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February 19, 2021

The unforgettable recipe of my success

Early in our story, around the time when we had opened our seventh or eighth Quebec restaurant, the “belle province” began to take notice of us. Everywhere, families drove kilometres, crossed bridges and lined up at our doors to enjoy a Cora meal.

Expecting a magnificent TAJ MAHAL of restaurants, these new customers rushed into a delicious cloud of aromas, mingling French toast, cinnamon and vanilla-crisped crêpes. Their wide eyes looked for wondrous extravagance, opulently decorated walls and cutlery, and fanciful waitress uniforms. None of that was true. What they did find was a big grin on every face, interjections of delight coming from every table and plates bearing extraordinary looking dishes.    

In a space that looked as if it had been patched together by a crew of resourceful teenagers, with the names of dishes in big, attractive hand-drawn letters on the walls, this new restaurant concept gave customers a lot to talk about. Not to mention that we served primarily breakfast dishes, with a small lunch selection for people working nearby. Plus, with an early closing time of 3 p.m. come rain or shine, customers couldn’t dally if they wanted to enjoy a meal.

This huge hubbub of compliments reached the ears of the Quebec business establishment.

- “Who is this middle-aged woman who’s appeared out of nowhere? Where did this new restaurant concept come from? From Europe? The States?”

- “From her own head,” answered the assistant manager of a large insurance company to his boss.

I remember him clearly. He was a fine young man, who, one Sunday, bravely made his way across the restaurant, navigating the waitresses zig-zagging between tables and coffee pots swinging to and fro from the fingers of inexperienced busboys. I was in the kitchen of a newly opened restaurant keeping a watchful eye on operations. My hungry ego was absorbing the delighted laughter coming from all the tables.

- “Mme Cora, here’s my card. We’d like you to share your ‘recipe for success’ with employees at our insurance firm. You would of course be paid. We’d be pleased to have you, Madam. Your reputation precedes you.”

That Sunday, after the man greeted me with his hand on his heart, my neurons simply froze, unable to transmit anything to the rest of my body that had been thrown into disorder. Cooking came easy to me. Explaining a recipe was child’s play. But speaking publically in front of people so full of assurance that they are capable of selling it was something different all together. It was as if a lion had just entered my cage. I was terrified. I had never given our success any real thought and certainly had never tried to put it into a “recipe.”

Yet a few days later, an angel who knew what my future had in store for me, entered my head and switched my brain back on. The day I had decided to make real crêpes immediately popped into my mind. Crêpes like my mom used to make at home in the Gaspé. I remembered the thick white batter that she poured into a large skillet, the crêpe’s crispness on my tongue, the delicious flavour exploding in my mouth. And I told myself that the secret of my success was that: a lot of hard work and the right ingredients. It was true, and the knowing angel insisted that I base my recipe for success on my mom’s crêpe recipe.

So here is the famous recipe that has been explained tens of times in front of different audiences at schools, universities, businesswomen’s associations, entrepreneur gatherings and large companies. I even managed to bumble my way through an English version of it for a Ted Talk (still available on YouTube).

- In a large bowl of your choosing (a metaphor for a physical space, a vessel containing your business idea)

- Break a few eggs (symbolizing life and creativity)

- Add enough milk (representing rigorous focus, specialization)

- Along with enough flour (representing work, tenacity)

- A pinch of sale (representing doubt, reflection)

- And lots and lots of devotion and passion

There are no measurements in this recipe for success. No strainer to sift the flour (work) or whisk to froth the eggs (life). You are the measuring cup. You must add enough creativity to stand out from others. You must focus on your specialty without allowing yourself to be distracted from other adventures. The flour represents work. And it’s the ingredient you need the most of. Salt represents doubt and reflection. A little in the bowl will keeps you humble and motivated to constantly aim higher. Be careful though! Too much of it will eat away at your business like a horrible ulcer. The last ingredient, which is also the most important, is you: your devotion, passion and optimism, as well as your entire person that must express your business’s DNA. 

Thank goodness that in the early days I understood that a forkful of delicious food could turn the inside of one’s mouth into the Taj Mahal. Almost from the start, I remarked this burst of delight, as brilliant as an auspicious star, in our customers’ smiles.

In time I also bought insurance: car, home, illness, condo, travel and disability. A list that drives home the fact that money can buy a lot of things.

Yet many of the most important things in life can’t be bought. They arrive with the wind that scatters them as it lets out a gust of laughter. It’s the strong, long-legged storks that carry seeds to the best artisans. A big gulp of patience is often necessary – “success insurance” always takes a while to fully cook. Courage, Strength and Determination will help your business grow while Enthusiasm acts as a divine conduit for your best intentions. And when success does finally arrive with silver hair, it too stops to ask itself how it managed to get there. Like me, it looks for a recipe that explains everything it has achieved.