By Jess Carpinone, BWA Eastern Ontario Membership Co-ordinator & Co-Owner, Bread By Us

As a conscientious business owner, I have never been comfortable with outsourcing aspects of my business to tech giants like Uber Eats or Skip the Dishes. Companies like these rely on gig workers, and yet these workers have little job protections and notoriously poor working conditions. Despite pressure from my customers to offer delivery, I refused to play into the exploitative system that was engulfing the food industry. So we just never offered delivery services. 

That was, until everything changed.

When covid-19 lockdowns began, suddenly we felt the urgency of having a way to deliver food directly to customers. People were seeking out food & grocery delivery in unprecedented numbers. But like most other small businesses, the economics of having our own in-house delivery system made little sense. After all, buying a vehicle, developing logistics, and hiring a driver is expensive.

So instead of risking money that we really didn’t have, we begrudgingly decided to partner with a local delivery service that promised better service than the giant tech companies that dominate the industry. At first, things went pretty smoothly. But the courier company was in growth mode because suddenly everyone needed a courier. Within a few months, we began to see cracks in the system. Drivers seemed over-stretched. Packages got mis-handled. Deliveries were really late. Communication often broke down. 

Gig workers united, a Toronto-based union fighting for better working conditions for delivery workers, describe what it’s like for many gig workers:

Being a gig worker means dancing on the edge of financial instability, physical injury, and stress without any possibility of upward mobility. You can be deactivated at any moment without explanation, with no chance to tell your side of the story. There is no room to climb the corporate ladder towards a better job through experience. You are permanently stuck at the bottom in the gig economy.

As Better Way Alliance business owners know well, the quality of a worker’s output is intimately tied to their working conditions. Workers who are adequately compensated, are supported in their work, and have the tools they need to succeed, perform better. If workers are being pushed past the brink, how can we expect them to put in the care that is required to deliver our products?

Experiencing these delivery challenges first hand got my wheels turning. For the past few years, I’ve wondered how I might be able to create a delivery system that is economically viable, serves the needs of my company adequately, and that centres worker safety & well-being. After a lot of reflection I realized that the solution needed to involve some outside-the-box thinking. I wondered: what if like-minded small business owners with similar delivery needs pooled their resources together to meaningfully employ a small number of drivers? 

Woman packaging bread for delivery

I juggled that idea around with my BWA colleagues, Lili & Aaron, and we started to build a template for a new kind of delivery system. We worked with the City of Ottawa’s Economic Development team, to create a proposal for a social enterprise that specializes in providing delivery services for small businesses, while providing decent work opportunities. In short – we’re going to try to demonstrate that there are sustainable, worker-centric delivery models that serve the spectrum of delivery & transportation needs that we have as small business owners.

The City of Ottawa is generously funding this stage of our social enterprise’s development. They were jazzed about a project that seeks to move low-wage earners with little social & economic mobility into better jobs with more economic opportunity–and so are we!!

At this stage of the project, I am seeking feedback and advice on the project from other small business owners (especially in food-service, but not exclusively). 

This is where you come in.

Are you someone who:

  • Currently uses a third party delivery app or courier?
  • Isn’t satisfied with the delivery options available to you?
  • Is interested in providing thoughts on what a better system could look like?
  • Has experience in the field of delivery logistics?
  • Has experience with social enterprise governance?
  • Has a skill to lend to this project, such as software development or logo/branding design?

We have a modest budget to support the work of anyone who helps advise us on this project at this stage ❤️

Lastly, the vision for this project is to bring together a handful of Ottawa-based businesses who can share this delivery resource. If you are in Ottawa and you are interested in learning more about what a delivery-sharing service could look like, get in touch with me: jessica[at]!