5:49 a.m. at the ALT Hotel, Toronto
Finally! I am able to return and fulfill my duties as the Founder of Cora restaurants, which today can be found from coast to coast. I am in Toronto to visit our locations in Ontario. I’m just so happy to be here, accompanied by a few company directors. I am delighted to see our wonderful franchisees in their restaurant once again. It also gives me a chance to greet the customers who recognize me and stop to shake my hand.
Just like in the old days, I take a few minutes to sit with them at their table and inquire after their family, their children and if they like the new dishes we’ve added to the menu. Most of them insist on taking a selfie with me, and I love the closeness! I thank the stars for this brief moment of interaction every time it happens. It’s such a precious connection for me; I consider myself extremely privileged to be so loved.
Thirty-five years of being immersed in the business probably has something to do with it. My face is all over the place: printed on the menu, framed on the walls and featured countless times in different ads. Knowing that I am not forgotten makes me happy. It gives me the push I need to keep going and reminds me that I still can’t imagine departing for another dimension.
Speaking of departures, I boarded a big steel bird to travel from Montreal to downtown Toronto. All it took was 58 minutes – just enough time to drink my coffee and go over the itinerary of our restaurant visits and activities for the next few days. We’ll need to keep a steady pace; there’s not a minute to spare, according to François, the trip’s leader. Except, of course, for the many serendipitous stops for the Founder to meet her customers.
I haven’t flown in nearly three years. I forgot my Bose headphones, and my ears were popping during the entire descent. I pressed and pulled on my ears and tried yawning; my poor head suffered.
“One has to suffer to succeed,” my mother would say if she were still among us, with her hands permanently covered in eczema. She suffered terribly, and I am certain that she’s now the picture of health, busily ironing the angels’ robes in paradise. Honestly, nobody loved to iron like she did! She delighted in smoothing out the wrinkles of her husband’s extra-large clothes.
Seated in the hotel lobby, I unexpectedly get the chance to converse with a man with a face as calm, smooth and radiant as an angel’s. He immigrated to Canada 30 years ago from the Dalai Lama’s home country. Focused like a monk in prayer, he is busy dusting the coffee tables in the lobby and replacing the many cushions on the enormous sofas in the hall. His face breaks into a smile as he gets closer to the cocktail table where I’m sitting; I feel like a worshiper waiting for the holy host. His huge smile and heartfelt HELLO light up my face and a very agreeable conversation about life, grace and the potential serenity that resides in each one of us unfolds.
When I boldly mention the ongoing war in Ukraine, the angelic man urges me to believe that we have to build peace within our hearts. Picking up his feather duster as if it were a sacred object, he bows his head and leaves.
At that exact moment, the elevator doors open and release my flock of colleagues, who are all smiles. They look for the coffee machine and take a moment to enjoy their beverage as we discuss the day’s activities. We leave the hotel for our next destination: a recently renovated restaurant that has been open for 10 years.
The franchisees greet us with much enthusiasm and pride. They are always delighted to see us, especially the Founder; you can see it in their eyes. And for just one moment, I become the world’s happiest person: the one who created this extraordinary breakfast restaurant concept.
After shaking countless hands and sitting down numerous times at customers’ tables, I look up and down the walls, taking in each detail of the renovation. I created a few décor items myself and I insisted that they be displayed in the right place on the right walls. My colleagues put up with me; they know there’s a wolf hiding under sheep’s clothing. Most of them have been with the company for many years and are part of the family.
7:32 p.m. at the airport
I type away on my iPad precariously placed on my lap. Our 8 p.m. flight has been delayed by 30 minutes. My colleagues talk about this and that while they wait for the giant bird to arrive at the gate. They are satisfied with the work they accomplished in the Greater Toronto Area. They can’t wait to be home again. Tomorrow morning, some of them will be joining me at the head office with their children for a photo shoot to announce a special event.
The restaurant business is not an easy one. A reality we have known first-hand for 35 years. We love sharing our expertise and passion with our franchisees, along with a desire to delight our customers.