While lunch is often the most underappreciated meal of the day, it was not to be skipped for the dozens of Ottawa businesswomen who got together Monday to support each other and their community at the latest Ladies Who Lunch: The Reunion.
The networking event, organized by Call Betty Marketing CEO Catherine Landry, was held at OCCO Kitchen at its Orléans location. As many business owners slowly emerge from the pandemic, the powerhouse planner felt it was time for women to meet again in a manner that was safe and that followed COVID-19 regulations.
Landry kept the mood fun and breezy, giving prizes away throughout the event that had been donated by local businesswomen. She joined forces with OCCO co-owner Caroline Côté and well-known entrepreneur Catherine Priestman, president of CP Business Solutions. Her company is also in the city’s east end.
“I’m a raging extrovert, so this is fabulous for me,” said Priestman, whose expertise is in helping companies elevate their corporate image through marketing and branding.
Attendees included award-winning entrepreneur Terri Storey, CEO of OneHealth and a leader in the field of mental health, while helping out behind the scenes was Darpan Ahluwalia, owner of Manotick Natural Market.
The luncheon included a fundraising component for Tungasuvvingat Inuit (TI), an Ottawa-based community organization for Inuit in Ontario, offering support in food and housing, employment, cultural education, counselling and healing, family well-being, and children and youth. It was represented by executive director Amanda Kilabuk and by Rhonda Huneault, manager of the food security program. "COVID highlighted the need for food security for our Inuit families in Ontario," said Kilabuk, who said they were able to use gift cards to keep up with increased demands from all areas of the province.
Priestman chose the beneficiary based on her love of Northern Canada. She lived in Yellowknife during her high school years and does business in Nunavut.
“I have a real connection to the North, to the people and the land,” she said. “Once you feel it, it’s always with you.”
Canadian North Airlines stepped up to donate the grand prize of a pair of return flights to Iqaluit. The community of women at Ladies Who Lunch, and even supporters who weren’t there, generously bought tickets, raising a total of $3,420.
As the group of 75 women performed a mass drum roll with their fingers on their tables, Shelly De Caria, senior director of sales and community investments at Canadian North Airlines, drew the winning ticket for the flights.
The prize went to Sue Vye, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker Sarazen Realty. Unfortunately, she is in treatment for cancer and was not at the event.
The luncheon was, for many, an attempt to “get back out there” following months of pandemic isolation. For those who were still feeling anxious or uneasy, Priestman provided comfort, reassurance and a solid dose of humour, particularly as she shared some of her own challenges with COVID. “It’s been hard to live with a 15-year-old and 17-year-old and my husband — still my husband — for 18 months. The kids are pretty much nocturnal and borderline feral,” she joked.
She offered the women several tips to consider when marketing their businesses. She suggested they keep their information simple, and to be kind and sensitive.
“Instead of saying ‘No more than three people in the store’, say ‘We are pleased to welcome three people at a time’,” suggested Priestman. “It is the same message; it’s just received very differently, and it makes your location and the vibe of your company just so much more positive.”
As well, she said it’s important to remember and celebrate one’s team. “Wherever you are in your business right now, you probably didn’t do it by yourself. It takes a team, even if you’re a sole entrepreneur, even if you are a very, very small business, somebody helped you get to where you are today. It’s because of them as much as it is about your hustle.”
Suzanne Cyr, president of Cyrious Connections, has regularly supported the Ladies Who Lunch events over the years because of the networking opportunities.
“You never know who you’re going to meet,” she told OBJ.social. “We always have a tendency to stay in our own circle but Ladies Who Lunch has given us an opportunity to meet so many other people, and to help one another as women.”
The owners of OCCO Kitchen & Bar are in the process of opening a new restaurant, Plate Gastropub at 402 Queen St. — not far from their OCCO Kitchen & Bar on Bay Street.
Côté said business has been down at their downtown spot since the start of the pandemic, but that they’re hoping it picks up when employees start returning to the workplace. “We’re really banking on things turning around for 2022 or even later this year,” she said.