Many years ago, I set a goal to interview a millionaire a month because I wanted to learn the commonalities of those who had achieved great wealth. It wasn’t difficult. I would pick up the phone, explain with passion that I wanted to learn and grow, and those who could see a small piece of themselves in me, gifted me their time and wisdom over coffee or lunch. I was blessed to exchange incredible conversations with remarkably successful people. I always asked the same ten questions and for the most part, I received variations of the same ten answers.
It was clear that all entrepreneurs had the ability to see what others didn’t and they understood the difference between making a plan and executing it. They had a passion to create, the single-minded focus to succeed, the depth of character required to realize that their success was dependent on building a team, the intestinal fortitude to make difficult decisions quickly and without regret, and the ability to build not just once, but many times over.
And then I learned the most important lesson of all – that not all entrepreneurs are created equal. So, I began to focus on the differences. I realized that many were happy and that many were not. And so, it was happiness that I began to study. I listened for intention; very often it had nothing to do with creating wealth. I paid particular attention to what served as a catalyst for change. I became intrigued with the manner in which entrepreneurs reinvented themselves.
Cora Tsouflidou graces the cover of MOTIVATED this issue because she defines the word “reinvention”. When her husband of ten years left her with three teenagers to support, she rose up, purchased a run down snack bar in the Ville Saint-Laurent district of Montreal, and unleashed her creative abilities. Offering artistically arranged fresh crepes loaded with fruit and creamy chocolate hazelnut filling, and waffles smothered with fresh strawberries, she delighted her customers and redefined breakfast. After a few months of operation, Chez Cora became the breakfast destination of choice and the rest…truly is history.
With over 5,000 employees in 120 locations, Cora is a wonderful example of a “self-made business woman”. She’s self-reflective and consequently self-aware. She has objectively examined her history and so moves effectively and confidently into the future. She knows how to re-invent, building on the lessons she’s learned. She knows what’s important in life. Passing the leadership torch to her son, Nicholas, she’s setting off to reinvent herself yet again; the story behind her story follows.
Do you believe entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes?
Well, when I was about six or seven years in business I heard someone on television. I think the guy was in charge of a bank. He was saying: “Entrepreneurship is not for rich people because rich people, when they want to get richer, they buy more shares, they buy more land, they expand their property. Entrepreneurship means making things happen with very little money.”
Creating something from nothing.
That’s why, owning your own business offers an amazing way to change poverty to wealth. When I knew that, it was like I was reborn. I realized I didn’t need to have a profile! Originally, I felt uncomfortable when people would call me an “entrepreneur” because it made me feel like a fake. I would think, “They don’t know me!” But when I heard this quote on television I realized “I AM an entrepreneur! I started with nothing!!” It was after that, I read everything I could. I read biographies from so many entrepreneurs. And, I realize that they’re rich because they held onto a little idea, they worked hard and they didn’t give up. I felt myself grow. I felt like I could succeed.
I felt I was worth something.
How old were you?
I started at 40 years old, that’s when I had my first restaurant. I was old! I’m 63 now.
I love that!! So, when did the light bulb really go off? When did your negative self-talk let up a little? When did you say, “I can own this…I can own that I’m an entrepreneur?”
I’m not sure when exactly, but I realized I could have put myself on welfare. I could have found a job or gone back to school to learn how to sew. I was sewing. I was sewing all the clothes for my kids. But no, I wanted to do business.
So, can you figure out why that is? Why, when other women are down on their luck, why is it that they turn to a welfare system, or give up? You went through hard times but chose another path.
I don’t know why. I have no entrepreneurs in my family. Only poor people all around me! Nobody. I didn’t even have an uncle that had money! All I knew was that I didn’t want to register for welfare. I wanted to change the karma of it. I wasn’t thinking of my kids, I was thinking about my grandchildren. I wanted my grandchildren to be able to buy a house. The only explanation I can give to you is because I got mad! I was angry about my terrible marriage, I was angry about my divorce, but I felt like because all of this happened, I had to do something. It became about doing.
