By Laird Lidster
I grew up in the food business and have a lot of experience as a franchisee. In particular, I have always loved Mexican food. After stopping at my first Qdoba Mexican Grill in Grand Forks, N.D., and looking at how the restaurant was run, the staff, the happy customers and the menu, I knew it would do well in Brandon, Man. So, in December 2012, I opened the first Qdoba franchise in Canada.
Born into the food business
I was born in Brandon on April 8, 1974. I have two older sisters, Kim and Donna. I was named after my uncle Laird, who unexpectantly passed away three days after I was born. In the summer of 1973, he bought a Dairy Queen. He had just reopened it for the season in 1974 when he fell ill and passed away. My father was practising accounting at the time and had to quickly switch careers and jump into the Dairy Queen business. So, my sisters and I were born and raised in the business.
My mother also worked at Dairy Queen when she was not at home taking care of us. In 1997, my parents divorced. My father continued to run the business until he retired in 2007.
While attending elementary and high school, my favourite subjects were gym, math and history. I hung out with friends in my spare time, and in the summer I tried to get outside and enjoy all of the activities I could. I tried baseball and soccer, but did not stick with them. However, I got into playing hockey when I was six years old, because all of my friends were playing, and I stuck with it for most of my life.
I chose my defence position right from the start. Down the street from our house was the local Western Hockey League (WHL) team, the Brandon Wheat Kings. Brad McCrimmon played defence for the team and I told my dad I wanted to be just like him. As kids, we all chose our positions based on our favourite local players.
After I graduated from high school in 1992, I played junior hockey in Portage la Prairie, Man. During my first year, the coach was very active trying to get players promoted to the next level. He would send letters to schools in the U.S., letting them know we had good players in our league, and they would come up and watch our games. During my second season in the league I became interested in playing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hockey. I ended up getting a scholarship to the University of Minnesota Duluth for four years. I majored in business with a focus on human resource management and graduated with a bachelor of business administration in 1998.
After that, I left for Germany on a one-year hockey contract. I played until spring 1999, then in the fall played in a league in Louisiana.
I got married to my high school sweetheart, Tracy, in the summer of 1999. We had met when I was 16 and she was 15. She graduated at the local university and travelled for three months with me in Germany. Then she spent the entire year in Louisiana with me.
Back at home in 1999, the local mall was expanding, along with its food court. Tracy and I, along with my father who was a silent partner, took the opportunity put a Dairy Queen/Orange Julius into the mall, because my dad already had so much experience being a franchisee after taking over my uncle’s Dairy Queen. I was busy playing hockey at the time, so he got all of the paperwork ready. Then, in July 2000, Tracy and I returned to Brandon and opened the new location.
During my four years at university, I learned a lot of things that helped me in the franchise business. There is a lot of direct crossover between playing team sports and running a business because you have to manage people, multitask and make quick decisions. With a background in hockey, the part of my personality that focused on teamwork had already been developed.