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The Globe and Mail

How 8 successful young entrepreneurs use their lunch hours

Tips for time management and coaching teams

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Entrepreneurs juggle an onslaught of vital tasks – meetings with clients, phone calls, strategic planning – to keep the wheels turning on their businesses. Productivity is paramount, but so are breaks. Working through lunch and downing a box of Timbits can be counterproductive in the long term. How do some of Canada’s most successful young entrepreneurs spend their lunch hours? Eight tell us how they use them to make the most of their days.

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1. Chris Ye, 25, is founder and chief executive officer of Uken Games, which builds top-ranking video games for multiple platforms such as iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Facebook. The Toronto company started with five employees two years ago and now has about 40. Uken bustles during lunch. The company provides free catered meals every day for breakfast and lunch. Employees can devour garam masala pork chops or seared chickpea polenta with gravy, potato wedges with smoked paprika and herbs, steamed vegetables with garlic olive oil, vegetable fusilli pasta, green salad with dressing and a dessert platter. And that was just one day. “When the food arrives, a large huddle forms with chatter spilling through the office,” Mr. Ye says. “Waiting in line, you’ll hear conversations about everything from someone’s holiday plans to the latest news in space exploration to a heated debate on which retro games reign supreme. “We’ve discovered food to be a great way to bring the Uken team together,” he said.

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2. Holly Brattberg, 28, of Edmonton, is co-founder along with her sister, Susan Brattberg, of Global eTraining, which delivers online software training to customers around the world. Ms. Brattberg’s schedule is anything but routine, so lunch is different every day. She splits her time between Edmonton and Calgary, and travels around the world to conferences and trade shows. If she’s in the office, she usually has a lunch meeting with a colleague, and the less-formal scenario will give her a better feel for how her team is doing. “I think our Canadian culture can get carried away in a fast-paced world and sometimes we miss out on a great opportunity to build long-lasting, trusting relationships,” she says. A healthy lunch in a local café is important, Ms. Brattberg says; her menu consists of soup, sandwich or a salad with water or perhaps a chai latte. But no coffee after 11 a.m., please. Finally, she admits to a guilty pleasure: Kraft Dinner at lunch. But it doesn’t happen very often.

Tracy O'Camera

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3. Greg Overholt, 27, of Toronto is founder and executive director of Students Offering Support, a non-profit enterprise that raises money at postsecondary institutions to finance education efforts in developing countries, namely in Latin America. About a year ago, Mr. Overholt realized that he had to stop working through lunch and take a break. “I used to work straight through, eating a packed lunch or quickly grabbing something,” he said. “Forcing myself to stop for 20 minutes has been a great change in my workday.” Now he will either eat at his desk while watching a television show such as CSI or The Good Wife, or he will schedule lunch meetings with friends, volunteers or staff. He encourages all staff and volunteers to take time for lunch, for “mental and physical health,” he says. “I love taking interns and staff out to lunch once in a while, as it’s nice to catch up and talk about things outside of the office.”

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4. Reid Campbell, 27, is founder and managing partner of Toronto-based VMG Cinematic, a video and social media marketing company that is so successful that a video it once distributed attracted seven million viewers. (It appeared to show pro baseball player Evan Longoria making a seemingly impossible catch as a ball hurtled toward the head of a reporter.) VMG grew 243 per cent between 2009 and 2011. Mr. Campbell figures there must be a statistic somewhere that says more than 90 per cent of entrepreneurs order food in because they’re too busy to leave the office. “I’d be lying if I said lunch time is my hour to unwind,” Mr. Campbell says. “Suggestion to all lunch spot owners: If the service is fast, it definitely prompts me to come back.” He also spends a lot of time on video shoots, which tend to offer catered food, always a favourite of this busy entrepreneur. The lunches are a great way to chat with clients, he said. If there is time for a nap break, VMG has a couch and hammock on site. There is also an electronic drum kit, and the boardroom has a Wii Fit video game console. “Sometimes stepping away for 20 minutes can make you twice as efficient,” Mr. Campbell says.

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5. Bill Hennessey, 28, is founder of Oxford Beach, a Toronto marketing and events company that stages more than 250 events annually. With a team of 30 people, Oxford Beach has revenue of $4-million. Mr. Hennessey goes out for lunch every day but cuts the carbs from Monday to Friday. Instead, he’ll nosh on salad or chicken and vegetables. Three days a week, he eats by himself, and uses his 45 minutes “to remove myself from the day-to-day rat race and think big picture,” he says. Two days a week, he’ll dine with employees, customers or potential customers. “Meals are a great time to build relationships and get to know people in a way that you wouldn’t during a formal meeting,” he said.

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6. Al Roback, 26, of Vancouver is founder and owner of Grass Frames, a maker of bamboo bicycle frames that are light, durable and eco-sensitive. Quality of life is important to Mr. Roback, whose apartment is close to his manufacturing studio. He bundles a packed lunch with him when he goes to work, or he might head home for lunch because it’s convenient. When he does eat out, it’s usually to discuss issues with mentors, clients or other contacts. Eating with others offers a rare opportunity to relax and brainstorm, Mr. Roback says. “I have found that those refusing to eat together tend to have some underlying problems.”

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7. Bryan McCrea, 26, of Saskatoon is co-founder of 3twenty Solutions, which designs and manufactures modular steel structures for the resource sector. In business for just 2½ years, the company today has more than 20 employees and markets its products in the four Canadian western provinces and some U.S. states. When he isn’t having lunch with contacts, Mr. McCrea packs a bagged lunch to eat in the office, sometimes at his desk. He’s known for his sandwiches, which are a version of a Subway sandwich, but with two slices of bread. He’ll also down a voluminous 650-millilitre carton of yogurt every day. “It’s the secret to staying healthy for me,” he says. He also eats lots of fruit. Sometimes he and his wife, Carmen, will do a big cook on the weekend, making 15 servings at once, so they are able to eat something healthy during the week. “I constantly think of my life as a wheel, and if one of my spokes is out of balance, then my entire wheel doesn’t roll as quickly and as long as it can,” he says.

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8. That brings us to Rebecca Cotter, 29, owner of Water-on-Wheels (WOW), a Toronto company that provides water refill stations for events. She is also the full-time event co-ordinator at the Distillery District in Toronto, and a part-time instructor at Humber College. “In my day job, I don’t take a formal lunch. I honestly never really have,” Ms. Cotter says. That leaves her dining at her desk or on foot at an event site. She’s known by her friends for her claim that “I don’t cook anything that isn’t takeout.” She delights in a chicken chopped salad from a restaurant near work. On very hectic days, her lunch is a large coffee. If she does take a lunch break, Ms. Cotter spends the time reviewing news online. It gives her a chance to take her mind off tasks at hand and to rejuvenate, she says. “I am very conscious of how I use every minute of my day.”

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