After we married, I knew it was time for us to leave Sudan and start a new life elsewhere. My uncle moved to Canada in 1984 after being sponsored by my other uncle. I decided it was my turn to make the move overseas. First, I would come over and then sponsor Ayni to join me.
I landed in Toronto and began living downtown with my uncle.
The day I landed, he told me, “You have to go to school. You won’t get ahead otherwise.” Since I already had my degree, I started looking for work instead.
Within three days of arriving on April 4, 1988, I was hired at Taco Bell. I started working then and never stopped. I have never been out of a job nor received any government assistance. I worked very hard and was able to sponsor my wife after two years .
Eventually, I ended up landing a job at Simpsons’ downtown Toronto department store, which is now a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) store, in the stockroom. Once Ayni arrived, I remembered my uncle’s words and knew it was time to go back to school. I didn’t want to do a two-or-four year program, so I settled on the Toronto School of Business’ computer and accounting diploma. I paid the tuition of $10,000 out-of-pocket and completed the program in six months with a 96 per cent average in 1991. I had finally found my strength and decided to take more courses through Ryerson University and Humber College in Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. I enrolled in the Certified General Accountant (CGA) program while continuing to work at HBC (all Simpsons’ folded into HBC in 1991), and received my designation in 2003. Meanwhile, I went from working in the stockroom to being promoted to director of planning, managing a budget of over $750 million.
Working for HBC was great. I was keen with numbers, enjoyed my job and did it well. The company took good care of me. Our children grew up in a stable, safe and financially secure environment. We purchased a home in Brampton and were able to help out our family members financially. That all changed in 2012.
I had been working for HBC, too, on a contract in the finance department. The two of us were let go at the same time, but thankfully we had savings and Fasil received his severance package. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do next. Fasil started to research different business opportunities.
At the time, I was running HBC’s Zellers consumer health and beauty division. When Target came into Canada, buying Zellers from HBC, I was suddenly laid off. I received a substantial severance package and decided to take a couple of months to figure out what I would do next. We spent some time in Ethiopia, visiting our families and the children at the orphanage we had founded in 2006, refreshing our mindset, so we could make some big decisions when we returned.
One day, soon after we were back at our home, our family went out to breakfast at a local Sunset Grill. I sat there, ignoring my wife, enamored with the restaurant. It was running so smoothly, and everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing. Our meals were served promptly and everything was clean. I remember thinking to myself, with good management, this was a good business.
After breakfast that day, I told Ayni we needed to pursue the franchise opportunity ourselves.
We came home, did some research and made an appointment with the chief operating officer (COO) Stelios Lazos. At the meeting, Stelios sat down with us for two hours and explained how the franchise system worked.