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December 2, 2021

Our first employees

Another memory has prodded me to leave my warm bed on this chilly December morning.  

Nicole, Marie, Caroline, Guillaume the Mexican, who garbled his French, and Moustafa at the grill, as slow as a turtle. I loved them so much. As I close my eyes, I see their faces flash by in the quiet darkness of the early morning. I'm happy as I brush my teeth as if I were about to put on my kitchen whites, braid my long hair and board the little Renaud 5 to fly to our first little diner. I had the key at that time, so I had to be the first to open, start a pot of coffee and fire up the grill. 

Moustafa would arrive next and take the fruit out of the fridge, along with the carton of eggs, the big bottle of homemade syrup and the sliced, cooked potatoes ready for grilling. Then came Nicole, driven by her boyfriend, who would drop her off at 7:10 a.m. sharp every weekday morning. And then the police, followed closely by the firemen, whose station was two blocks from our tiny eatery. I still remember Nicole, who claimed to be a non-smoker, sneaking a smoke in the parking lot during her breaks while talking to customers as they came and went. 

As you know, I opened our first restaurant because I desperately needed to earn a living and feed my children. It’s not surprising that what I am most proud of today is our constantly expanding team of employees across our Canadian network.

The three most important numbers for me are: 1) the number of customers served daily, 2) the number of restaurants in operation and 3) the number of incredible people who, like me, earn their living working under the Cora sun. 

I’m glad to have worked shoulder to shoulder with our first employees, to have seen them grow, develop and become experts who went on to train new cohorts of employees as our network grew.

Good ideas are not rare; we all have them every day. “It's the execution that makes all the difference” as the experts say. And to execute, you need others to train and supervise a good work team.

I used to say to young, rookie bosses that they must love their employees if they want to succeed. They have to understand them, appreciate them and be able to give meaning to their work. Thank god, when I started out, I was still able to be a real mother to my employees and children in those hectic early days. I was able to instill in them a sense of kindness towards customers and to show by example that we were not the masters, but rather the servants of the Company.

All of our thoughts, actions and words were imbued with the sole intent to delight our clients. 

I was never soft or too indulgent with my employees. I treated them like myself – harshly! Fortunately, my almost unattainable dream inspired extraordinary loyalty in them. Everyone who worked with me was dedicated, courageous, competent and daring. They understood that I hated cowards who were too afraid to have their own opinions and stand by them. The ones who never met you halfway and always seemed to think exactly like me.

It pleases me that my first employees visit me in my dreams. I regret not having thanked and congratulated them enough. The more help I needed, the more they gave.

And the more I believed in their potential, the better they became. My heart went out to all of them: the ones who managed our corporate restaurants, the ones who served our customers and the heavy artillery who formed our kitchen brigades. They were our true "tribal leaders” – the ones who trained the new teams as we opened new restaurants, first in Quebec, and then across Canada.  

These experts almost all became official trainers for the franchisees, leaving their families for weeks at a time to travel all over the country, from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Ensuring that we were constantly identifying and developing new trainers across Canada, our first trainers became the heads of various company departments. Today they work close to their families, reporting to the President.

It is because of this crackerjack team that I eventually handed over my dream of breakfast domination to the next generation. To tell you the truth, I don't remember when or under what circumstances I first became aware that it was no longer I who was pulling, but rather they who were pushing to make it happen. It was as subtle and real as an autumn rain turning to snow; by the time you realize it, it's already happened.

Thomas Edison said that a product’s value lies not in what it is, but in what it brings to consumers. What counts is not the price of the bulb, but the value of the light. WOW! It made me think that the real value at Cora is not the value of the egg or the pancake, but rather: