Trust People with More Confidence in You Than You Have in Yourself

I was with Don on a particularly busy night at Boston Pizza when, out of the blue, I blurted out, “Wouldn't it be great to get into this business?”

Don looked me right in the eye and without hesitating said, “Yeah, it would. Let's do it!”

That was it. A decision was made. But every decision has to be followed by action, and so we got right to it. We interrupted Gus and his brothers counting money in the back office.

“Gus,” I said, “what do you say if Don and I opened up one of these restaurants?”

Gus stood up and shook my hand. “Finally,” he said.

He knew we had no experience in the restaurant business, let alone pizza- and pasta-making skills. But here's the thing: Gus liked us. Most important, Gus trusted us, which was a big deal, since this was going to be Boston Pizza's first formal franchise. Thankfully, Gus had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves.

The first decision we made was the location. All three Boston Pizza restaurants were in Edmonton. Don and I wanted to open ours in British Columbia, in the Interior, where we both knew people and loved the climate. But Gus hadn't really thought about what it meant for other people to “open a Boston Pizza” in another province where no one knew the Edmonton stores. We were years away from understanding what it was that we had that people loved. No one had even heard of the word “brand” or given much thought to the idea of consistency. We planned to do what the Agioritis brothers did in Edmonton, but what did that mean exactly?

Next, Gus hired a lawyer and we put together the first Boston Pizza franchise agreement, which mirrored the one Dairy Queen and Kentucky Fried Chicken had used. There were some conditions, the first being that we couldn't open another Alberta location. That was territory he and his brothers carved out for themselves. We were fine with that.

To define our territory, we took a map of BC, the kind you buy at the gas station, and photocopied it. Then we took a red pen and drew big circles around the interior of the province, stopping short of the Lower Mainland. That area, which included Vancouver, was reserved for one of Gus's brothers. The Interior was to be our territory, assuming we would grow beyond just the one franchise in Penticton. And trust me, we were not thinking that far ahead. At the time, I felt that if I could make a go of the one restaurant, I would be a satisfied man.

The second condition: We had to use Gus's recipes. No problem, except there were no real recipes back then, nothing measured, standardized and tested, or written down. Still, we'd figure that out later. (The closest we ever came to maintaining consistency was with the spice bags that were shipped by bus from Edmonton to Penticton once a week. One of the brothers, George, assembled all the spices used in the meat and tomato sauces and put them into plastic bags, which he secured with twist-ties. They weren't labelled, so you had to eyeball the bags and know which was for the meat sauce and which was for the tomato. Once, en route to Penticton, a box of the spice bags broke open in the bus's undercarriage, trailing the distinct scent of Greek oregano all the way through the Okanagan Valley.)

The third condition: We had to use Gus's systems. And, as with the recipes, there were no real systems, at least nothing you'd recognize as the formal way Boston Pizza did things. But we agreed anyway.

Then Gus came up with the franchise fee: $5,000 plus 10% of sales. It seemed fair at the time, but remember, we didn't know exactly how much money the business was making from three restaurants. This information might have been a sticking point for anyone else, but the entire enterprise was built on a foundation of friendship and loyalty. In other words, personal relations trumped formal arrangements. It was more a decision based on how I felt about Gus rather than just the business, and my gut — my instincts — were right about him.

It was time to give my formal notice to the RCMP. Elaine and I had our baby daughter, Cheryl, by then, so money was a real concern. Elaine backed my decisions, but not until she was certain I was making the right one.

She was holding the baby when she said, “Jim, are you sure you know what you're doing?”

“Yes. It's gonna be great. We're gonna be fine,” I answered, hoping my enthusiasm hid any doubts I had. Security is a big deal to a new mother. And though police work was dangerous, the pay was steady, and having a pension and great benefits was important. You don't just leave a good employer like the RCMP without a lot of thought and consideration. Because once you've told them you're out, you're out.

It's a deadening experience, walking the halls of your workplace like a zombie, sitting at a desk and staring at the clock, waiting for five o'clock to roll around. Luckily, I didn't get to that point with the RCMP. I made the decision to leave just as my work was becoming a grind, just when I had begun to avoid answering the phone so I didn't have to be the one to open a new file. And I think that's the trick of it. Don't wait until things get so bad that you exit on poor terms. Don't wait until your employers are as happy to see you go as you are to get out of there. My RCMP “out” day was in May 1967. Going into the detachment that day, I was nervous, maybe a little numb. But I was keenly aware that it had been more fun coming into the RCMP than it was going out. That's also why I knew I was making the right decision to leave. I couldn't summon any more enthusiasm for police work — at least the kind I was doing. My heart had left the building ages ago and was already well into running a restaurant. I knocked on my commanding officer's door and was invited to enter and sit down. I didn't beat around the bush.

“I'm leaving the RCMP,” I said. “I've decided to pursue another line of work.”

“What line of work is that?”

“I'm … going to open a restaurant.”

There was a pause, then my commanding officer said, “Okay, son. You know the routine. Clear out your desk and meet me in the conference room.”

There I had an exit interview, and I handed over my files and cases. I was told to drop off my gun, search warrants, badge and uniforms on the way out. That was it. I was no longer Constable Treliving. I was just Jim, the soon-to-be pizza guy.

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