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Putting Definition to the Vision
"The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms." - Socrates
"Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." - Carl Jung.
After working for several different companies and food entrepreneurs, I came to the place in my life where I needed to start my own business.
Not long after the epiphany, a business idea ignited while visiting a friend’s home when the luscious aroma of strawberries came visiting from the family kitchen. Following my nose, I saw their Mom stirring a pot on the stove filled with strawberries. I’d never seen or smelled anything so heavenly before.
I watched and learned how the family grew strawberries, harvested them, cooked them, and poured them into little pots of joy for the families’ enjoyment throughout the year.
The next day, while visiting, Irene handed me a jar of what she had prepared with love the day before. She grew berries, bottled them, and gave one to me.
This extraordinary gift in my palm became the seed that grew into a business and me into a man.
Over the next few years, the idea of bottling fruit where people would want to purchase them kept me awake at night. Then, finally, my dream to turn local fruit into pots of joy grew so strong that I could do nothing but pursue the desire.
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes to make them possible.” -T. E. Lawrence
1980 was before the internet, but I heard of a cooking school in Toronto and needed to get in.
I headed to the Consumer Distributing store and purchased a 37.00 dollar lime green down-filled sleeping bag. Then, I bought an air ticket to Toronto, packed as little clothing as possible, grabbed my sleeping bag and flew to Toronto with no plan and 500 dollars in my pocket.
Fortunately, Shirley arranged a place to stay with friends for a few weeks while I figured things out.
While in the airport’s waiting area, I spoke with Mr. Rodd of Rodd’s Hotels, an Islander on his way to the big city. He asked, and I told him my dream was to learn French cooking, create a business preserving fruit, and keep an Island tradition alive.
He said, “I am heading downtown and can give you a ride; I have a car waiting.” I thought this was great, my first ‘limo’ ride.
We drove to the corner of Adelaide and Bay. We got out of the car and looked up. I had never seen a building over six stories before, and here I was, a kid starring up at 72 floors of First Canadian Place.
I thanked him for the drive, but before we parted ways, I asked, “Sir, I am going to go into business for myself and wonder if you have any words of advice for me?” He took a minute and responded, “Systems, it’s all about systems.” Then, he walked into the building.
I stood momentarily, looking at the tall buildings, the traffic, and the sidewalks filled with busy people. It was surreal.
It was now mid-morning, and I needed to find the school. So I just started asking people where it was.
Upon taking my first of many streetcar rides and carrying my bags, I landed at the school, located in the infamous Kensington Market.
I made my way to the registrar’s desk, dumped everything on the floor, shuffled up to the counter and asked how much it was to take the chef course.
He told me 650.00; I pulled out my 500 and asked can I pay half now and half later. He laughed and said, typically, you pay the first semester and then pay the rest in January.
But then he said, “The course is sold out, and our out-of-province quota is filled.”
I thought about it for two seconds and then asked who the school president was; he told me, Mr. Brian Cooper. “Great, can I speak with him?”
“YOU want to speak to the President?” I said, “Yes, please.”
He made a call, and a few minutes later, a huge man entered the room, “nice to meet you, Mr. Cooper,” as I put my hand forward to shake his. I introduced myself, where I had just come from, what my dream was, and they needed to let me into the course. I told him I had only two years to give before returning to Prince Edward Island.
Mr. Brian Cooper, while shaking my hand, looked at the registrar, looked at me, and back to the registrar, and said, “Make it happen; I want this young man in our school.”
He stayed while I paid for my first semester, and I sensed that I was not the only happy one in the room. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the moment and asked: “If they have any suggestions on where I might find some work?”
I sensed they loved that I was determined and on a mission, which was now part of theirs.
(Danny, the registrar, travelled to Prince Edward Island many years later and sought me out, and we chatted about that day. In addition, Mr. Cooper met with me a few times while at the school and shared many stories of his entrepreneurial adventures. Sadly, a few years later, I heard he had died of cancer.)
He suggested the new fast food places in the area, Wendy’s, MacDonalds, etc. I told them that I wanted to learn classical French cooking. He then recommended heading to the area around Bay and Bloor Street.
