Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Finding your company's product- market fit"/ making phone calls

Mar. 31, 2017 "Finding your company’s product-market fit": Today I found this article by Michael Serbinis's in the Globe and Mail:

MICHAEL SERBINIS Founder and CEO of League, a digital alternative to health insurance for businesses

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

The scariest point in time for any company is when they realize their product isn’t working for the market. The next scariest thing is fixing it, before time runs out.

Getting product-market fit right is critical to the success of any small business. As business owners, we know this. That’s why it’s especially terrifying when you realize you’ve got it wrong.

So what is product-market fit exactly? It’s the intersection where the products or services that a company offers meet the needs of consumers by either solving a problem or adding value to their lives. And they are willing to pay for it. And their lives would be materially worse if they couldn’t have your product. There are all kinds of measures, but when you have it, you just know it. All of a sudden, the gears of your business are no longer grinding, they are flying.

How do we know if we’re getting it right? There is no perfect answer. No formula that says you have achieved the ideal market fit for your product or service. But the market gives us signals to help us identify what is working well. Signals such as highly engaged customers, shorter sales cycles, growing referrals and word of mouth, journalists calling to look for the story and cheques pouring in.

When we started League, we had a vision of a consumer platform that would connect consumers with thousands of health-care professionals. The search, booking and payment aspects would be seamless and 100-per-cent digital. We wanted to Uber-ize health care, empowering people to be healthy every day. That didn’t go quite as planned. Consumer interest was there. Health-provider interest was there. But the economics of making a two-sided marketplace – cost of acquisition, revenue, lifetime value – just didn’t make sense.

And they never would make sense. So, we made the bet to abandon that business model and went back to the mission. We started leveraging the platform we had built to offer services to companies, to empower their employees with their health. That led us to the complex, confusing and archaic model of health benefits.

One year ago, we went all-in. Which is scary, but sometimes you have to do it to survive.

Our business shifted as we reimagined the health-insurance industry, offering an experience that was Uber-ized and gives businesses more health benefits for their dollar. We started with lifestyle and health-care spending accounts, and health services at work.

We got traction. Our members had the means to prioritize their health in the way that suited them best. Quickly, we learned that, although our customers loved the idea in practice, they still weren’t able to leverage our product in the most efficient way because their benefit plans were linked to traditional insurance and most were unable to decouple these. So, we decided to build a “whole product” that included insurance products, integrated with our experience.

Were we building a next-generation health-insurance company? It started to feel that way.
Our business really started to accelerate when we explained our company differently. I talked about us as a better type of insurance provider that focused on empowering people to take control of their health through personalized spending accounts, but provided the shelter and stability of insurance needs in a way employers can maximize.

That’s when the pieces came together and the company started to take off.
While this turning point was realized early in our company’s lifetime, many companies again face this battle long after they’ve launched their first product.

When Starbucks first launched in 1971, their focus was selling coffee beans and coffee makers with moderate success. It wasn’t until the organization shifted its focus to delivering an experience around coffee that it found the product-market fit that drove explosive growth and dominance around the world. I hate the term pivot. I like evolution, and the relentless pursuit of viability that starts every single day with a fanatical attention to what we can do to become indispensable to our members.

What’s interesting is that many long-standing companies are just starting to realize product-market fit is an ongoing process. I recently heard Cisco’s John Chambers share his message of “disrupt or be disrupted.” It is an ongoing process, not just a temporal challenge that tech companies talk about – not all of the companies on the first Fortune 500 list are still around.

Ultimately, if you’re not moving forward at the same speed as your customer, you’re at risk. You need to have a vision, and attempt to skate to where the puck is going. Be prepared to abandon business models and plans. Go all-in. Listen to your customers. Test how you talk about your product to make it blatantly obvious. Continually improve your value proposition. Be relentless in your pursuit of viability. Business is a competitive sport.

If you don’t get to the podium, someone else will.

Michael Serbinis will be a keynote speaker at The 2017 Globe and Mail Small Business Summit, a one-day conference of insightful sessions, proven business growth strategies and innovative ideas from the country’s brightest business leaders. Today is the last day to get tickets at the early-bird price.

"Standout leaders set aside 20 minutes each day to make a call": Today I found this article by Roy Osing in the Globe and Mail:

Roy Osing (@RoyOsing), former executive vice-president of Telus, is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series, Be Different or Be Dead.

Leaders who stand out from their colleagues are disciplined and consistent when it comes to demonstrating behaviours that mirror the journey their organization is on and taking action that matters to employees.

One of the most important activities that gets lost in the inundation of modern technology is real-time conversation. Actually speaking with another human being; making a telephone call.

Don’t dismiss this as merely being old school and therefore unworthy. The fundamentals of standout leadership – serving employees, focusing on execution, bashing barriers that prevent people from doing their jobs, killing rules that infuriate customers – haven’t changed over time. On the contrary, their importance has been magnified as competition and the power of the consumer has become more formidable than ever.

Think about making a phone call as ‘retro leadership’

It’s something we had to do when email, texting and the Internet didn’t exist. And if it’s retro, it has to be cool, right?

Proactive phone calling is a critical element of standout leadership in four ways.

1. It provides a window into how an organization’s strategy is being executed in the field. It’s one thing to have a brilliant strategy, but it’s quite another to have it executed the way it was intended. If a strategy is rarely executed the way it was originally intended, the call will provide feedback on what to reinforce because it’s working and what remedy to take to get the central idea back on track when it’s not.

2. A continuous flow of conversations with employees enhances their personal commitment to and engagement with the organization’s objectives. They see a leader who cares; the leader sees people respond with the emotional energy necessary to achieve great things.

3. The leader’s personal currency grows as word spreads that they actually care about their various constituencies both inside and outside the organization.

