By Steff Charbonneau
Mornings are my favourite time of day. Cranking up the music at my Quesada Burritos & Tacos franchise, I work on creating a little ambiance for my customers.
You know the aroma that greets you when you walk into someone’s kitchen? At my Quesada, that’s the smell of tomatoes roasting in the oven as they bubble and caramelize, intensifying the flavours of the salsa they’ll soon become. Some people might think making salsa every day is a lot of work, but that’s just the Quesada way. It’s also one of the things I like best about the brand. I’m not only a franchisee in Cornwall, Ont., I’m also the franchise’s area developer for eastern and northern Ontario. And when I’m not turning up the heat in the kitchen, I’m putting out fires with Ottawa Fire Services.
Getting fired up
I spent 10 years trying to get out of Cornwall, where I was born and raised, but no luck so far. Although I’ve travelled around the world, I eventually realized I’m happier in this corner of Ontario than anywhere else. Most of that is due to the fact everyone who matters in my life lives here. It’s also a small enough town that if you dig deep enough, you’ll find a connection between people you know. Located about an hour’s drive from both Ottawa and Montreal, Cornwall is a bilingual community. In fact, French is my first language. About half the city is perfectly bilingual and very seldom do you find someone who only speaks French or English.
I grew up loving sports and played most of them, along with my brother Al, who is 13 months older than me. We were best friends growing up and our lives as kids revolved around sports. If we weren’t on a basketball court or at a baseball diamond, we were getting ready to go to one to play or practice. My dad Bernie probably had a lot to do with that. He was a physical education teacher at the high school down the road from us. My mom Ginette was a nurse. Between the two of them, it was pretty much certain my future would include getting a university degree.
I was a good student, although I didn’t try very hard. I liked going to school and never had a bad day. Of course, I loved the sports aspect and signed up for every high school team I could.
After finishing high school in 1990, I was all set to study physiotherapy at Queen’s University in nearby Kingston, Ont. To my parents’ dismay, however, I decided to buy a plane ticket to Europe instead. My thinking was that I didn’t want life to pass me by while I was at school. Besides my family, there’s one thing in my life I absolutely love and that’s travelling—it’s my passion. But after four months of seeing the sights in Europe, I got homesick and returned to Cornwall. Like I said, my parents were pretty adamant I get a degree, so the following September I was at the University of Ottawa. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study and shifted back and forth between majors. By the third year, I decided to look seriously at firefighting. I always kind of knew I wanted to be a firefighter. I was drawn to it from an early age and found it more intriguing as time went on and school became less and less appealing to me. Dropping out in third year, I headed west to fight bush fires in Golden, B.C. I got on with a very small crew, but that gig didn’t last long, as there just wasn’t enough work that time of year.
Returning to Cornwall, I became a volunteer firefighter. For the next five years, I took courses and padded my resumé with experience, while I applied to the Cornwall Fire Department. Most people don’t know this, but it can take up to two years to go through the application process. In the meantime, you work out, study and do the physical, hoping to get an interview. If they invite you to interview, you hope to have a good one and get offered a job. And if you don’t, you apply again. I tried a few times to get hired by Cornwall’s fire service and got to the interview stage once. I didn’t get the job, so I applied to Ottawa’s fire department in 2003 and was hired right away. I’m now in my 13th year as a firefighter. I’ve had a great career so far, although I admit there are highs and lows. Anyone in emergency services will tell you it’s not like it is on television, although all days are rewarding in the end.
Why firefighting? Well, I’m probably stronger than the average person, given my size. Like most firefighters, I’m a Type A personality; the bigger the challenge, the more I want to get in there. In a lot of ways, this is my mindset in business, too. Running full out toward a challenge is the spirit of the entrepreneur. If you go into business thinking it will be all roses, you’ll soon discover there are challenging days. The thing to remember, though, is there’s satisfaction in overcoming them.