The Bagelshop Blog

An insight into running a family business

POSTED BY Liliana Piazza ON February 4, 2018

My dad started the Bagelshop when I was two. I literally have no memory without it being somewhere in the background. It shaped and steered and provided for my family in almost every conceivable way.  

As a young child, I didn’t really know what my dad did every day, but I knew that he was “the boss” – and just saying that made me proud. I always felt special when I walked from Elmdale (the school I attended from 1988-1992) to the Bagelshop for lunch, and got to eat my salami Bagelsub on the stairs of my dad’s crazy office. (I share the office with him now, and it’s still crazy – but we both say there’s a method to our chaos.)

When we were really little, my sister and I were taught how to “roll” bagels. With our tiny hands ,we would shape and pull the dough to make these miniature misshapen bagels. We would be praised for our efforts by the bakers and rollers, most notably Toi, our master baker then and now, who has also taught my son and nephew this highly specialized skill.

I first started working at the store at age 12, running the cash on Wednesday nights. I remember eating cream of broccoli soup and learning how to make change. I was very tall for my age, and I liked how customers thought I was older. I’m not sure if they knew that I was the owner’s daughter, but it didn’t matter.  It felt good to work, to earn my paycheque, to help my dad, to learn from his employees.

Our “normal” is that my dad works seven days a week. His endless endurance is what has fueled this business for so many years. We didn’t go on many family vacations, and when we did, it was to New York City, to tour delis!

After working at the shop on and off through high school, I left Ottawa for 10 years to pursue a career in music, returning only when I was pregnant with my first child. Although singing was my primary focus during that time in my life, I always had jobs in customer service, too.

Eventually, I ended up working for my cousins in Montreal at St-Viateur Bagel, where I wore many hats, including bagel packer, hostess, and temporary office manager. Working with them made me realize I was interested in the inner workings of the bagel business – not to mention, that I actually enjoyed being in the thick of it, balancing the dichotomy of a steep learning curve along with the drudgery of repetitive tasks I didn’t enjoy. Which leads us to 2018!

In my current role as General Manager of the Bagelshop here in Ottawa, I see my dad nearly every day.  For the most part, we really get along, but there are times where we grate on each other’s nerves. Work-life balance didn’t exist in my dad’s time. He’s an immigrant who believes in hard work, and that’s been his modus operandi since he was eight years old.  

We argue, we disagree, and he has pushed every button I’ve got. We also inevitably make up, we let bygones be bygones, and we discuss everything from politics to my kids. He’s my greatest champion, and my truest friend. He’s learning how to let go of this world he’s created over these 34 years, and I’m learning to be confident in trying to maintain it and make it grow.  

This family business that I’ve had the great honour of being a part of, that is a part of me, has taught me about balance, fairness, resilience, and persistence. I have two degrees, but these past five years have presented the greatest mental challenge of my life.  How to navigate my father’s feelings and vision for our brand and integrate them with my own. How to grow and move forward despite huge discomfort. Learning how terrible I am at certain things (I break so many jars when I try to organize them on the shelf), and remembering to congratulate myself on a job well done.  

When you have your own business, you can hire consultants to help you with just about everything, but at the end of the day, the decisions are all yours. The consequences, risks, successes, and failures all fall on your shoulders. It’s scary and exhilarating, but the beautiful thing is, in a family business, the successes are amplified, because the stresses are shared by people who care so much for each other.