Ten Things I Learned From Visionary Restauranteur Richard Jaffray

Repost from 2018 on the news Richard is selling his Cactus stake after 34 years. Congrats, Richard!

Richard Jaffray

Richard Jaffray was living in a used Dodge Dart with a roommate when he first moved to Vancouver from Ontario soon after high school. He worked as a server to save money to open his first restaurant.

Today, nearly thirty years later, Richard has created nearly thirty of the highest grossing restaurants in Canada under the Cactus Club Cafe brand. In an industry known for many failures (roughly two thirds of new restaurants will go out of business within three years), the success of Cactus Club has put enormous pressure on other Canadian restaurants to raise their standards.

I know Richard through friends and have been enjoying his restaurant since I was a kid. He is an inspiring founder who is kind to everyone he comes into contact with. 

Here are 10 lessons for entrepreneurs from Cactus Club CEO Richard Jaffray, updated from his 2015 BCBusiness Top 100 Interview:

1. “You will fail more than you succeed. The key is no knockout-blows.”

In the mid-1990s, following early success in Vancouver, Cactus Club acquired four restaurant locations in Calgary at once. Within two years, three were out of business.  The lesson is to not bite off more than you can chew. Limit your exposure to catastrophic risk, and persevere. “There’s an eerie calm when you hit bottom,” Jaffray said, “I knew I would fight back.”

2. “Don’t rush into anything. Take the time you have to make good business decisions.”

The setback in Alberta caused Cactus Club to retreat and rebuild.  Thereafter, the company would try to limit itself to only one new location under development at at time, keeping a relentless focus on quality.

Coal Harbour location in Downtown Vancouver

3. “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.It’s all about integrity all the way through… Do it right or not at all.”

English Bay (Vancouver)

4. Set goals but don’t obsess over them. Reflect on the positive, recent accomplishments you are making to maintain positivity and identify next steps.

Entrepreneurs have to deal with stress and solve problems constantly. They lose the present by obsessing over the future. For balance, Jaffray learned to also reflect on Cactus Club's latest accomplishments for inspiration and new ideas.

5. “Never tell people what you’re thinking. Hear other people’s thoughts first.”

Bentall 5 in Downtown Vancouver

6. “Hire motivated, excited people.”

Cactus Club is a thriving organization with a few thousand staff. When it comes to recruiting and developing talent, work-ethic and positive attitude are the key differentiators of successful managers, according to Jaffray. 

7. “If you can get me to say I will do something… I’ll always try to finish what I do regardless of the circumstance. My word is very important to me.”

8. “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”

Richard has emphasized developing his own leadership skills by taking many business and strategy courses and participating in entrepreneurs' groups.

Sherway Gardens (Etobicoke/Toronto) 

9. “Success is a line up at the door. Demand is exceeding supply. Surfing. Catching the biggest wave of the day.”

The dream is yours to define. 

10. “Life is a journey on a sailboat not a speed boat.”

Take care of yourself and see you at Cactus Club!


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