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President of Cora restaurants recovering after botched kidnapping

FILE PHOTO: The inside decor of Cora's restaurant. Nicholas Tsouflidis, the breakfast restaurant chain's president, was at home Friday recovering after a botched kidnapping attempt.

Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail

The president of the Cora breakfast restaurant chain, who was tied up and left lying in a ditch near Montreal Thursday, was the victim of an amateurish ransom attempt, police have confirmed.

Nicholas Tsouflidis, the 44-year-old son of the founder of the eponymous company, Cora Tsouflidou, was at home Friday – recovering from the eight-hour ordeal – as police revealed more details about how he ended up in the suburb of Laval, about 30 kilometres south of his acreage in Mirabel, Que.

Police said at least two armed men showed up at Mr. Tsouflidis's home while he was alone, just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, and took him away in a blue sedan. He managed to call 911 from the car but spent the next eight hours in captivity – held at times in the trunk but also at another residence.

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He was found at about 6 a.m. Thursday by a pair of commuters on Montée Champagne, a quiet road in Laval. He was terribly shaken and confused but otherwise healthy, according to one of the people who found him and called in to a local radio station. "He had no idea where he was," the man said. "He was confused and just kept saying someone put a gun to his head."

Mr. Tsouflidis is co-operating fully with police but is having trouble filling in all the details of the traumatic night, according to Sûreté du Québec Lieutenant Martine Asselin. Police have gathered enough information to conclude that the kidnapping was not related to organized crime, she said.

"He was not seriously hurt and he is extremely lucky. It's rare we find a kidnap victim in good condition like that," Lt. Asselin said. "Did their plan go wrong? Maybe they got scared. Maybe they didn't have the guts to finish the job. There are many possible scenarios we're working through."

She said police have no suspects at this time and added that no money was paid.

Cora is a family-owned franchise chain of 130 restaurants across Canada. It has become legendary in Quebec for its humble start and inspiring founder, Cora Tsouflidou, who launched the business in 1987 with one neighbourhood grill in Montreal.

Ms. Tsouflidou was driven by a combination of ingenuity and necessity. The 40-year-old, recently divorced single mother needed work – and the Gaspé Peninsula native knew how to cook. With a small loan from her father and the proceeds from the sale of a home, she opened a restaurant that would serve only breakfast and close by 3 p.m. so she could spend late afternoons and evenings with her children.

With her attention to details such as fresh fruit and sauces, she soon opened other restaurants in Montreal and started franchising in 1994 on her way to becoming a Quebec entrepreneurial legend.

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"She's a model of perseverance and courage for a lot of women who face personal difficulties and have business ambitions. She worked very hard to pursue her idea," said Jacqueline Cardinal, a researcher at the HEC Montréal business school and author of the biography De Cora à Cora Déjeuners. Ms. Tsouflidou, now in her early 70s, handed over control of the company to her youngest son in 2008 but remains the public face of the business. She appears in company ads and the logo, and parts of the menu are still in her handwriting. She's a fixture on the business conference circuit, runs the family foundation and makes occasional appearances on the Quebec version of Dragons' Den. Ms. Cardinal said Mr. Tsouflidis has been a careful steward of the company and a good employer who left the executive suites to others when a new headquarters was built a few years ago. He occupies a main-floor office with no windows and an open door, Ms. Cardinal said.

"He was fully invested in the business from age 15, when he would show up after school to sweep the floor and do dishes," Ms. Cardinal said. "He's more withdrawn than his mother but also very prudent and methodical," noting he recently shelved plans to expand into the United States despite the urging of his risk-taking mother.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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