Local entrepreneur Barbara Mireault has been in the restaurant industry her whole life, beginning at 13 when she lied about her age to get a job at McDonalds to help support her 11 siblings.
She worked her way through various fast food joints until landing a job at a seafood restaurant called the Old Fish Market in her hometown of Windsor - Ms. Mireault was hired on the spot as she ate a meal there one day when she was 17.
Today, she owns the only remaining chain of that restaurant here in Ottawa, known today as The Fish Market on York Street. Ms. Mireault also owns the two neighbouring restaurants, Coasters Gourmet Grill and Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro.
Ms. Mireault was honoured Thursday evening at the Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala hosted by the Women's Business Network of Ottawa. She was named entrepreneur of the year alongside Suzanne Simpson, president and CEO of Human Resource Systems Group and winner of the corporate businesswoman award, and Daphne Lainson, partner at Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh & Co. and winner of the professional category.
The annual event recognizes the accomplishments of women who play an active role in an Ottawa business.
"Just to be nominated has really been the win already," said Ms. Mireault in an interview with OBJ.
She brought her management team of eight with her to the ceremony, and said she will share the award with all of them, who help her manage the 70 staff at the three restaurants.
The Fish Market has won the Consumers Choice Award for Fine Seafood Restaurant for the past 15 years, and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1989.
Vineyards offers a selection of more than 300 wines, 80 of them by the glass, as well as approximately 250 imported beers.
The path to her success hasn't always been easy, Ms. Mireault said. At 27, she transferred to the Ottawa location to become general manager of the restaurant and began to hear about the 13 other locations closing one by one.
On a salary of $37,000 a year, she was raising a child as a single parent when she was offered the reigns of the restaurant if she could come up with the money to do it.
"I extended myself to the outer limits of the universe and managed to creatively find the money," she said, from family and banks.
Within her first year as co-owner, Ms. Mireault spent $250,000 in renovations, and saw business go up by 30 per cent.
She slowly found ways to make the restaurant her own. Fifteen years ago, as the sidewalk was being repaved, Ms. Mireault used a stamp of a fish she'd had made to imprint the restaurant's logo into the sidewalk as the pavers looked the other way. The fish still remain today.
Despite many long hours and years of hard work, Ms. Mireault said she wouldn't want it any other way.
"I don't regret it for a minute. I could have picked a lot easier path but ... too many people wake up and trudge through their days," she said. "There's nothing like the highs and lows of having your own business. You work that much harder; the rewards are that much better because it all comes back to you. You reap what you sow."
Less than two years ago, Ms. Mireault bought out a silent partner who previously co-owned the restaurant. Now, the entire corporation is all hers.
And with the three home bases in the ByWard Market, she is increasingly thinking of expanding the restaurants throughout the city.
"I think about it now more than ever," she said. "I just bought a home out in Stittsville, and I look around and say, ‘I could put a Coasters right here and it would be perfect.' There's room to branch it out. You never know."