A recipe for success

She sold the woman the first Cora’s franchise and, within a month, was deluged with offers from people who also wanted a piece of the ever-growing Cora’s pie. A franchise today costs between $550,000 and $650,000, with full payback expected in four to six years. There were many blunders along the way. A cook who had learned to make Cora’s special crepe mix, pastry cream and pork pâté quit, took the secret recipes with her and opened a competing restaurant.

“At first, I was filthy mad,” Cora says. “But now I thank her because she taught me that my recipes are precious.” Cora started a new company, a corporate kitchen that would make the proprietary mixes and supply them exclusively to Cora’s restaurants. When competing chains sprang up, such as Eggspectation and Tutti Frutti, Cora was first furious, then flattered when she realized her restaurants were deemed worthy of imitation.

Over the years, as the company grew bigger, Cora’s eldest son and daughter left to pursue other interests, but her youngest child, Nicholas Tsouflidis, who started washing dishes at the restaurant at 15, is still with the company 19 years later. While all three children are partners in the business, last September Nicholas was named president, his mother still very active as his conseilleur à la direction – his close adviser. Nicholas says his mother’s positive attitude has been the driving force behind both her family and her business. “She often says, ‘Ta parole est une baguette magique’ – your word is a magic wand,” Nicholas says. “What you think and what you say, you can become.”

A simple philosophy, but it’s worked for Cora. She has trusted her gut instinct and tried to make moral choices. “I’ve always listened to my ‘big boss,’ which is my divine inspiration,” she says. “You get a certain power when you do right, when you don’t steal or lie or be crooked.” This is the tenth year of the Cora Foundation, which supports projects for needy children. Last year, it provided a big new family-style kitchen for the young patients and staff of the psychiatric wing of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Today, Cora, the self-described Queen of Quebec Breakfasts, sits atop the food chain with a dozen thriving stores opening this year alone. Cora’s is no longer a business that sells pancakes; it’s a business that sells franchises. And that makes Cora, while bursting with pride, also a little nostalgic. “I remember when I was just starting out I would say, ‘Oh, God, if I have $100 left this month, I could go to the shopping centre and maybe buy a purse or a jacket! I remember the joy I had for that. Sometimes, I want to re-experience that, but it doesn’t work. Now I have more money than I can ever spend, but there’s nothing I want.”

Well, maybe one thing – and it’s a thing money won’t necessarily buy. Happy marriages have eluded Cora and her entire family. Her parents’ marriage was unhappy, her daughter is divorced, her elder son divorced twice, her younger son still unmarried. Eight years ago, Cora got married again, to a former employee, but he wanted her to sell the business and have a quiet life with him. Cora wasn’t ready, and the marriage ended after five years. But she remains ever positive. “I want a life companion,” she says. “An artist or a writer or a university teacher or a businessperson – someone I could fit with. I like to cook for people, I like to receive their children, I want to discuss what I’m reading, I want to share my life.”