Ottawa’s oldest family businesses: The key to decades of success

A recent survey of Canada's family businesses shows growth. Capital News asks three of Ottawa's oldest family business the secret to continued growth.

For the original Capital News post click here.

Times appear to be good for family-owned businesses in Canada. Two-thirds (64 per cent) of them reported growth last year, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey. Some of Ottawa’s longest-running family owned businesses are examples to how this is possible despite a slow-growing economy. We spotlight three of the capital’s oldest family businesses and ask them about growth and their strategies for the future.

Unique experiences

Unique products have kept the Rideau Bakery running since 1930. David Kardish and his cousin Louis are their family’s third generation running the bakery and cafe using recipes their grandmother brought from Ukraine.

© Amanda Van Frankfort [Navigate a 360-degree tour of the bakery’s kitchen and shop by clicking and dragging in the video below. Turn on sound to hear from the owner.]

“The marketplace has a lot of mediocrity at inexpensive prices,” Kardish said of competitors in his industry. He said products without preservatives or additives and a committed staff that creates a sense of family, are key reasons why customers have been coming back.

“People are going back to paying for quality goods,” says Candace Sutcliffe, president of C.A. Paradis/The Chef’s Paradise, a kitchenware and kitchen appliance store founded in 1921.

According to Sutcliffe customers are attracted to these unique and custom-made products like cutting boards or cooking utensils made of Ontarian wood by craftsmen in the Muskoka region. The business can make connections with local artisans and craftspersons to supply those items, something larger competitors with wider distribution cannot sustain.

The next generation

Handing off a business from one generation to the next is vital to its long-term survival. The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey found only 18 per cent of family businesses had a comprehensive succession plan. E.R. Fisher Menswear, a men’s tailored clothing and sportswear store, opened in 1905. Sonia Fisher, the owner and granddaughter of the founder, said the long-term view of family-owned and run business is an asset, but each succeeding generation needs to look at the business with fresh eyes. “Family businesses tend to maintain longer-term views and plans,” she said. “They more often than not are looking twenty and thirty years down the road instead of five or ten.”  

© Amanda Van Frankfort [Navigate a 360-degree tour of the bakery’s kitchen and shop by clicking and dragging in the video below. Turn on sound to hear from the owner.]

But even when the plan is there, whether relatives want to continue the business or have the acumen to do it, is another challenge. Pierre Paradis is the owner of C.A. Paradis/The Chef’s Paradise. He shifted the management of his family’s business to Candace Sutcliffe after his children chose other careers. Paradis is still involved with the company part of the time but he spends winters golfing in Florida. 

Digital shift

The PwC survey found 65 per cent of Canadian family businesses are confident with their digital strategy, but 20 per cent are vulnerable to a digital disruption. Online shopping and digital payments are just some of these challenges.  Keeping up with technology is an issue here,” said Sutcliffe. “A lot of the customers know a product before we know of it. We have to remain competitive.”  

While technology has been adopted in the manufacturing of the clothes sold at E.R. Fisher Menswear, Fisher is more cautious with her digital strategy. “We updated our point-of-sale system to an Apple-based system, and work with the latest programs and applications,” she said. But she has chosen to not yet sell online, choosing to monitor the trends closely. For the Rideau Bakery, Kardish has taken a different approach. Limiting the amount of technology in his business means staff are preparing everything by hand, staying as close to the recipes and methods of his grandmother’s recipes as much as possible. 

In their words

These family-owned businesses have outlasted decades of different government policies. We asked them what they need, or not need from the government, to keep their business growing.

David Kardish, Rideau Bakery

“We have unique products that are high quality. We don’t use any preservatives, chemicals, or additives. You could say we have natural products. [The team members] are all working for the same thing, making sure everything runs smoothly, everything comes out and making sure our customers are happy. Hopefully that pays off and people appreciate what you do.”

Candace Sutcliffe, C.A. Paradis/The Chef’s Paradise

“As a small business we need more incentives. The Wynne government’s implementation of tax was daunting. The government should look at taxation. Small businesses need a tax reduction.”

Sonia Fisher, E.R. Fisher Menswear

“I think the Federal and Provincial governments should always have small and medium-sized businesses at the forefront of their minds, in every policy decision they make. It sounds cliche now, because it has been repeated so many times, but we are truly the backbone of the economy. Reducing the amount of tax on small business would help, supporting all industries, even the unsexy ones like manufacturing, and continuing to acknowledge that the small business environment in Canada is more competitive than it may have been 20 years ago."