It’s true. We can all get stuck being angry because of all the external things that seem to be happening to us. But you, you just simply took responsibility.
And, I guess being entrepreneurial is like you’ve got to be responsible. You’re the boss, everybody is waiting for you. My children were looking at me like, “Mother! Do something!” I sold the family house to start my business so I felt responsible for my little snack bar. It had to do well enough to feed my kids. And then, we got another restaurant, and I left my children in the first one. I always felt that I had to; that it was my only choice. It was about timing. I knew I had to do it then. I thought, “My kids can go to school any time, but they have to work in the restaurant with me now.”
I think that business also teaches you, very quickly, about responsibility. In many ways I didn’t feel that different from an immigrant. Immigrants come to a new country with nothing, and they work very hard to have something! I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I also learned the hard way. My mother was a good worker. My children were a help, a tremendous help, but mostly, I always compare myself with an army tank. And my children say, “No matter what, my mother can adapt. She never stops.” So, I guess when I got over the idea that I needed a profile, I stopped feeling the fear about failing.
How old were your kids when you had that first little restaurant?
My kids were in high school.
How did you manage to achieve a balance between work and family?
I didn’t balance anything! I brought the children to the restaurant to work. And, they helped me.
Was failing the only thing you feared?
No, I was terrified I wouldn’t have enough money. That’s what drove me. It gave me a sense of economy, in an amazing way. Still today, we’re a company with no debts. I’ve never borrowed, because I always waited to have the money. You know, like, when I was married, we never had money. So, I was saving all week to be able to buy groceries. It was the same with my little snack bar. I always saved to have enough. And then, it became about saving to have the next restaurant. –So always, saving in Quebec to go into Ontario. Saving to hire people, saving for another business.
Do you think that is one of the things that makes you different? I know Cora’s has been honoured several times for being one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies.
Yes, being meticulous; being responsible to customers and to employees. I think I’ve been successful in part because of my ability to mother. Being able to take care of the employees, like my kids. Discipline them when they need it, encourage them when they need it. You know, it’s multi-tasking that women are used to. Having a sense of economy, having a sense of humility.
Just because my restaurants are doing well it doesn’t mean I need to buy a new car. I’m still living in the same house I bought when I started out.
The most recent thing I’ve done is give my company to my son to run. I made a decision, and he became the president. I think it’s the best thing I could ever do. I put him in the right seat.
For sure. And, you must allow.
I have had to allow that my son has the last say. Even about money. It is so amazing to learn that when I was in control, I thought that everything had to be done my way! It’s funny to realize that now.
I would speak for a half an hour; he says three words, and his team listens to him! I had to do it my way, but there are so many other ways.
And, isn’t it great how your son ends up being your greatest teacher there? Isn’t that amazing?
Yes! When you start with nothing, you watch everything. My son has a company with no debt. But me, I’m still the way I am. He talks about $100,000 like he would ask if you want cream with your coffee! He’s never nervous. We’re a perfect match. The company is so much bigger than all of us.
And, that’s a good thing. That’s what you want!
It’s what everyone wants. And so, we redesign ourselves.
And you’re on that road, and it’s great!
I’m on that road now, but I do a lot of back peddling!
At the last meeting, at the office he proposed something and I was totally challenging it. The old me you know? I didn’t think it was a bad conversation. But after, my son said, “What’s the problem, why did you object to that?” So I said, “You asked for my opinion and you got it”. He was trying to communicate that there is enough for everyone – I realize he’s right.
So he’s not scared of scarcity. He had to learn that from someone! What a wonderful way to bring up a child!
He is the best leader for the future of the company.
You’re the one that taught him.
What I realized, what I feel is the most difficult, is slowing down. It’s like you’re in a car that goes 200 km/hr without a speed limit and then you trade your car in for a donkey. You know? That’s how I feel right now. Before, I was bursting with demands everywhere. Overseeing everything. I never felt like many people feel when they retire. They feel like they’re nobody. I haven’t felt that, but slowing down has been a
So that’s been a challenge?