4. Decision-making effectiveness improves with feedback and advice from the call participants. What worked and what didn’t on ground zero makes every successive decision a better one.

So every day, make a call to a customer, an employee, a supplier or a strategic partner.
Listen and learn, and that call will likely be the most productive 20 minutes of your day.

"Reframe your attitude and turn doubt into confidence"/ The Ladder: Bruce Linton

Mar. 27, 2017 "Reframe your attitude to turn doubt into confidence": Today I found this article by Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail:

It’s October 11, 2001, the opening round of the American League baseball playoffs, Oakland A’s facing the New York Yankees. Nearly 57,000 bellicose fans in Yankee Stadium – and a TV audience of 11 million – are watching A’s closer Jason Isringhausen trying to protect a 2-0 lead.

It’s crunch time, and he is not doing well. During the regular season, he struggled and his confidence plummeted. A lead-off double and a walk has put men on first and second base, with nobody out. The A’s pitching coach, Rick Peterson, strides out to the mound, wondering, as usual, what will greet him.

This time, it’s a shaky pitcher – literally. As he puts his hand on the player’s shoulder he feels the reliever’s body shaking. “I can’t feel my legs,” the pitcher says anxiously. The coach, who as a youngster wanted to be either a comedian or a pitcher – he used to memorize Red Skelton monologues – just smiles. “That’s okay, we don’t need you to kick a field goal.”

The silly joke relieves the pressure. The coach reminds his player that a bout of nerves is not uncommon in pressured situations but those nerves shouldn’t control him. He has to return to his task, one he has done to perfection thousands of times. “Hit the [catcher’s] glove. Remember, you’re a professional glove hitter.”

The reliever quickly gets the next three opponents out and saves the game.
If pitchers are professional glove-hitters, Mr. Peterson is a professional reframer. He coaches players to be their best when it matters most and counsels them – and you, in your crunch time at work – to relax, viewing the situation in a new way that will reduce fear, anxiety and doubt.

If a pitcher walks the first hitter, for example, Mr. Peterson will cheerfully note that there is now an opportunity to get two outs with one pitch – something that couldn’t happen before. He recalls the legendary head of IBM, Tom Watson, brushing aside the fears of an employee who had made a huge mistake, supposedly worth $10-million. No, the chief executive officer wouldn’t fire him. After all, the CEO had just made a $10-million investment in the employee.

After 40 years in baseball, 15 in the major leagues, Mr. Peterson has taken his reframing approach to business as a keynote speaker. In preparation, he produced a book Crunch Time: How to Be Your Best When It Matters Most ( with Judd Hoekstra, a vice-president of the Ken Blanchard Organization.

The book highlights the caveman within us, the reptilian brain that leads us under pressure to fight or flight. “While the caveman lives in your brain, it’s not really you,” they write.

Instead, create some space and time to regain control. Pause and reflect on your caveman’s story – what your fear, anxiety and doubt is telling you. Then ask why you are feeling that way and challenge the assumptions behind that story.

You aren’t a field-goal kicker, for example, but a pitcher. Explore alternative, rational stories, identifying at least two other ways to view the situation you face. Then, choose the story that most increases your sense of control, confidence and vision of success. All you have to do is hit the catcher’s mitt and you have done that a zillion times before.

Mr. Peterson suggests in particular reframing from trying harder to trying easier. In an interview, he recalls how Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax would tell Mets pitchers at spring training to see how easy they can throw hard, as he had learned. “When you try your hardest, you won’t do your best,” Mr. Peterson says.

“In a sales presentation, you’ll do better if you realize that this doesn’t have to be the greatest presentation of your life. We told the pitchers in the World Series they could be extraordinary by being ordinary.”

Humour can be helpful in reframing tense situations. You can also reframe from anxiety to taking control. Figure out your own version of “just hit the glove.” Forget about achieving your best in a situation – just beat your average, which will be more than enough for success.

Reframe from doubt to confidence. Refocus on the skills you’ve acquired over the years and relive your best past performances. List your strengths on the right hand side of a piece of paper and then on the left list three or four things making you anxious. For each of those concerns, write down how you can address the anxiety.

You may not be pitching in a playoff game. But reframing can still be effective in your moments of pressure.

The Ladder: Bruce Linton: Today I found this in the Globe and Mail:

Bruce Linton is the founder of Canopy Growth Corp., Canada’s largest marijuana producer. He is also the chief executive officer of Martello Technologies. He began his career at telecom company Newbridge Networks Corp. and has worked in telecom, tech and now the marijuana business.

I grew up on a hobby farm near Wellesley, Ont., as the eldest of two sons. I think the ‘hobby’ was keeping two active young boys so busy with pigs, chickens, geese and ducks and other things that they couldn’t get into material trouble. We had chores morning and night, which meant we developed some responsibility and a work ethic.

It was a good beginning for me, in a weird way. Almost everything I’ve done has related to not having any particular knowledge of the topic as an expert initially, but being in circumstances where you have to learn rapidly and not be particularly worried about learning it.

When I had my first job interview after university, the final step was with [Newbridge founder] Terry Matthews. He said, ‘You grew up on a farm, you’ll figure it out.’ It wasn’t the wrong conclusion. [At Canopy], we probably have made more mistakes or attempts that resulted in error than any other company in the sector. There isn’t a book to follow. There seems to be no value in asking, ‘What happens if I push that button?’ Push the goddamn button and find out. That is what it’s like when you’re breaking something on a farm.

I took public administration at Carleton University. I only had to get four credits over four years – the rest I could pick whatever I wanted. In my first year, I took courses in subjects like biology, philosophy and public policy. The whole point of university is: Learn about a whole bunch of things and then try to figure out, what does it all mean?

I was president of the Carleton University Students Association in 1989-90. I also was a student rep on the board of governors for two terms, where I met Matthews. I didn’t know what he did at the time, but I knew he wanted to hear sensible things, from a student perspective, that may or may not be in concert with what the board is thinking. I used to routinely move the name tags around before the meetings, so I sat beside him. When I finished my last board meeting, I gave a speech saying I thought I learned more at the board than in my six years at university – which meant I was either a bad student or it was a helpful experience. Mr. Matthews came out to my car afterward and invited me for an interview at his company. I started a few months later.

I got into this business [I’m in now] after reading a newspaper article that said the police chiefs of Canada think their membership shouldn’t enforce the laws as they relate to marijuana because they’re unclear. I started poking around. I thought, ‘When in my life am I going to see a supply chain for something [that] quite a lot of people need and want and like, created by a government action?’ I went around asking people if they wanted to start this one with me.

The first four said ‘Are you crazy?’ I thought, that’s terrific. That means there will be even fewer credible people that want to start them because the ones I spoke to think it’s horrible, not because of the business, but because of the reputational risk. I thought, ‘If you sit around and do nothing, isn’t that also reputationally bad?’

I would sooner look at the circumstances around me, try to come to a conclusion and pursue it, than sit on the sidelines and say I thought about doing it. Just do it. It’s the inversion of ego.

I always put myself in spots where I could be a disastrous failure. That’s super motivational because you can’t let it happen.

Career can be a limiting perspective because people think they’re supposed to be particularly good at something and stay with it. I’ve gone from high-tech to dot-com to infrastructure to cannabis. It relates to an eagerness to be with the big trends.

Stress is when you run out of money and nobody wants what you have. I find that, with marijuana, that’s almost not likely to be the case.

As told to Brenda Bouw. This interview has been edited and condensed.

"And eat it too?"/ The Ladder: Juliette Brun

Jan. 16, 2017 "And eat it too?": Today I found this article by Corey Mintz in the Globe and Mail.  It asks: "Should restaurants allow customers to bring in a cake from outside the restaurant?" 

You read the article and you decide:

It doesn’t matter if it’s your birthday or you’re footing the bill for a party of 12. According to Corey Mintz, carrying cake to a restaurant is almost always in bad taste.

You can’t bring your own cake to a restaurant, dummies. I mean, you can. But don’t. Sometimes, I think the general public understands the concept: Just as you shouldn’t bring your own drill to the dentist or sing your own songs at a Broadway musical, you should expect to eat ( and pay for) the food on the menu when you patronize a restaurant. But restaurant owners and workers assure me that no, people don’t get it.

So here’s a reminder of why this is wrong. It’s very simple. Restaurants are small businesses that operate on a slim profit margin. If you want them to exist, it’s counterintuitive to bring your own cake.

I’m not talking about Kelsey’s or Earls or Applebee’s, which are corporations that sell food. I’m talking about actual restaurants. The majority of Canada’s independent restaurants are in or near urban areas where real estate is at a premium. Rent is just one cost among many. To recoup those costs and hopefully turn a profit, restaurant owners buy food, prepare it and present it in a comfortable environment, for more than they paid themselves. So while bringing your own cake incurs no food cost to the restaurant, it’s still asking to use their rent, insurance, utilities, labour and taxes for free.
This seems obvious to me. But apparently, when told not to bring their own cakes, people often do anyway. Even to dessert restaurants.

“This was an everyday occurrence,” says Kelly Kimel, owner of MoRoCo Chocolat.
Now retail only, MoRoCo was originally a dessert restaurant in Yorkville, a plush, velvet- lined room located on the city’s most expensive commercial real estate. It served all sorts of cakes and desserts, including vegan and gluten- free options, but despite their endless attempts to accommodate customers, even a business centred on desserts had to constantly explain to diners why they couldn’t bring their own.

“We had written contracts stating ‘ no outside food’ and they would still walk in and demand to have their special cake served,” Kimel says. “Most of it was customers trying to save a few dollars.”

When we dine out, we are renting space, and time is a commodity. A large group staying for dessert will take up an extra half hour, maybe a whole hour. With typical dinner operating hours being from 6 p. m. to 10 p. m., that’s big chunk of time to cede without revenue.

It may seem as if booking a party of 10 or 20 is buying in bulk, deserving a discount. But restaurant margins are notoriously slim. And yes, birthdays are special: to you. To a restaurant that serves hundreds or thousands of customers a year, every day is a potential birthday.

“We never say no to a guest,” says Ed Ho, owner of Globe Bistro in Toronto, who says customers asking to bring their own birthday cake is a regular occurence. “We try to manage the situation on a case- by- case basis. We also generally buy dessert for the birthday person.” For some restaurants, taking a loss on a group’s dessert may be a key to maintaining a regular client.

In some circumstances, it might make sense to bring your own cake: If the restaurant, pub, water park or sex dungeon where you’re hosting a celebration does not make or provide their own suitable desserts, or if your birthday boy or girl has a severe allergy that can’t be accommodated by the kitchen. So long as you ask and the owner or manager says yes, it’s kosher.

You’ll probably be charged a small “plating” or “cakeage” fee, maybe $ 3 or $ 5 a person: Regardless of who made the cake, it takes the same amount of time for it to be sliced and plated, for servers to present and clear and for dishwashers to clean up afterward. It’s not outlandish. (“Always check the condition of the cake the moment it is delivered to your staff, with the guest present,” Arthur Bond, a server at Cava, advises restaurateurs. “The last thing you need is to be accused of ruining a cake that was actually damaged in transit by the guest or cake company.”)

A few weeks ago, I had dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar in Toronto, which is in a building housing multiple Momofuku businesses, including an outpost of its Milk Bar bakery. The friend I was with told me a story: A while back, he’d attended a birthday dinner upstairs at Momofuku Daisho. The dinner host had called ahead and been told no, please don’t bring your own cake, but had brought one anyway. The result was an unpleasant standoff with staff and, ultimately, the guests had to carry the offending cake back home whole.

I called Daisho and asked if I could bring my own cake to a party. The reservationist explained they did not allow outside food, but talked me through options for an in- house cake that would work out to about $ 5.50 a person. Name me another nice restaurant that’ll serve dessert for that price, especially one imagined by a pastry chef with two cookbooks.

But the issue was likely never money. The request to bring your own cake is rarely about lack of options, and more often because people want to have their cheap supermarket cake served in a nice room where someone else cleans up afterward.
The truth is, if there’s cake on the menu and you still want to bring your own, you’re being selfish. Happy birthday.

My opinion: Prior to this article, I thought it would be okay to bring your own cake because you want your cake that is nicely decorated and personalized with "Happy birthday ____" and the restaurant you're at isn't going to make it for you.

Are you going to celebrate your birthday at a restaurant by eating dinner and then all going to your house and eat that cake?

This part got me really angry.  However, I don't think that is a lot of customers' intentions:

The request to bring your own cake is rarely about lack of options, and more often because people want to have their cheap supermarket cake served in a nice room where someone else cleans up afterward.

Jan. 30, 2017 The Ladder: Juliette Brun: Today I found this article in the Globe and Mail:

Juliette Brun, 36, began Montréal-based Juliette & Chocolat in 2003. The company operates eight restaurants featuring dessert, and a chocolate laboratory dedicated to experimentation and handmade offerings.

I came to Montreal in 1998 from Brazil on a student visa. My parents lived in Syria. My sister lived in Montreal and I liked that Quebec was francophone and anglophone, the best of two worlds. I don’t speak Portuguese any more. I finished my Bachelor of Commerce at McGill University, always very keen on numbers, loved and comfortable with numbers. But I love cooking, I love anything food-related. I thought after my career, I’d have a restaurant – my house up top – meet people and cook. It wouldn’t be for money because I’d have retirement pay.

After graduating was the best time to start a business. My husband and I were dating and I could give my energy to a business. We didn’t have a house. We didn’t have kids. We had no restrictions. Coffee-shop businesses were popping up everywhere. Coffee’s great, but in Montreal, it’s so cold you want something comforting. I thought a coffee-shop concept with chocolate a good combination. Restaurants can be tough. It’s all the time, holidays, nights, days and weekends. It’s all the time. In packaging and branding, I knew what I wanted. My husband had been in graphic design. He said if he didn’t stop what he was doing and work with me we’d be completely disconnected; we needed to work together.

We have maybe 300 staff. I ask, “Do you have ideas? Go! Try different things and discover.” I usually start with an idea, then we find a way to make it work. Teamwork and getting everybody stimulated by a product is more fun when you’re participating and creating. My advice is to focus. You have a tendency when you run your own business to be enthusiastic and want to do everything yourself. Focus on what you’re best at, then delegate. Every time there’s a new menu coming out, I’m in charge.

We work with different chocolate companies, last year buying 33 tonnes. Suppliers tell me, “I’ll give you a super price,” but I don’t want to be committed to one. I want to be able to discover different kinds of chocolate. If I was bound to one, I wouldn’t be able to buy from somebody else. We have chocolate from many countries: Asia, South America, Africa.

You want something special when you’re eating. When we started, 75 per cent of people asked for milk chocolate. Now it’s about 50/50 and people are trying different dark chocolates. There’s a world of a difference between chocolate from Madagascar and Peru. It’s like wine. You discover a whole set of tastes. I try to be first in a trend … make it our own because you don’t want to be like everyone else. Why would customers come to us if they can get it everywhere else? For our dark-chocolate balsamic-vinegar dressing, if customers don’t like it we’ll bring a new salad.

We use real ingredients, like in my raspberry and my passion-fruit chocolates. When you order lemon meringue pie, you don’t expect it to be super sweet, you want to taste real lemon, tartness and sweetness at the same time. Sometimes, a real ingredient is not strong enough, you need to add a natural essence, like blueberries – they’re overpowered by chocolate.

Everything is homemade. It’s labour-intensive and how we run the restaurants. For example, we make marshmallows. It’s a lot of work, but I want people to bite into my marshmallows and go “oh, wow, it’s like biting into a fluffy cloud.” We mix brownies by hand and cut them by hand. Things are done by hand because we want to keep the quality. We package online and corporate orders like gifts. Even if it’s for you, it’s like Christmas; half the fun is unwrapping presents to see what’s inside. For me, every day needs to be fun. I tell my team, I tell my kids: “Make every day special.”

I eat chocolate every day. I love my cocktail chocolates. I have five kids and didn’t drink for five years. You need energy when you’re pregnant.

If I’m not eating chocolate, I’ll eat anything with nuts. When I’m invited to dinner, my friends are … “Juliette could you, hmmm … bring dessert?”

As told to Cynthia Martin. This interview has been edited and condensed.

My week:

Apr. 13, 2017 "Strangers leave waitress $400 tip, then an even bigger surprise":

For months, Cayla Chandara has been a waitress at two different restaurants, pulling double shifts just to make ends meet.

The 21-year-old moved to Waikiki, Hawaii, from Santa Rosa, California, for school. But with student loans and the high cost of living, Chandara didn’t want to slip into debt.

Instead of continuing her education, Chandara decided to take a step back. She accepted a job at a nearby Cheesecake Factory and Noi Thai Cuisine, hoping to save up enough money so she could return to school one day.

Little did she know, a group of strangers would make that happen faster than she could have ever imagined.

The tip was $400 -- double their bill.
“I was then at a loss for words and all I wanted to do was hug them,” Chandara told CBS News.

Chandara recalled where the couple said they were staying, and decided she would swing by after her shift to thank them properly.

“I genuinely wanted to say thank you,” Chandara said. “I sent a thank you letter saying how much it meant to me.”

She left it at the hotel’s front desk and slipped out -- never expecting to see the tourists ever again.

The next night, the woman and the little girl returned to the restaurant. They told Chandara they would like to give her $10,000 to pay off her student loans and to contribute to her continuing her college education.

The 21-year-old wants to thank the couple for not only helping her fulfill her dream of graduating college, but also for teaching her a valuable lesson.

“They have truly changed my life, not only financially but in the way I look at things. They are the most beautiful and kind-hearted people I’ve come across and I really look up to them and I can’t wait until they watch me graduate,” Chandara said.

She hopes the story of their generosity reminds others that there are still good people in the world.

“Always be genuine. You will get it right back. Good things happen,” Chandara said.

Apr. 18, 2017 Alberta Hotel Bar and Kitchen closed: I was passing my resumes around downtown and see this place is closed.

BCBG store in City Centre mall closing down: I put this on my Facebook status update too.

Mark Hamill on The Simpsons: This is the episode where Homer becomes the bodyguard to Mayor Quimby.  I've been singing what Hamill was singing.

Hamill: Luke be a Jedi tonight, Luke be a Jedi tonight.
Chorus line: Do it for Yoda while we serve our guess a soda.
Hamill: Do it for Chewy and the ewoks, and all the other puppets.

I read the comments and it turns out it was making fun of the song "Luck be a Lady" by Frank Sinatra:

Apr. 23, 2017 Bebe clothing stores closes down: I'm surprised.  Lots of clothing stores are closing down ever since 2014, but you never know which is one is next.   I already put this on my Facebook status update that the Bebe in West Ed mall is closing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Kitchen confidential"/ mental health

Jan. 21, 2017 "Kitchen confidential": Today I found this article by Liane Faulder in the Edmonton Journal.  It's about mental health and working in a high-pressure and fast-paced restaurant environment that can lead to depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse:

It’s 7:15 on a Friday night at Chartier, and according to restaurant owner Darren Cheverie, the whole restaurant is like a “ticking time bomb.” Virtually every corner of the popular 80-seat French eatery hums with guests. 

Back in the narrow, crowded kitchen, lobster crackers for the $65 lobster poutine for two have disappeared, but that’s OK. The lobster has proven so popular, they’re now out. Cracker crisis averted! Meanwhile, in a kitchen pass-through, Cheverie confides to head chef Steve Brochu that a certain table is “difficult.”

“More bread? More poutine?” suggests the chef, who will be on his feet 12 hours today. 
While this classic weekend night at Chartier may sound stressful, it’s routine in the restaurant business. The back-of-the-house staff — six cooks and a couple of dishwashers — thrive on the bustle.

The fact that the evening is satisfying for the kitchen staff speaks to the atmosphere created at Chartier by Cheverie, 33, and his co-owner and wife, Sylvia. When they launched the Beaumont eatery in early 2016, they were determined that their own restaurant would avoid the poor working conditions prevalent in many establishments.

While chef Gordon Ramsay’s tirades on television and chef Anthony Bourdain’s exposé on the corrosive culture of the professional kitchen are entertainment, to be sure, they also undeniably reflect the culinary underbelly. Talk to cooks and chefs, in Edmonton and elsewhere, and you will hear stories of hurled plates, unreasonable demands and abusive taunts experienced at some point in their kitchen careers. 

And that’s just part of the sometimes-toxic mix that awaits the wannabe chef. Low wages and high expectations, unpaid overtime in a fast-paced and stressful environment, physical symptoms from carpel tunnel syndrome to back strain, lack of benefits including paid sick time, and non-stop shift work are the decidedly less shiny facets of the restaurant, bar and catering industry, which generated receipts in Alberta totalling $748 million in June 2016 alone, according to ATB Financial.

Spending time in the pressure cooker of the commercial kitchen can, and does, lead to mental health problems for chefs and cooks, including depression and addiction to drugs and alcohol, according to participants at a recent fundraiser called Food for Thoughts. At least three veterans of Edmonton commercial kitchens — Stuart Whyte, Dan Letourneau and Cory Rakowski — are determined to raise awareness of poor mental health in the commercial kitchen, and to do something about it.

One thing about a gathering of chefs — the food’s always good. That’s the first thing a casual observer might have noted at the kick-off fundraiser for Food for Thoughts. Held in November at the Whyte Avenue bar and restaurant, Nightjar, the meeting was full of familiar faces who raised a glass or three while enjoying a range of trendy finger foods.

At first, the room burbled with upbeat chatter. But the mood dampened as a panel of chefs and mental health advocates rose to speak about something that rarely occurs to customers enjoying a night out at their favourite eatery.

Long hours in a hot, physically demanding and pressure-filled environment working at low wages with few, if any, benefits, leads to pain — physical, mental and financial. Also at play is easy access to alcohol, and late-night and weekend shifts that not only keep workers away from their friends and families, but set up potential conflicts at home.

Illicit drug use is not uncommon, in part fuelled by the infamous party culture of an industry dominated by youth. Forty-five per cent of the 120,000 restaurant employees in Alberta are under the age of 25, contributing to a workplace that can prove unhealthy, if not outright dangerous.

And if the body or mind becomes ill, there are few supports in place. Paid sick time is a rarity, prescription drugs or counselling are generally not covered by a workplace plan, and the culture of the kitchen is macho. Cooks who aren’t there to help when literally hundreds of plates must go out during a busy two-hour dinner rush don’t get much sympathy from their workmates, who grumble as they pick up the slack.

“We struggle as an industry with a lack of oversight and accountability,” chef Cory Rakowski told the roughly 50 folks assembled at the fundraiser. “We accept that not being paid overtime is the norm. We accept (that) abuse, emotional, mental, is the norm. These are things we are OK with, in the name of passion…

“We are taught how to fix a broken Hollandaise, but we’re not taught how to cope with the pressure, the lack of self-worth.”

Starbucks created headlines in October when it announced it was making generous counselling benefits available to its workforce, largely made up of young people with an average age of 24. Starbucks employees have to work 20 hours a week to get the benefit, but the company says this includes about three-quarters of their 19,000 Canadian employees.

But restaurant employers outside of chains and hotels offer little in the way of benefits. It’s the norm for restaurant staff at an independent eatery to not be paid for sick days. A 2016 labour market survey by government and industry in British Columbia noted that while cooks and chefs are driven by passion, they feel overworked and undervalued. The majority of the 450 surveyed would not recommend the career to friends or family. 

David Grauwiler, executive director of the Alberta division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, says people working in the restaurant industry face stresses similar to other shift workers, including sleep issues and disruption to family life.  

“When you work unusual hours, it places pressure on core relationships,” says Grauwiler.
He notes the “intensive pressure” of meeting service needs in a limited amount of time, and the rigours of teamwork add to the stress of restaurant life. One of his big concerns is that there is little help available for kitchen workers.

“For people who don’t have (supplemental insurance) benefits, Alberta continues to be a very difficult place to navigate their mental health,” he says. “When people have nothing in the toolbox, they are at greater jeopardy of serious difficulty.”
When the Cheveries opened Beaumont’s Chartier last year, the couple was determined to create something different, and healthy. Darren had been in the service industry since the age of 14, and, as an adult, held general manager of food and beverage positions in a variety of large Canadian restaurants.

Darren also had his own struggles with drug use and alcohol in his 20s, exacerbated by workplace pressure. Though he is in a secure and loving relationship and blessed with a young daughter, he knows he will always struggle to avoid the quick and easy solution to the anxiety and depression that have plagued him his whole life.

Darren loves the hospitality business, the excitement, the passion, the personalities, and pleasures. But he knows it’s a rough business.

“There are not too many careers that are this stressful and demanding,” he says. “You are constantly onstage and constantly being judged. We want to make people happy and when you don’t make them happy, it’s a knife in the chest.”

He says the industry, infamous for chronic labour shortages, also suffers from a lack of leadership. Chain restaurants with bigger margins may offer training, support and mentorship to employees, and also set a higher standard for behaviour in the kitchen. But some people in charge of cooks on the line, in big and small establishments alike, may be in the same topsy-turvy boat as their staff. 

This was driven home to Darren in 2014, when three chefs under his supervision — two of them rising stars who had achieved the level of sous chef — took drugs at home after wrapping up an intense quarterly meeting at the large restaurant at which they all worked. One died, another was in a coma for several days. The third called Darren when he was the only one to wake up the morning after the drug use.

It was 8 a.m. Darren was already at the restaurant when his cellphone rang. That Darren was the first call the distraught chef made came as no surprise; kitchen staff become like family to each other. He told the chef to hang up and call the police, and then prepared himself for the storm ahead. 

“When you have two people in leadership roles, the waves that go through the restaurant and the company are pretty big,” says Darren.

The restaurant flew in replacement kitchen staff so nobody would have to work the line while colleagues processed the loss. They also provided significant human resources support.
Upon reflection, one of the things that disturbed Darren about the whole incident was its genesis. It wasn’t as if the quarterly meeting had gone badly, or that the chefs were coping with negative stress. No, it was the casual nature of the drug use, a hallmark of some sectors of this fast-paced industry.

He doesn’t know if those colleagues suffered from mental health problems or other issues that drove their drug use; nobody talked about that in the kitchen. In Darren’s experience, turning a blind eye to addictive behaviour is what people do in most professional kitchens.
“It’s bullsh** if (colleagues) say they don’t notice the guy who is the cocaine addict in the back, or the bartender who is abusing drugs and alcohol on a nightly basis,” he says. “We have to support those people and not just let them go.”

It was kitchen culture that contributed to the psychological breakdown that drove NAIT graduate Danielle Job from her position as executive chef for the cafe in a Canadian department store chain. Her mental illness had its roots in a physical problem, an intestinal bacteria that was difficult to diagnose and kept her out of the kitchen because she was ill and doctors worried she would pass it on to others through food preparation.

She was off work for a couple of months, and when she returned, she was given the cold shoulder by fellow employees and her boss.

“It was like, ‘thanks for being gone so long and leaving everything to us’,” she recalls. “People said it was in my head because they didn’t have a name for what was wrong with me.”

It all wore away at her self-confidence. 

“I thought, ‘I can’t be a chef, I’m not a good chef.’ My anxiety started to go up because every time I had to be off, there was a stigma. I felt I wasn’t good enough anymore. With being a chef, there is no coming in at eight and leaving at four. So that was really hard.”

At the time she became ill, Job was one of a small minority of chefs in the industry who did enjoy company benefits, including short- and long-term disability. (A 2003 report by Statistics Canada noted that only 13 per cent of workers in the accommodation and food industry have supplemental health insurance.) But Job struggled to access the benefits she was entitled to and was twice denied long-term coverage by the insurance company. She tried to kill herself in May 2016. 

“I was 31, and I was in the psych ward for a suicide attempt. So many things had beaten me down. I had no fight left in me.”

She quit her job in August, and is still in a dispute with the insurance company. In quitting, she lost not only income, but benefits that covered her prescription drugs to help with the depression and anxiety. 

Job knows that the stigma surrounding mental illness is not restricted to the restaurant industry. But she believes conditions in the industry make the stigma worse, and make workers vulnerable to the illness in the first place.

“The work is undervalued, now with so many people doing YouTube (cooking) videos, people think it’s so easy…it’s very hard for people to see that what you do is worth them paying you for it.”

The atmosphere in kitchens is “very much a boys’ club,” she adds.

“When it comes to running a restaurant or an event, being a woman, you are very much the minority. I do feel that I have to do something over and above, out of this world, just to compete with a male chef.”

It’s still unusual to see a woman in an executive chef’s position in an independent restaurant, or at the helm in a restaurant chain. But women in many male-dominated walks of life struggle with discrimination based on gender. And many people who aren’t chefs also work in high-stress environments — doctors, lawyers, oil rig workers, air traffic controllers, just to name a few. 

But it’s not just the tough, physically stressful jobs, or easy access to alcohol that are the source of mental-health problems in commercial kitchens. It’s those factors in combination with poor wages, and lack of benefits.

In Alberta, according to 2015 provincial statistics, cooks and chefs made an average of $16 to $21 an hour, before tips (servers generally share a small portion of their tips with kitchen staff). Generally speaking, workers in hotels or chain restaurants make more money than those in smaller shops.

There are other ways in which restaurant workers are different from others in the labour force, says Bobbie Beeson, owner of the Alberta-based Cheesecake Cafe franchise and one of those attending the Food for Thoughts fundraiser. 

“One of the things that might make us unique is that people who are lost tend to find themselves when they join a restaurant team,” says Beeson. “Maybe there are some people who come with pre-existing conditions, and … if you’re a business who nurtures partying and camaraderie through alcohol, that’s what you’ll get. But if you don’t have that culture, then they might find themselves another way.”

Indeed, Rakowski, 36, who has worked as a chef at Edmonton kitchens from 12 Acres to North 53, credits the restaurant industry for providing a place of refuge when he was young. A homeless teenager who was involved in drugs, he found the structure he yearned for in the kitchen.

Sure, there’s heat on every level, but there can also be teamwork, plus an openness, and a lack of judgment.

“It was a place I felt accepted,” recalls Rakowski, who began his career as a dishwasher at the age of 13. “I credit the industry with saving my life. I had an opportunity every day to reinvent myself.”

In the last few years, Rakowski found himself in the spotlight, competing at the prestigious Gold Medal Plates and lauded for his culinary talent. It became overwhelming, and this past summer, he found himself reverting to former bad habits. Back on track now, Rakowski sees the need for attention to be paid to the people in the industry who struggle with mental health issues.

That’s why he, along with Letourneau and Whyte, launched Food for Thoughts. At November’s fundraiser, the three organizers collected about $3,000, money that is currently sitting with Edmonton’s Momentum Counselling, a non-profit, walk-in counselling service. Food for Thoughts plans to work with Momentum to create a support group for food service professionals.

But they want to do more than just address the problems of kitchen staff here in Edmonton. Since the trio launched Food for Thoughts, they have been contacted by numerous interested parties, including at least one hotel chain, who want to get on board.

Though its early days yet, Food for Thoughts wants to work with knowledgeable sources, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, to create materials and resources that could provide triage for affected kitchen employees. Perhaps, like an eyewash station, or a first aid kit, a mental health safety package could be made available for staff and employers alike. 

“We want to build resources with people in the mental health field,” says Letourneau, 31, noting a second fundraiser is in the works for February. “But for now, it’s baby steps.”
Rakowski says he worries about the future for younger folks coming into the business. “We need to look at the kids coming into the industry and figure out how to help them out.”

This is critical not just to protect young people, but also to maintain the health and growth of the industry, which plays a major role in the economy coast to coast, generating nearly $53 billion in receipts a year, according to Statistics Canada.

Kitchen work is a young person’s game, at least in part because of its rigour. According to a B.C. study, 52 per cent of cooks are under 35 and 63 per cent of chefs are under 45. Fewer than 15 per cent of cooks or chefs are over 55. If older staff could be retained, it could help stabilize the industry, and alleviate chronic labour shortages.
Barriers to change are significant. The industry has tiny margins: if an independent restaurant makes a profit of three to five per cent, that’s a triumph. Customers are sensitive to changes in prices on the menu, so upping prices to better compensate staff is risky. Some restaurant owners do their best. 

“There are employers who do provide benefits and a listening ear. But this is the exception,” says Rakowski.

Asked if he can think of a good employer, Rakowski names the Sicilian Pasta Kitchen on the city’s south side, where he once worked. There, co-owners Steve and Jamie Maguire, and co-owner and chef Don Orchuk, have been running the show for 20 years. They have 73 workers, 20 in the kitchen. Steve Maguire acknowledges the restaurant industry is tough.

“Most of the business is condensed into short hours. Friday and Saturday nights you’re busy from 6:30 to 9, in huge pressure situations and you’re getting hit right, left and centre, within small cramped spaces. It’s very warm back there, and most places don’t pay very well, to be honest,” says Maguire.

“So you have the financial stresses, outside of the normal work stresses. This business traditionally does attract a type of person who is susceptible to drinking and other things.”
Maguire says his outfit pays “a little bit better than the industry,” plus offers a health plan with $500 for professional services such as counselling. The cooks who are on salary have access to paid sick days, but the hourly workers in the restaurant don’t.

“We are good to our people,” he says. “We close for three days at Christmas. We try to give bonuses to the kitchen staff, and they get a free meal at work.”

The owners at Sicilian Pasta Kitchen do something else to support their staff. At the end of a late-night shift, cooks and servers are encouraged to hang around the restaurant to wind down, and to enjoy an alcoholic beverage if they choose at a reduced price.

“We don’t allow drinking and driving — it’s a fireable offence,” notes Maguire. “Most of the staff are usually getting a ride with someone else.”
But staying behind to quaff a drink at a reasonable price means staff aren’t busting out at 1 a.m. to hit the nearest bar and to down as many drinks as possible before last call at 2 a.m.
“It’s easier for us to look after them if they are here. A lot of places are the opposite. They don’t want the staff to stay behind,” says Maguire.

At Chartier, staff are also free to stay behind for one discounted glass of house wine or beer, or a bite to eat at 50 per cent off, and to discuss the events of the day. Chartier’s executive chef, Steve Brochu, 30, says he’s never been happier since joining this crew, and credits the business model carefully crafted by the Cheveries.

The Chartier wage system is different. Tips are shared among all staff (except owners). This means that, in combination with their wages, staff make between $19 and $21 an hour. There are team building activities, such as canoe trips. It’s been hard to attract servers, the Cheveries admit, because they can make better money elsewhere by keeping most of their own tips. But the people who stay are committed to the concept.

The Cheveries also offer their salaried employees $150 a month to put toward mental health — for yoga classes, gym membership, or family counselling, whatever makes sense. But in the year the restaurant has been open, only one person has accessed the mental health account, and that was to buy a $35 ticket to the Food for Thoughts fundraiser. Darren is puzzled by the lack of uptake.

“I think it’s a little bit of damage from previous restaurant cultures,” he speculates. “If you say you need it, it’s a sign of weakness. We’ve had to book a massage for the executive chef and sous chef because they won’t take the time off.”

He says the industry runs lean teams, and there is a “culture of guilt” when it comes to taking care of yourself. 

“And you wonder why it leads to drug and alcohol abuse. It’s such a high pressure, guilt-ridden industry.”

My week:

Apr. 11, 2017 Dealership interview: I did a job interview in the morning.


1. It was daytime and full-time.

2. I would get benefits after working there for a yr.

3. The company has been there for a years, so there's good job security.

4. There are 2 buses to get there, but they come frequently.

5. The pay would be average.  I did say the range would be $13-$16/hr.

6. I can still work at my restaurant job for 2 days a week.


1. I would have to start this Sat. and Easter weekend is busy.  I'm sure my restaurant would let me have a day off on Sat. and I will work on Sun. because that's the really busy

2. The main thing is that I am not that interested in working at this dealership.  I'm not selling the items, I'm processing the payments.  I don't have to know about the items.  I am simply not that interested in it.

If I get hired, I would feel like I would work there for awhile and then get bored.  I would work there and also be looking for another job so I can quit this one.

However, I would be getting paid to work at my 2 jobs.

Clearing limiting beliefs: I've been watching or at least listening to these law of attraction videos.  It says to clear limiting beliefs that don't serve you.

My current experiences have been:


Pros: It's stimulating work.

Cons: The pay isn't that good, unless you get tips.

Office jobs (like the call centre in 2013 and the home installation place in 2015):

Pros: It pays well, and often has benefits.

Cons: It gets boring after awhile.

I haven't found an office job yet that is stimulating.

College: It's like with college programs.  I did go to NAIT's Graphic Communications to be a graphic designer.  It wasn't really for me.  Then I went to MacEwan's Professional Writing and it was a really good fit for me.

Asian restaurant job interview: I did an interview in the afternoon.  They were open for lunch and dinner.  However, they were looking for 1 day shift and 2 weekend night shifts.  The job wasn't a fit for me. 

The boss called me on Sun. at 8pm.  I usually don't get phone calls for interviews on the weekends or weekend nights.

Time after Time: I was looking up Josh Bowman who plays John/ Jack the Ripper on the show.  Here's how to get the show back on.  I'm going to put this on my Facebook:

mq__spades@kdr305 @rosabay @hailmeimjeff @abbyrose719 @erin_mcmanus72 Time After Time can be requested at the 'Netflix Help Center' online. Netflix might pick up the show if enough fans put in the request. Pls notify other fans so we can get as many as possible!

mq__spades@hailmeimjeff just go to online and scroll down till you see something that says 'Request movie or show' and click that. The rest is pretty simple. All of it is on the Netflix Help Center website.

Apr. 13, 2017 Hope Heels Service Dogs:  I was looking for a job and I found this.  It seems to be a meaningful career:

" charity run by volunteers that is dedicated to the raising, training and placing of service dogs with Albertans in need. We are a dynamic group of volunteers who believe passionately in our mission."

Job search: When I go into the "office manager/ receptionist section" of a job site, I can see a lot of jobs I am a fit for.

I was expanding a bit by looking at "healthcare" and there was a receptionist position I applied for, but there was only one.

I looked into the "hairstylist" section, but there weren't any receptionist positions.

Filmmakers meetup: I haven't been to these in a few months because it was cold out, and I was working at the restaurant.  It was busy at the restaurant and I was tired.  Yesterday I psyched myself out and went to one.  It was fun.  R, M, and A were there. 

It was a small meeting.  We talked about filmmaking, but also other things too.  M was on unemployment insurance for awhile and now works at another job.  R is still on unemployment.  A did quit her part-time job and got a job in her field at the library so that's good.

It was a good emotional and mental boost for me.  We talked about the new season of Prison Break that recently came out.  I saw the first 2 episodes and I recommend you watch the pilot.

Apr. 14, 2017 Parismony: I looked this up:

"extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources."

This is Us: I had recorded all the episodes and watched it for the last week and half.

"Follows a unique ensemble, as their paths cross and their life stories intertwine, from sharing the same birthday, to so much more than anyone would expect."

It's about family, marriage, raising kids, relationships and it is touching.  Some of you may say "It's phony sentimentality."  Then again, it is a fictional show.  You should check out the pilot: