BROCKVILLE -- When you think of Cowan’s Dairy Bar in Brockville, ice cream is the first thing that comes to mind.

Boxes of vegetables? Not so much.

Surinder and Kuljit Gill have owned Cowan’s for 20 years, and the neighbouring Captain Georges Restaurant for the past five.

“Believe it or not the veggie boxes started with toilet paper,” said Surinder Gill while cracking a smile.

“When the whole pandemic began people were having difficulty finding it .. we had access because we’re dealing with suppliers so we started it buying it and selling it at cost,” Gill said.

It was such a success that people started asking for other items.

“We realized that people were having difficulty in the grocery stores getting things and we had access to those things and a lot of people didn’t want to go to the grocery store not only because of the inconvenience but also because of the safety factor.”

Surinder Gill talked to the suppliers and the veggie box idea was born.

In a single box you can find fruits and vegetables, like grapes, bananas, broccoli, cucumber, cantaloupe, red onion, romaine hearts, green pepper, and potatoes.

“Every week we change up a couple little things because we have a lot of people who are ordering every week now so they want a bit of variety,” said Surinder.

The boxes are advertised on the Cowan’s Dairy Bar Facebook page.

The Gills are offering delivery within the city, curbside pickup at the store, or people can come into Cowan’s and pick a box up themselves.

E-Transfer has been the popular method to pay, but cash is still accepted.

Surinder Gill likes the fact that nothing gets touched inside the box after it gets to the store.

“We don’t open the boxes,” he said. “There is minimal handling of the produce. It’s all done by the supplier.”

“It started off as being a convenience thing but I think the feedback that I’m getting tells me that people really like the idea that it’s a safe way to get their food,” Gill said.

They are offering other products like bulk yeast and flower, and also take and bite items.

Heather Marlatt is a personal support worker and the take and bake pizza was perfect for her.

“I saw them online. I think it will be a great activity for our kids and I do to do together,” said Marlatt.

“I’m a frontline worker and of course on limited time and it’s so convenient. I sent a message on the Facebook page with what I need.”

Marlatt adds “being a single mom of four kids and working with such vulnerable clients out in the community … I wanted to do everything I can to keep my clients safe and the limited contact.”

Deliveries of boxes are happening three times a week, and the most boxes out the door in one day was approximately 60.

The original door to Cowan’s was long ago boarded up, but a new take out window was installed this week, allowing people to pickup their boxes as a safe distance, and for take out ice cream.

“Our sales plummeted as they do for a lot of dine in restaurants, so we had to figure out a way to ensure this business survives and also to give the community something that they needed,” said Surinder Gill.

“The feedback that we are getting from the community is unbelievable. It’s a win-win for all of us.”

Gill adds “I’d like to give some praise to the frontline workers like Heather as well. In my views she’s the real hero in all of this.”

For more information on the veggie boxes, visit the Cowan’s Dairy Bar Facebook page. You can place an order through private message on the page.