Walking around the Bay and Bloor Street neighbourhood, I encountered a side street named St. Thomas. I started down the sidewalk admiring the quaintness and quiet of the area.
I came upon a white low, single-story white stucco building with a two-story addition on one end—a grand old wooden door at the front entrance, classic paned windows and lovely landscaping. Printed on the sign was Le Provencale Fine European Dining.
I thought this was it and marched to and through the front door, filled with confidence, looking for a server position.
I met a well-dressed, pencilled, moustached gentleman with an accent I didn’t recognize.
I introduced myself and shared that I had been a dining room manager on Prince Edward Island, was now in culinary school in Toronto, and looked to be a waiter.
He pointed to a dining room table with fine silver, dinnerware, and glassware.
I looked at it, and he said, ‘Clean it.’ I was to imagine diners seated there and me removing the dishes. So I started removing items from the table before he said emphatically, “You know nothing!”
It was a quick hit to the ego, but being hungry and thinking quickly, I stated, “Perhaps, but I want to learn.”
He said, “I will hire you and train you to be a busboy. It is 3.25 an hour and a meal before your shift.”
The meal before my shift was music to my ears, and I said yes.
Now I have a job and school and now need to find a place for a longer-term stay.
I had heard of this place called “The Beaches.” So I took a streetcar to the end of Queen Street East and stepped off near the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant.
After turning the corner from the ‘beach’ side of the building, I noticed a few smaller apartment buildings and thought to check them out. Getting closer to the buildings, I saw an apartment for rent sign in a window.
The building was under renovation, so I walked in. I met the superintendent on his way out. I introduced myself and told him what I was doing in his building and why I was in Toronto.
He led me up the stairs to a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and another room equivalent to a closet. We shook hands after I agreed to rent this 800-dollar apartment with a water view.
Now, I had school, a job, and an apartment.
Having two friends moving to Toronto to study and work, I surrendered my desire for a bedroom and was happy with the closet for less rent. It didn’t matter; I only had a sleeping bag and a suitcase.
A few days after moving in and before they arrived, I walked into the neighbourhood and noticed that everyone had put out old furniture to take away—couches, chairs, beds, etc.
I lugged enough stuff back to the apartment to furnish it that day.
I lugged enough stuff back to the apartment to furnish it that day. My hard work that day supported the old English proverb that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Now, I had school, a job, and a furnished apartment!
All set. Here we go.
The school was one end of the city with only one transfer, work was only three transfers away from school, and home was only two transfers from work. So, the weekly journey begins—thirty-two hours of school, 17 hours of streetcars & subways and 40 hours of work.
The work was interesting. I had never met people from different nations before.
I learned that Gus, who I met at the door the first day, was from Spain; he was the Maitre D’ and the Sommelier. His brigade looked like this; the captains and bartenders were Argentinian; the servers were Portuguese, the bussers were Chinese, and I was a Canadian Maritimer.
After working for a few weeks, I remember thinking everyone seemed uptight. There seemed to be no fun in this place.
A guest dropped their Visa card on the floor. I bent down to pick it up and return it. I read the card's name, which was the same as mine. Bruce MacNaughton.
I don’t remember his reaction when I excitedly told him we had the same name, but I do remember the response of fellow employees; it seemed I had done something equivalent to slapping someone.
At the end of the shift, Gus felt the need to scold me in front of the team. I thought to myself, wow, these guys are way too uptight.
I determined fine dining was not for me.
Give me good food and good people at a reasonable price, and I am happy; as Paul Prudhomme said so succinctly, “You don't need a silver fork to eat good food.”
Near Christmas break, I mentioned I was a culinary student to the chef. Upon telling him this, he seemed agitated. And in another accent I had never heard before, barked at me, “What are YOU doing in the dining room? You should be in here.”
I managed to bark back, “I need work.”
He sternly expressed, “After Christmas, show up and be ready to work with us in the kitchen. You come in the kitchen door from now on.”
So I entered the kitchen door after Christmas and learned the chef was of German descent.
By openly defining your vision and desires to the world, you set clear goals for yourself and attract opportunities and support from unexpected sources. When you are passionate and committed to your vision, the universe seems to align to help you on your journey to make it a reality. It highlights the importance of belief, positivity, and action to achieve life's desired outcomes.