By Stephanie Steers
Having spent my whole career in the food industry, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect when I opened a Cobs Bread franchise in Waterloo, Ont., last July. What I didn’t plan for was breaking national sales records the very first day we opened.
Rooted in restaurants
I was born in Waterloo, and I’ve lived here my whole life. The first thing I can remember wanting to do was be a teacher—specifically, for a younger age group. I’ve always gravitated to kids and I enjoy entertaining them and spending time with them. When I was about 10 years old, I started babysitting for families in my neighbourhood. Then when I got to high school, I realized teaching would probably be a great fit for me.
I’ve also enjoyed running for a long time. I ran casually for years as a means of staying healthy and fit. Then, during March break of 2011, I did a 5-km (3-mi) loop and very quickly increased my distance to 10 km (6 mi). A friend encouraged me to train and run my first half marathon, which I did a month later.
That triggered a whole new way of life for me. My running became a new passion. I have now completed countless half marathons and other events of varying distances, as well as four full marathons. Then I opened my own Cobs … and let’s just say my running is now more contained to within my bakery walls. I still get some 10-km runs in, but my new marathon is running the best business I possibly can. However, I’m getting ahead of myself!
When I was 15 years old, I let my best friend talk me into getting a part-time job at McDonald’s. At first I was reluctant, since I already made money babysitting, but once I got there, I had a fabulous time. Shortly after I started, I was promoted to hostess, then to crew trainer and finally, before my one-year anniversary, I was offered a position as swing manager. That happened when we had a whole new upper management team come in, who promoted me based on their evaluations of all of us … not necessarily understanding how long we’d each been with the company.
To be a manager, though, I needed to have my driver’s licence—and the new team hadn’t realized I was still only 15 years old! We reached an agreement and I started undergoing management training. On my 16th birthday, I got my learner’s permit. Shortly thereafter, I got my full-fledged licence, and when I came to work and showed it to my supervisors, they said, “Congratulations! Here are your keys and your new uniform.” I was a manager!
I worked in that role throughout high school and university, and I loved what I was doing. The high-energy food-service environment is what I grew up in—even during my post-secondary education, when I was pursuing a full-time degree in psychology at the University of Waterloo, I was also working about 32 hours a week at McDonald’s.
Did I mention I also got married in the midst of all this? I met my husband Mark at McDonald’s when I was weeks away from my 18th birthday. He was transferred in as our restaurant manager. We got married three years later, almost to the day.