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June 3, 2022

Ambition: A flame not easily extinguished

In 1987, when I opened the first Cora restaurant, I knew very few truly successful women. Yet men could shine in any professional field they chose, dream of becoming entrepreneurs, easily obtain loans from the bank and appear in the paper holding impressive awards. In my head, it all seemed perfectly normal: mom cooks at home and dad makes a living.

Except that in those days, when a woman ran away from a toxic marriage with children under her arm and no alimony, she didn't have the luxury of dreaming; not even the luxury of going back to school to earn a good salary. These women had to work miracles to survive, to feed their children, clothe them and make sure they went to school. I was one of those women, one of those who never gave up.

I remember it well. When I left home with three young teens in tow, 14 years of classical studies behind me and the ability to speak three languages fluently, no one would hire me. Some said I had too many years of schooling, others not enough. Fortunately, at that time, the Greek restaurant industry employed all these brave women to serve customers. And I was one of them; the one who looked like a German yet spoke perfect Greek. It was probably because of this competitive advantage that I was able to work my way up to become general manager of a hugely popular restaurant in the suburbs of Montreal.

For seven years, I worked six and a half days a week until a terrible burnout hit me. Don’t weep for me, dear readers, because this heavy illness is the reason why Cora restaurants are so successful. Yes, I recovered and quit my job to open a tiny neighbourhood diner that became the first of a large chain of restaurants across Canada. I remember my humble beginnings, when the lines started to wrap around the first little Cora restaurant. Everyone was congratulating me, praising my achievements and creative talent. The more people came to our place, the more they told their friends, and the longer the lineups became.

I only wanted to feed my children, pay my suppliers and be able to live a decent life. Without really noticing it, all these compliments, congratulations and “Bravo, Cora” became dangerous sparks that ignited an unstoppable passion within me: A FIRE THAT IS NOT EASY TO EXTINGUISH. Yes, you guessed it, AMBITION took hold of me before I could even imagine the great successes that awaited me.

The popularity of our new morning restaurant concept soon allowed me to pay all our bills. Of course, I wanted to open a second restaurant to serve and dazzle even more customers. Then a third, a fourth and some 40 more across Quebec. As the number of customers served increased, the FIRE inside me grew. I admit that I have always wanted to outdo myself – to design better menus, to dazzle my customers more, to open restaurants in Ontario, to conquer all of Canada.

According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), the definition of ambition is: the determination to achieve success or distinction.” And yet my ambition was not for honours, success or even power. In that very first little Cora restaurant, I had finally found the two things I had missed most in my life: First, an extraordinary opportunity to express my creativity through food; and, second, an equally fabulous opportunity to finally be loved by thousands of customers to whom I was offering top-quality food and service in a warm, family atmosphere.

This was the field in which my ambition caught fire! Every day I wanted to improve, to surprise my customers more, to amaze them and to make sure that their wishes were satisfied with the warm rays of the Cora Sun. The more customers I served, the more I enjoyed my work, prompting me to closely watch every little detail, every look and every new smile. In the evenings, I constantly read, studied, scoured food magazines and recipe books. My whole life tasted like custard and my promising ideas marinated in the delicious vanilla syrup that is exclusive to our brand. It’s who I was all throughout those years of successive conquests. My adventure in morning gastronomy is a beautiful love story! A FIRE THAT IS STILL IMPOSSIBLE TO EXTINGUISH.

That’s why, every Sunday morning, I prepare a beautiful table of beautiful words, tasty anecdotes and unforgettable memories for you. Again and again, the flame burns within me, always wanting to delight you and warm your heart. Perhaps I’m asking for too much. Today more than ever, however, your kind words and delightful comments, dear readers, nourish and urge me to continue. My ambition is to have you alongside me for as long as possible.

May the good fairies spread their magical dust in our hearts so we live a very long time.