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My career

Cora founder's success based on discipline, not dreaming Add to ...

Cora Tsouflidou is founder of Chez Cora and Cora’s Breakfast & Lunch restaurants. She opened her first Cora snack bar in 1987 and became a franchisor in 1994. She has won many awards, including the Governor General’s award in 2003. Two and a half years ago, she named her son, Nicholas Tsouflidou, president of the company.

What’s your background and education?

I did classical studies, studying Greek and Latin. I wanted to be a writer. But then I stopped in the last year because I was pregnant and I entered into marriage. Then I divorced 13 years later and – without any background but with a passion for cooking – I opened a little snack bar in 1987.

I realized fast that the most busy part of the day was breakfast. I decided that we should focus and do only breakfast, but do an extraordinary breakfast.

How did you get to your position?

After my divorce, I guess nobody wanted to hire me because I didn’t have any trade. I started as a night hostess and then I became the manager and then co-owner of a big restaurant. Then, because I was working two shifts for five years, I did a huge burnout. When I recovered, I decided to sell the family house and start again from nothing with my own little restaurant. That was the first Cora.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of the job has been creating new plates. Really, I’m an artist. I like to create new stuff. It has been my biggest pleasure and challenge.

What’s the worst part of your job?

I’m not so much a detailed person, and thank God my son, Nicholas, that’s his specialty – to make things happen, to take care of all the details, the training of people.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strength, I think, is discipline. I’ve been a very disciplined, very focused person.

My weakness, sometimes at the beginning especially, I played mother a lot: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” I think we should all be responsible.

What was your best career move?

I’m 65 years old and I find the best thing I did was to provide a young president – my son – for this young company that wants to go far. He started as a dishwasher and climbed all the steps. Giving him the place was the best thing I did for the company.

Have you made any career moves you regret?

I don’t think so. I think that everything was necessary, and yes, we made a few mistakes.

What’s your next big job goal?

We’re just at the beginning of what we want to do. We want to become an international breakfast specialty store. We professionally mapped Canada with possibilities of stores. We have 180-190 store possibilities, and we’re at 125.

We’re also very focused people, so I’m not going to tell you that we’re thinking about the States and Europe and this and that. One thing at a time. We’ve got to be very solid. We have a commitment in being an international leader in breakfast, so it’s going to come.

What’s your best advice?

To young entrepreneurs: less fantasy, less dreaming about business, and more discipline. I’m doing mentoring all the time. Young people are coming to see me with projects. They’re talking about the potential business like a dream, like they think it’s fun. I feel it’s good to have vision, but a business needs a lot of work and a lot of discipline.

Anything you want to add?

It is so important to have breakfast. And I don’t mean only in a Cora restaurant. Please, eat something in the morning, it’s good for you.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dianne Nice is The Globe and Mail’s Careers & Workplace Web Editor.

If you know a Canadian executive with an interesting career, contact Globe Careers .

Follow on Twitter: @diannenice

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