The Maker Bean Cafe is a maker space cafe where people can design, use digital fabrication tools and learn about 3D printing & laser cutting in the warm, welcoming environment of a cafe.
It started in 2017 with pop-ups around the city where we served up locally-roasted coffee and brought our laser cutter on the road to show people the magic of laser cutting. Maker Bean partnered with the Ontario Science Centre to launch the maker exhibition INVENTORIUM in June 2017, where they introduced families to laser cutting and 3D printing, as well as artisinal coffee & tea. A year later, Maker Bean was ready to open
its own storefront in the lovely neighbourhood of Bloorcourt in downtown Toronto. It was then we were able to really expand our cafe offerings as well as tech-themed workshops, camps and birthday parties for adults and kids.
Despite being only a 3-year-old company, we've met so many wonderful people over lots of coffee & tea, completed 1000s of projects with customers that have let their imaginations run free: from personalized laser-cut coaster sets, to custom 3D printed parts to repair a bicycle, to introducing 6 year olds to their first robotics project, we've loved every step of the journey.
HOW COVID-19 HAS AFFECTED THE MAKER BEAN
With the COVID-19 crisis, like many businesses, we've had to re-invent ourselves in a few ways. Here are 3 examples:
1) Personal Protective Equipment production
Like most restaurant and cafe operations, we've moved to a take-out & delivery-only model, but more importantly, we've re-focused our fabrication resources to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face shields, masks and ear savers for our heroic frontline medical and healthcare workers.
As has been reported in the media, designers & makers around the world have answered the call to replenish dwindling supplies of PPE in hospitals; everything from face masks to face shields to ventilators and stethoscopes can be 3D printed given the right protocols, and more quickly than traditional manufacturing techniques.
At The Maker Bean, we've partnered with Community Make, a Maker Festival Toronto initiative, to work directly with hospitals, senior care facilities and other frontline health organizations to prototype, test and produce the PPE that will be most useful in containing the spread of COVID-19. We hope that at full production capacity, we'll be able to produce over 200 face shields per week - and we're not alone. Together with the 100s of other makers we've reached out to in The Maker Bean's
community, we're mobilizing an army of fabricators to meet the needs of this crisis.
We're currently using the proceeds from our cafe business to support our COVID-19 PPE production, and this has spurred many of our new & regular customers to donate directly to production, either through regular cafe purchases, or direct donation through our gift card platform:
2) Delivering our existing products in new ways
With the cancellation of many of our in-person kids camps and adult workshops, we brainstormed ways to continue our learning-based projects in this new world. We created offerings for people at home: "maker kits" that include all the parts to build a robot, catapult or cross-stitch activity, with instructions for parents & kids to complete together; and we've moved our adult learning programs online by offering an "Intro to 3D printing" workshop online, where participants log into a
screen-sharing website and follow us along as we show them 3D modelling and getting a 3D printer set up & running.
We're delivering our cafe products in new ways: from embracing delivery options, to pivoting to whole bean and other wholesale options, and of course a take-out only model, we've done our best to continue to operate a hospitality business in these tough times.
3) New projects & new customers
With the new lifestyle & routine many people have adopted due to COVID-19, we've noticed an uptick in projects that our customers are bringing us due to the slowdown. We've heard customers have more time to pursue creative projects that have been on hold during their normal, busy lives, and the self-isolation lifestyle has lent itself to picking up those projects.
We've helped customers design & 3D print planetary systems to teach their kids at home; small laser-cut pins that can be easily mailed to friends who can't be visited; and coffee/pastry gift boxes as care packages.
And while we've lost most of our customers, we've also met a bunch of new ones: as the majority of businesses are now closed, and people have taken up solo walks as a way to stay fit and pass time, we've found customers from outside our normal area discovering us and making use of our maker & cafe services. The hope is that they continue to do that after social distancing protocols end.
HOW COVID-19 HAS AFFECTED US PERSONALLY
Our lives are very different than they were just 3 weeks ago.
Lorraine and Chris are expecting their first child in June, which adds both excitement and anxiety to the mix; the decision to continue operating and become a brick and mortar hub for protective equipment production was more difficult given that reality; but we believe, with the precautions we've adopted, we're staying safe while playing an important role in helping our community.
This time has also brought us "back to basics": Lorraine & Chris are the only employees, down from 16 employees just 2 weeks ago; Lorraine & Chris open & close every day, serve every customer & handle every aspect of the business. This has been a positive reminder about why we launched The Maker Bean concept in the first place: we've found that we still wake up every morning excited to work with designers & hobbyists on
creative projects while serving up artisan, high-quality cafe goods, and while almost everything else has changed, that's one thing that hasn't.