WINCHESTER, ON. -- Just northeast of Winchester at O’Brien Farms, Dan O’Brien tends to his beef cattle.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and restaurants were forced to shut down, he thought his business wouldn’t survive.

“For the first week of the shutdown we were pretty much devastated because there were zero restaurant orders and that was 90 percent of our business.” O’Brien said.

Then, on a dime, his business changed.

“By week two we had multiple, many, many, many, like probably 100 emails, asking about product from individuals. We changed from selling to restaurants to selling to individuals,” he said.

O’Brien has seen an influx of new customers and some old ones return.

“It’s interesting to see some of the orders coming in are people that had bought 24 months ago or 36 months ago and now they are re-introducing themselves to us.” O’Brien said.

He has also had to limit what cuts of beef he offers.

“That’s been a bit of a challenge because the nature of a beef carcass is that so much of it is ground beef and almost all of the people that were inquiring, they would like six or eight steaks and maybe a couple pounds of hamburger,” he said.

“So it made balancing the product quite difficult. Now we tell them what we can definitely give them and ask them to submit a wish list, and we bring them whatever we can.”

Deliveries are made on Tuesdays throughout the area. O’Brien has even started offering a new product.

“We have been offering split sides, so like a quarter of a cow to people, and that’s been received quite well. I’ve sold more splits sides in the last three weeks than we probably have in the previous three to five years.”

In Brockville at The Butcher Shop, the same thing has happened. More locals are stopping in and grabbing meat a couple times a week.

“It’s been very good. Once COVID hit our business has doubled, new clientele, it’s been awesome.” said owner Rick Orr.

The Butcher Shop in Brockville

The family-run business has been around since 1999 and they’ve had to hire two people with the increase in customers.

“We’ve seen lots of new faces and they’re starting to become familiar, and we see more and more coming back each week.” Orr said.

Orr adapted to the pandemic quickly by offering curbside pickup to his customers.

Customers leaving with product were happy to support local business, and say they will continue to in the future.

Doug Knight has been coming to the shop twice a week.

“This is the best butcher shop I know of between Brockville and Quebec City.” he said. “Buying local helps everybody at home. I certainly intend to come back - I buy all my meat here.”

Another customer agreed.

“I’m doing it because I think it’s so valuable,” said Darlene, who picked up some lasagna and turkey burgers. “I’ve always felt that way, but I feel that way even more strongly now.

“If I need something and I can get it done locally and get it done safely, wearing masks and social distancing of course, I’m going to do it.” she added.

And Orr is appreciative of their business.

“Brockville always supports small business and we hope the new customers come back,” he said.

Back in Winchester, O’Brien also hopes customers will remember his product.

“If I can get people to buy it once, I’ve got them,” he said with a smile. “I’m hoping that they remember where the good beef comes from and call us back. It would be very nice to see all these people stay with us.”