This is your typical rags to riches story. Charlie Brien, a Cree from Mistissini, started building his restaurant business back in 1970. He didn’t start off with any grants, a large cash stake or even a high school diploma. What he had was more than that. He had a desire and the ambition to fulfill it.

Brien’s initial investment was two Coleman stoves. “With one Coleman stove, I made hamburgers and hotdogs, and the other one was for coffee and tea,” remembers Brien.

He had worked three summers in the U.S. before opening his own place. It was there that Brien met his mentor, in the form of his boss. He remembers the owner telling him, “I didn’t have any money when I started this. I just had a wheelbarrow and went to the construction sites selling coffee, pop and sandwiches.”

One year, Brien went home and asked his family if they would like to set up a restaurant in the community 600 kilometres north of Montreal. “Everybody was jumping, O.K., let’s go,” said Brien. It was time to put the lessons to work. He remembers that in those early days one of the first schools in Mistissini was being built. He spoke to the foreman about coming over with coffee, pop, sandwiches and homemade donuts.

The foreman was enthusiastic, Brien recalls. Workers had been going home for coffee breaks and this ate into construction time. “I had a toboggan and a two-gallon thermos. I went in the morning and afternoon,” said Brien about his humble beginnings.

Brien’s first building was so small that only six people could fit in his coffee shop. Today he admits to being surprised at seeing how much business at Denise Restaurant has grown.

He has a full modern kitchen, with a walk-in freezer and seating capacity for 85. Brien said he expanded on the average every five to six years. “I thought about making it bigger, saved money and then did it,” said Brien. It was only 10 years ago that Brien felt he could start relaxing a bit.

Now Brien has gone back to live a more traditional life in # the bush. His children have taken overthe business and he comes back once a month to check on how the restaurant is doing. He considershimself as more in an advisory position these days.

In an earlier instalment of the Entrepreneirual series, we profiled Roger Orr and his new business, the 4 in 1, in Nemaska.

This issue, we return to Roger for some of his personal tips on how to start and manage a successful business.

• Anybody can start a business — But you have to check if it’s feasible. You have to study and know your potential clients. Do research. Ask for help. You can start with the “Canadian Standards Statistics” but don’t forget that the “standard family” is different from the family in the North.

• Go step by step — you don’t have to do everything at once. Do trial runs and learn from them. Before his official opening, Roger tried hot dogs at the 4 in 1, and they didn’t go well, so he dropped them. No big deal.

• Partnerships can be the key to success. For example, Roger handles the operational side of things, while his wife, Linda, deals with the financing* bookkeeping and accounting. Neither of them could do without the other.

• Business is about maintaining good relationships. When Roger and Linda started their video club, they worked with a middleman to order their tapes. Eventually they outgrew him, and they wanted to have more control over choosing their stock. But they parted on good terms, sending him moccassins and a thank-you note for helping them.

• Before you sign, play-off competition. Don’t be afraid to shop around. People will make deals when they know there’s someone else in the picture. That’s what Roger did when he bought his video game equipment, and he came out with a great deal.

• Hand-pick employees. “They are key. You can’t force people do their job well. That’s why you have to pick the right people,” says Roger. For example, Roger’s happy he found Peggy Wapachee to cook for him. He depends on her experience to run the kichen. “She knows tons that I didn’t — like running the equipment, how to do the potatoes…” He also brought in help to redesign his place: Kirby Blackned, an interior decorator who helped choose the paint, the colours and the design for the murals — aliens and super-heroes.

• Start small, but think big. Don’t be afraid to expand -everything must grow. Roger’s nowplanning a music show in his space to see how it goes. He sees potential in turning the space into aregular venue for Cree talent. Who knows? the 4 in 1 may soon become the 5 in 1.