MJ ENTRY: PBO, a watchdog still leashed

Article originally appeared in the Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication student publication Close-Up November 21, 2015

 Mostafa Askari is the assistant parliamentary budget officer. He says the PBO is a watchdog on government spending and budgetary matters. © David Deen

Mostafa Askari is the assistant parliamentary budget officer. He says the PBO is a watchdog on government spending and budgetary matters. © David Deen

On a cold November evening in Ottawa, while most of the city’s public servants have already hurried home, Mostafa Askari is heading to his sixth media interview.

Askari is assistant parliamentary budget officer. His office provides economic and budgetary analysis to Canada’s Parliament. On Nov. 10, the Parliamentary Budget Office released its Economic and Fiscal Outlook and the forecast isn’t good: the first blow to the new Liberal government.

It is uncertain whether such reports will again strain relations between the PBO and the government.

Fiscal Watchdog

"The government is more careful in how they do things because they know that we are here and we are watching them." —Mostafa Askari, assistant parliamentary budget officer.

“The government is more careful in how they do things, said Askari, 66, “because they know that we are here, and we are watching them.” An economist by training, Askari has been with the PBO since its creation. The Iranian-born, American and Canadian educated Askari describes his office as a watchdog on government spending and budgetary matters.

Most Canadians are watching the new government, but Askari and the PBO might have the closest look.

Honeymoon Over

The budget office’s report of an impending deficit is a sobering end to coverage of the young Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s win and diverse Cabinet.

Scrutiny begins now on the $35-billion in additional spending promised by the Liberals, adding to the expected deficits revealed in the latest PBO report.

“They do have a challenge, no doubt,” Askari said. “A challenge in making sure that their commitments fit within the fiscal profile that they want to present to Canadians as something reasonable.”

An Unclear Role

Reports like these were a source of conflict with the previous government. It is unclear whether that will continue. Much of the uncertainty begins with PBO’s position within the Library of Parliament, subject to its oversight and budget allocation, accountable to the Government House Leader in the House of Commons.

Askari said independence from the Library of Parliament is critical.

“If the person is in place and is afraid of being fired everyday, then that person will not be able to do his or her job.” Mostafa Askari, assistant parliamentary budget officer.

Askari said that if the parliamentary budget officer “is afraid of being fired everyday, then that person will not be able to do his or her job.”

According to Askari, there is an unspoken agreement that the Library of Parliament does not interfere with the work of the PBO. But for him, it isn’t enough.

The Liberal party promised in their platform to “make sure that the office is properly funded, and accountable only – and directly – to Parliament, not the government of the day.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Dominic LeBlanc was equally as vague, directing him to ensure the PBO is “properly funded and truly independent of government.”

Askari says the language from the Liberals on the PBO is unclear and vague.

Contentious Beginnings

“The Conservatives wanted an office with less teeth,” said Kevin Page, the first parliamentary budget officer, who held the post from 2008­–13.

The office was formed in 2006. Page had many conflicts with former prime minister Stephen Harper, whom he accused of misleading Canadians about costs of the controversial F-35 fighter jet program and an expensive crime bill.

According to Page, the contention began in 2008.

“From the first couple of reports, the government realized that we were going to produce work that was authoritative,” Page said. “And maybe we had numbers that were different than they were putting out and we were going to be more transparent than the government was prepared to be.”

“I wouldn’t take the job unless I knew he would come.” —Kevin Page, former parliamentary budget officer

Kevin Page, former parliamentary budget officer. © David Deen

Page was the one who urged Askari to join the PBO in the first place, drawing on his experience as senior chief of economic analysis at the Department of Finance and a director general at Health Canada. Their decades-long relationship began at Queens University, where Page, a master’s student, marked papers for Askari, who was pursuing his doctorate.

I wouldn’t take the job unless I knew he would come,” Page said. “I would never make a decision without talking to Mr. Askari. I love the son of a bitch, I really do. I have enormous respect for the guy.”

Page said that the appointment of current PBO, Jean-Denis Fréchette, was an appointment of someone without the proper experience and was meant to undermine the office. Still, Page is optimistic of the PBO’s future, one he sees Askari should lead.

“It would be great if the executive moves forward with legislation to strengthen the PBO,” said Page. “Dr. Askari would be a great first officer of parliament, parliamentary budget officer.”

Mostafa Askari is the assistant parliamentary budget officer (PBO), an office he says is a watchdog on government spending and budgetary matters. © David Deen

Watchdog without Leash

Getting that forum to make their case to be a fully independent officer of Parliament will be vital to the PBO’s future. In the face of growing deficits, it is unclear whether the government will maintain the status quo or give the PBO more room to be a watchdog with the resources it believes necessary.

