost one year ago, Will's life turned upside down after almost losing his wife during the unexpected home birth of their youngest daughter.
"A little story that people that are close to us know, almost a year ago today I almost lost my wife due to a very traumatic birth and a medical emergency," Will says. "I thank God every day that she is still with us, and we have a beautiful little girl who is going to be one on January 24."
While the initial trauma of almost losing his wife was over, Will's difficult year was just beginning.
The first cases of COVID-19 in March brought mass cancellations of events to the province. The long list of cancellations includes events Will's hot dog cart was set to be part of. Will says he was out thousands because of this.
"I would hang on to hope. We had hope and prayer that we were going to make it through this and that we were going to make it out on the other side."
Aside from weddings and events, his cart typically would be nestled outside of St. Boniface Hospital. The pandemic brought changes to PPE requirements making it difficult for staff to come outside, leaving Will alone and missing his regular customers.
"I was willing to go to any length, any length at all, to save my business and put food on the table, to be able to keep a roof over our head, (and) to be able to pay our bills."
Now needing to pivot, Will opened up shop in Deer Lodge Curling Club. While the club did not have as many people visiting, it did give Will the opportunity to have a stable place to cook and set up a delivery system. In the past, people would be going to the Willy Dog cart but now Will suddenly was able to go to them.
Courtney, Will's partner in many ways, began working alongside Will to help him do several things including answering the phones and collecting orders.
While things started slowly, and it left Will concerned, things started to gradually improve because of the support of friends and community. ''When we first started doing takeout, 80 hours a week I would put in here at the curling club, seven days a week, 11-12 hours a day, sometimes sitting here with no orders, sitting here waiting for that phone to ring or the iPad to go off. I was not going to sit back, possibly lose our house, (and) possibly lose everything I have worked so hard for."
Now, while there are still some slow days, more are busy than not. In fact, Will says, they've had to hire staff to help on weekends as things get so busy during those times. Willy Dogs also received some government funding which Will says he's thankful for.
Will says that he hopes other small businesses can get the same support from community members as Willy Dogs has received.
Instead of feeling defeated when things first began to turn for the worst, Will used his family as a source of inspiration to spur him forward.
"I want to leave a legacy for them. I am very hopeful and thankful we are going to get through this. I want to keep doing what I do. And I am not someone to just sit back and wait for the worst. I am someone who makes things happen."
Giving back to others
The response from the community has been so great that Willy Dogs is also in a place to give back to others.
"I called Two Ten Recovery home in 2015 or I could have been homeless again. The founder of the place, Ian Rabb, when I reached out to him from Brandon in treatment with nowhere to go when I got out of treatment, you know I explained to him my story and he saved a bed for me. And that meant the world to me."
For the month of January, Willy Dogs is donating $2 from every Soko Burger and Kolbassa Smokie to Two Ten Recovery Inc., a place Will knows well, saying that it hits home and is close to his heart.
Will additionally plans to do something for the Women's Hospital in recognition of their work saving his wife's life.
He says that while he's had plenty of opportunity over the last year to feel down, the response from supporters has truly blessed him and his family, and he's hoping that spreads to others.
You can get Willy Dog's delivered through Skip the Dishes, or you can call for pickup at 431-997-9455.