By Tina Dejong
On most Saturdays, you’ll find me at the coffee bar making a shot of espresso for a client. It’s not an unusual thing to say if not for the fact that on the other side of the door, there’s a car up on a lift having its oil changed, another one getting its brakes inspected and several others in various stages of having their tires replaced. As co-owner of two Midas shops in the Toronto area, I have my hands full overseeing the daily operations. That’s not to say you won’t find me shuttling clients home or to work throughout the day. I don’t mind, though. I learned early on as a one-time Midas employee that running a successful business is all about building relationships with your customers, and that’s been the secret to my success.
In Canada, we sometimes take for granted the freedoms we enjoy here and the opportunity to live a peaceful life within our borders. Born in Cyprus, I spent the first six years of my life doing just that until Turkey invaded our island in 1974. The danger was quite real; we hid in caves to protect ourselves from the fighting, which usually happened at night. Although my father Andreas was a teacher, mandatory military service required he join the fighting, while my mother Chris did her best to keep us safe. I remember her driving me and our neighbours to caves in the mountains surrounding our village. It never leaves you really—I have a vivid memory of making beds with my grandmother on the morning of the invasion. After that, the sound of ‘war music’ would blast from loudspeakers throughout our village. The music, which was really a march, never stopped—we heard it constantly, as it was also used to alert us to updates or warn that fighting was drawing near.
My parents had no choice but to leave and immigrate to Canada that same year. With little to nothing to speak of, including a grasp of the English language, we made Toronto our new home, living in various rentals in the downtown area. I remember moving around quite a bit—at least once a year—and living a very modest life. Other members of my family eventually came to Canada, and we all shared a two-storey home. My mother supported us through various retail jobs, while my father found work in the electrical department at De Havilland. Life was tough back then, but there was always someone around to help out, even our landlords at times. I remember quite clearly coming home from school with my brother and being looked after by our adopted ‘nonna’ until our parents finished work.
I was a pretty good student, numbers being my thing. Don’t get me wrong—I worked hard to get good grades, but some subjects came more easily than others. I don’t think I spent more than a full year at any of the grade schools I attended, considering our family moved around so much. Things had settled down, though, by the time I started high school at Sir Sandford Fleming Academy. After graduating in 1986, I went to Seneca College where I studied accounting. That year, I landed a summer job doing the books for my uncle’s friend, who had just opened a coffee shop in the north end of the city. I was pretty excited about this job, since it was in my field and would give me some real-world experience. The coffee shop attracted a lot of regulars, including the crew at the neighbouring Midas shop.
Getting our start
I was no stranger to Midas, having seen its TV commercials over the years, which were usually pretty clever in getting their message across about auto repair. Founded south of the border in 1956, Midas now has more than 1400 locations in Canada and the United States, offering everything from a routine oil change to new tires to complex engine diagnostics and, of course, muffler and exhaust repairs, which were the services on which Midas was initially founded.