“When I look at the things that have happened since we were established, the kind of work that we have done, and the reaction that we have gotten from the government, I think the difference we are making is that the government is more conscious of some of these issues because we are putting out these reports,” Askari said. “I think we have had a gradual impact on the way the system is functioning.”

MJ ENTRY: How one candidate says Ottawa-Centre can prepare for the economy of the future

Conservative candidate Damian Konstantinakos on attracting the tech-sector downtown

 

By David Deen

OTTAWA – Ottawa’s tech sector is growing and there aren’t enough skilled workers to meet the demand. The Information and Communications Technology Council states that 9,724 workers will be required in the sector by 2019. Damian Konstantinakos, the Conservative Party candidate for Ottawa-Centre, believes he can be the one to bring high-tech jobs into Ottawa’s downtown.

“We have to look at the reasons why tech companies will move here and why they will not,” said Konstantinakos. “This includes issues of power for the big labs and affordable energy. Universities need to be well-funded and focus on the right areas of innovation.”

Konstantinakos is hoping to bring his 18 years of experience as an electrical engineer to encourage business diversification and growth in the sector.

According to a 2015 report from the Information and Communications Technology Council, there are currently 72,430 professionals in the ICT sector of the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The sector however, is experiencing skills shortages and by 2019, 9,724 workers will be required in the area. The key occupations in need include: computer systems analysts, consultants, computer and network operators, web technicians, programmers and interactive media developers.

“Tech companies start small and grow,” said Konstantinakos, emphasizing the need to support small businesses. “It is important that we recognize how jobs are created. That is the type of attitude that is needed.” He believes that the Conservative Party's promise to cut taxes for small businesses is the way to create those jobs.

Whether there is a correlation between small business tax and job creation is yet to be seen . Still, both the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) are promising a reduction in the small business tax, a reduction from 11% to 9%. The Conservatives, however, will phase this in over four years, whereas the NDP will implement the reduction immediately.

Encouraging downtown investment in ICT will be a challenge, as much of the tech-sector growth in the city has concentrated in the western suburb Kanata, where small businesses stand to benefit from cheaper rental fees and buildings equipped with the adequate infrastructure.

“We need to start talking up businesses that are downtown, businesses like Shopify for example,” said Konstantinakos. “Sometimes there is a narrative that the public sector is downtown and the tech sector is in the west. We need reprocessing. We need to look to see what federal infrastructure can be freed up for incubators.”

MJ ENTRY: A Toast to Courage: Inside a Toastmasters Meeting

By David Deen
OTTAWA - Upon the announcement of his name and a smattering of applause, James Xu makes his way to the podium. The eyes of his fellow members are fixated on his every move. This is his sixth speech at Toastmasters and his task: vocal variety, speaking with a range of volume and pace. His hand gestures only pause to wipe his sweaty palms on his shorts. After five minutes of speaking, the timer lights flash and he wraps up hastily, retreating to his seat.

James Xu signed up for this. “I just graduated from the University of Waterloo,” he says, “I want to improve my public speaking”. It is a goal shared by his fellow Toastmasters, like Laural Harris. “I liked being alone when I was young,” she recalls. “If I was in a room of people I was overlooked, and I wanted to be overlooked.” Her bright orange curly hair, large hoop earrings, and vivid blue shirt are of someone no longer deflecting attention. Though when she stood to address the club, her speech was riddled with nervous giggles, shifty eyes and a tense smile.

James Xu and Laural Harris are members of the Bytown Toastmasters Club, located in the residential Alta Vista neighbourhood south of Ottawa, and one of more than 70 clubs in the Ottawa area. Members are of many ages and diverse backgrounds. This particular group has newcomers to Canada, students and seniors. All of them aspire to benefit from the Toastmasters goal to boost confidence and improve public speaking.

Toastmasters began 90 years ago in California, but now is in 126 countries. There are currently 313,000 members among 14,650 clubs worldwide.

Tucked in a corner second-floor room of Heron Community Centre, the Bytown Toastmasters Club meets Wednesday evenings. For 90 minutes they go through protocols and speeches, following a meticulously detailed agenda and overseen by the timer. Other tasks include: grammarian, quizmaster and “ah” counter, counting words like “um” and “er”, and other unnatural breaks in speech. Everyone is an evaluator, providing anonymous voting and comments after each speaker.

The pressure for smooth speech makes for an air thick with awkwardness and nervousness. Yet once the meeting is adjourned, the mood becomes more jovial and accomplished. At the Bytown Toastmasters Club, when the gavel was hit to close the meeting, members stood up smiling, shaking hands, congratulating each other on another successful meting.

MJ ENTRY: Cuban community receptive to papal visit and change in Havana

Friday September 18, 2015

By David Deen

OTTAWA - Pope Francis will arrive in Havana, Cuba, Saturday and some Cuban-Canadians are especially enthusiastic for this papal visit. “I am very happy with this apostolic visit of Pope Francis,” said Cuban Moraima Pride, president of the Cuban Canadian Ottawa-Gatineau Association. “He showed that he does care for the people.”

Her support has been shared by Cubans in Havana. Banners line the streets and the stage is set in Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) to welcome the leader of the Roman Catholic Church on his first visit to the island nation. It comes at time of change in Cuba, experiencing economic liberalization and the re-starting of diplomatic relations with the United States.

I believe that the change in relations between Cuba and the United States is a result of the Pope’s work,” said Yasmina Proveyer, a Cuban-born, Ottawa-based settlement worker. “His hand and his work were behind that.”

The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis has sent multiple letters to both U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, inviting both sides to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest” and Francis facilitated diplomatic meetings with both, including meetings hosted by Canada.

“I believe the Cuban community in Ottawa view the recent changes in the diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States government in a positive light,” said Pride. “While dramatic changes on both sides of the border still remain out of reach, the relationship as it was clearly not conducive to development.”

Proveyer was in Cuba for the first papal visit in 1998 and believes it was a significant moment. “After the revolution so many people had to hide their religion,” she recalled, “but after that visit I could see that it was important for people’s freedom and spirit.”

Observers acknowledge a unique relationship the pope has with the leadership in Havana. “This particular Pope seems to have a special interest in Cuba,” said Archibald Ritter, an economics professor at Carleton University, and although not a Cuban, he has written extensively on Cuba. “He has some liberation theology in his repertoire and he seems to get along with the Castro brothers. It is a bit surprising, but maybe he is parlaying that into some kind of reform process.”

On Sept. 11, as outlined in the state newspaper Granma, Cuba announced the release of 3,522 prisoners, an act of good faith in line with previous papal visits.

Saigon

Written in my iPhone on June 16, 2015. 

 Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. It is still referred to as Saigon by most people, the name before the unification of the north and south.  

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. It is still referred to as Saigon by most people, the name before the unification of the north and south.  

I had always wanted to go to Vietnam. Perhaps it was because my Vietnamese high school girlfriends (2) or the late night pho or vermicelli after so many after club munchies. I admit, just three days in Ho Chi Minh isn't enough to pass judgment on the country. I can't wait to come back and explore more. 

As the country's largest and most bustling of cities, Ho Chi Minh has a good mix of the frenetic buzzing of motorcycles and relaxing cafes and park space. Although smaller than I had expected, the city impressed me in its wide and leafy avenues, various parks and rivers, and the French colonial buildings. I stayed at the Hotel Continental Saigon, the oldest hotel frequented by journalists and politicians during both the Indochina and Vietnam wars. 

The Vietnamese were always gentle, cheerful and had the capacity to remain calm no matter the situation. I really admired this. Whether it was at the shop, taxi or hotel, the stressed out and tired faces always seemed to be the western tourists. But they are the ones who are open and curious enough to engage in conversation with the locals. The Japanese tourists, with their fanny packs and big hats to shield them from the sun, are just silent tourists, the internal suffering type, until a photo opportunity arrives. The other Asian tourists, on the other hand, they've got the money and the wits.

As I did my customary city wandering, solo by foot, it became my mission to find cafes and restaurants away from any foreigner. I found a great cafe, M2C Bistro and Cafe, where Vietnamese youth listened to soul, jazz and ambient music and sipped on coffee and smoothies while chatting or scrolling through their phones. The traffic is a light hum from this second floor, airy, modern, eclectic cafe in District 1, just steps away from all the tourist traps below. The name is M2C Bistro and Cafe. On the third floor is the dia projects contemporary art gallery. Now promise you won't tell anyone.

From Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam - 14/06/2015

 

 Sitting down to relax with coffee is part of the life in Vietnam.  

Sitting down to relax with coffee is part of the life in Vietnam.  

 Good stuff here.  

Good stuff here.  

 Hidden places are always the best.  

Hidden places are always the best.  

 Modern decor.  

Modern decor.  

 Character.  

Character.  

 A gallery amidst it all.  

A gallery amidst it all.  

 Entrance from the street.  

Entrance from the street.  

 Avocado shake.  

Avocado shake.  

 View from the street.  

View from the street.