Yes, I wrote a second book last year, and that was good. It’s not published yet, I sent it to a publisher and I’m still waiting for an answer. I continue to do all of the public representation and public relations for the business. And so I am in the process of reinvention, I’m growing. It took me a whole year to distance myself from the daily operation of my business. I realize it’s okay to be moving at 10km/hr or 15km/hr.
I connect a lot with nature. I spend hours raking down the yard and reading. And also, part of the surprising thing, at the beginning of the spring I bought myself a mini convertible. I always dreamt of owning a convertible. It made me feel like a girl! I also bought a small apartment downtown Montreal so that I can go to university.
I want to study theology; I want to learn what I believe! I’m walking distance from the university, and the theatre. I feel young and alive.
That sounds fantastic. You’ll get to grow. I believe if you’re not growing, you’re slowly dying. And, it doesn’t have to mean achieving. It just means growing. You’re going to grow and expand your mind and your heart.
I want to do less, just be a simple human being.
Being, not doing.
I’ve been doing for so long.
And, that’s okay. How wonderful is it to give yourself permission?
Well, it’s a big thing. I’m giving myself permission to learn and grow. I’ve admitted that I’m worth it. It’s a big thing.
Yes, I can understand that would be a big thing.
Searching myself, loving myself.
What are you most grateful for?
I would say my children. My three kids. To share, and to have allowed. We play a role, as mothers – like a bridge. I am the bridge from where they came from, to the world where they are now.
What are some of your books that have shifted your perspective?
To me, it’s really…I have categories. I have kitchen books, because for the last ten years I have read every recipe book out there. I can read five books focusing on recipes for French toast. So, I have a lot of cooking books of course. Baking books. I do a lot of experimentation, and then I have a lot of business books. Stories, biographies, management ways, because I always look at myself like that. And, from the very beginning, I bought a lot of spirituality books, and of course I always read every day. And, my favourite that I call my modern guru, is Eckhart Tolle. I also agree with Dr. Wayne Dyer’s belief that if you change your thoughts, you change your world. Meaning that we create what happens in our life.
Spiritually, is the air we breathe.
One day I went to the flea market and there was a woman at a table with piles and piles of spirituality books, with all kinds of titles. And, I said, “Why are you selling these?” And, she said, “I’m moving in a week, and I can’t bring them with me.” I was in shock! I didn’t know which one to pick! She told me that we don’t pick the book, that the book picks us.
If you could accurately communicate one truth to the world, knowing that it would fundamentally change the world forever what would it be?
My daughter would laugh at me, she would say, “Oh, here she goes!” Because when I discover something that works, I want to share it, and tell her.
I got up at 3:30am, arrived at the airport, sat on the airplane, and as soon as the airplane took off I said to myself, “Thank you for taking off. Thank you, plane, so I don’t have to drive in my car. Thank you for the business I have so I can afford a ticket to be on the plane.” Every day when I get up or go to bed, I say, “Thank you”. I say, thank you, everyday. It’s like receiving. And when you receive you create more of what you want.
So two very small words would change the world, “Thank You”.
All gratitude. It all adds up to the moment you’re in. You know, I was thinking that you should have a cooking show. What do you think?
I think that it could work.
You have the personality for it. You should do it!
The only show that I would want to do would be about breakfasts of the world. Cora, “Queen of Breakfasts”, inquiring what other nationalities eat in the morning.
But, you know as you’re talking about your own reinvention and how your internal journey is so important to you, a cooking show that focuses on facts won’t resonate with what’s going on inside of you. Match the inside to the outside and it will fly. I can’t wait to see your next chapter. How it will unfold…
You know, I have no idea!
I know! That’s the exciting part!
And, this is totally new for me.
Sometimes I fear so much that I am doing nothing. And, then I remember a quote someone said to me, “Being nothing is at the place of all creation. You’re in the right place”.