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December 4, 2020

Curiosity: What an astonishing friend!

A friend walking in my shadow, you say?

Well, no. Curiosity, always 10 steps ahead of me, has lit a path through my life and brought me countless discoveries. Yet only today does this old-timer realize how valuable it was, to what degree it made my successes possible. This morning, I have to rummage deep in the past to recall its benefits. How we forget all too easily the good things that make our daily lives better and hone our personalities.

I remember in the small kitchen in Caplan, watching my mother for hours cutting thin strips from an old white sheet that she used to wrap around each of her eczema-cracked fingers, which some days she scratched until blood red. She would often dip her hands in boiling water to lessen the discomfort. Nevertheless, her mummified hands cut up the fish, peeled the potatoes, made cod croquettes with a fork and stirred the egg sauce.

- “Hey brother, do the small trout we catch in the creek come from the bigger cod fish?”

- “Whatever.”

- “Mom, where does eczema come from?”

- “Eat your soup, sweetie,” answered my father.

In 1960, similar moments played out at the Sisters of Ste-Anne. As much as they loved my great thirst for learning, their answers to my questions were still vague and unsatisfying.

- “Sister Pauline, can you please explain Mary’s immaculate conception to me?”

Without meaning to, all these people from my past who left my questions unanswered only sharpened my insatiable appetite for knowledge. I didn’t know then that curiosity had already caught hold of me. After a failed marriage, I dove head-first into restaurant work and quickly into the business world. And it’s then that my curiosity really intensified.

As recounted earlier, I would fall asleep each night with a book propped over my face. Initially French Canadian cookbooks and then eventually an array of books on food, and of course, breakfast. Curiosity allowed me to broaden my horizons, to discover new products, new methods and a thousand and one ways to improve my skills.

As a novice, I was hungry for new experiences, ways to improve breakfast food and especially original ideas for serving it. If I may say, thanks to this daily curiosity we were able to transform a small neighbourhood diner in 1987 into an all-new breakfast restaurant concept. A concept that has been imitated hundreds of times since.

Some people see curiosity as a dangerous flaw; asking too many questions is improper. For me, curiosity instead shows a desire for self-improvement, to leave one’s comfort zone and open the door to a vast world of knowledge. It takes boldness, courage and tenacity.

Heartbroken over having to abandon my studies, I have been a lifelong student thanks to this innate curiosity, following it wherever it led me. From Italy and its abundance and importance given to taste, and the unusual fare served in the Chinese countryside to the exemplary cleanliness of Japan and the celebrated omelette maker Mère Poulard of Mont-Saint-Michel. Then on to Brittany to taste super thin crêpes and to Scandinavia to eat delicious salmon smoked morning, noon and night.  

I have never been a clever know-it-all. Especially when it comes to business. And that’s probably why curiosity has been such an invaluable tool in this industry. Despite the long hours spent working at the restaurant each day, I always found time to read newspapers to learn who was doing what, who was buying what and who had lost what. When I was first approached for a franchise, I read everything I could find on the subject. And I began to read biographies of the great company founders.

Hundreds of stories that might shape my own leadership sat down for tea with me in my head. And I kept the best, forever recorded on my mind’s walls: Isaac Singer, Soichiro Honda, Henry Ford, Sam Walton, and of course, the complete story of Ray Croc, who opened his first franchise with the McDonald brothers in 1955.

At the time, I didn’t know we were building a large network, but with each stone laid, I grew more confident; my boldness stiffened; and my knowledge grew, which was critical to ensuring the business was properly governed.

Am I correct in saying that this “astonishing friend” is also the perfect antidote to boredom, idleness and solitude? By stimulating my mental capacities, curiosity keeps me in touch with what’s going on in the world, the changes in the Earth’s climate, the dizzying pace of technology and the wonderful works of today’s artists. Perhaps I might end by saying that this new friend offers me a new wonder almost daily.



Pssst…If asked, I would simply be unable to tell you how many books are neatly organized by subject on the bookcases that line most of the walls at home. These thousands of pages, on almost every subject, have been a great source of information and have fed my curious mind. A collection that will be passed down to my great-granddaughter one day.