Innovation, passion, vision and generosity are just a few of the things the Tsouflidou family has brought to the table as part of the 15-year partnership that connects Cora restaurants and Breakfast Club of Canada. We recently sat down with founder Cora Tsouflidou to reflect on everything that has been accomplished together. A lively and inspiring conversation ensued.
You’re known for your breakfasts, and so are we! What does breakfast mean to your family?
Breakfast has been our specialty for over 36 years now. I opened the first Cora restaurant on my 40th birthday, May 27, 1987. Since then, the first meal of the day has been the most important for me and my children. So many great things happened in that first 29-seat place of ours!
The kids and I learned quickly how to pull together. We took it upon ourselves to create a whole new breakfast experience, far beyond the traditional eggs-and-bacon combo. People went crazy for it.
By thinking outside the box, we changed how people look at breakfast and added a whole new dimension to our family life. We became a strong franchising team. It wasn’t long until we started reaching out to help those less fortunate and encouraged our franchisees to get involved in various charitable endeavours.
This year, BCC and Cora restaurants are celebrating 15 years of partnership. What motivated you to help nourish children’s potential?
A few days after my first grandson was born, a friend gave me this beautiful ceramic duck. It was almost as big as a real duck. It was all white, with a long neck, and the beak was painted bright yellow, the same yellow as the sun in the Cora logo. She had had a big fancy kitchen at one point, and the duck was her cookie jar. Holding this magnificent gift in my arms laid the seeds in my mind of what would eventually grow into the inspiration for the Cora Foundation.
The birth of my grandson got me thinking — and worrying. We had so little. How could we make sure he wouldn’t want anything later in life? I found the solution in the duck jar. Since my grandson weighed six pounds at birth, I decided to put six dollars into the duck’s belly at the end of every day. I kept it on a shelf behind the cash register. We’d close up, and the six dollars would go in with no small measure of pride.
That went on for three years until I opened the second restaurant. Then, it became six dollars per day per restaurant. When we opened the third, the amount tripled.
When we opted to invest in a fourth restaurant, we turned to the duck for a loan. We didn’t know it then, but we were building a chain that would end up feeding the entire country. We had no idea in 1991 what the years ahead would bring, but at least we no longer had to worry about our children’s future. So, we called it quits on the six-dollar-a-day idea and decided that when the time was right, the accumulated duck fund would be used to make the first donation to the Cora Foundation. Since then, we’ve helped children with more pressing needs than ours hundreds of times over.
As our business grew, so did these needs. We made the decision to direct all of our donations to the same place: Breakfast Club of Canada. For 15 years now, we have been working hand in hand with each of our franchisees to raise funds for the Club. Through us, our customers can help ensure children who come to school on an empty stomach have access to nutritious food. Since October 2019, we have been donating 50 cents to BCC every time someone orders “Breakfast for the Club” from the menu. It’s our way of helping children realize their full potential, one breakfast at a time. We also run several other campaigns during the year to make an even bigger difference. Our $1 breakfast for kids deal is just one example of what we do; every dollar goes to the Club.
Not only is Cora a Canadian success story — it’s a family business. What’s the secret to working together?
I opened my first restaurant because I desperately needed to make a living to feed my kids. Since we were short on money, we brought in all our pans and dishes from the house we had sold to get the business up and running. The restaurant also became the hub of our family life. My children and I would eat there twice a day, once early before school and around 5 p.m. On weekends, everybody worked at the restaurant, either in the kitchen or serving tables. Sure, we’d lose our temper occasionally, but love always conquered all in the end.
I kept up a pretty hectic pace back then, and my children were right there by my side, which spurred me on. I can’t imagine what my life would have been without them. I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a model mother. There wasn’t a modicum of work-life balance. But it was being a mom that gave me the courage to open my first restaurant, and I owe my success to everything that motherhood brought me: a dogged determination, a strong sense of responsibility and discipline, the ability to stay organized, the love of my family and a burning desire to make people feel happy and welcome, to take care of them and to teach my children to do the same. It wasn’t always easy for my kids to have a mother who worked all day long or to have to snap to attention when something needed to be done right away. But by the time we sat down for supper at night, we always enjoyed our time together.
The secret to any family business is love, listening to one another and being sensitive to everyone’s needs. I consider all our employees and franchisees part of the larger Cora family, and I’m proud to think that much of our success is due to this family feel. People need other people. We all have to do whatever we can to help those around us. My friend who gave me that ceramic duck back in the day inspired me to help as many children as possible.
What kind of breakfast helps kickstart your day?
My favourite breakfast is definitely the spinach and cheddar crêpe. Nobody thought it would catch on when I put it on the menu in 1988, but boy did it! Back then, spinach wasn’t really considered to be a breakfast food. But between Popeye and me, we’ve managed to turn a lot of people on to leafy greens in the morning.
Do you have a particularly moving child-related story or memory from your restaurant?
No one story comes to mind. But I remember seeing lots of pregnant women out here who’d come in a few weeks later to show me their newborns. I knew for sure they’d be back again and again. I’d always enjoy seeing them walk in with a second or even a third child!
The sun in our logo is one of my drawings. I also used to hand-draw the menus that we’d put up on the walls. I came up with the idea of having a frog as a mascot. Just because I love frogs, not because they have anything to do with breakfast. I drew a frog with a chef’s jacket and big green shoes called it Kiwi.
Children have always been and will continue to be our favourite customers. We’ve developed a special menu just for them, with over a dozen breakfast choices and lots of fun activities at the table. And a life-size Kiwi occasionally drops by our restaurants to make them smile.
Our sincere thanks go out to Cora Tsouflidou and the Cora chain of restaurants for giving students across Canada an equal chance at success. You’re their steadfast commitment since 2008 has helped children flourish and grow into healthy adults. That’s the power of breakfast!
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