Cutting board with vegetables. Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash.
Feature Story/Profile

Nicole Tufts knows her strengths and it’s good business

By Jen Schwetje

Nov. 24, 2017

Self-awareness is the key to success, according to Nicole Tufts. The co-owner of Riot Snack Bar and the recently opened Vandal Donuts overcame illness, discovered her strengths and created a career she is passionate about.

Before becoming a successful restaurateur, Tufts spent six years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a sonar operator. “I worked with sound and frequencies, detecting submarines, firing torpedoes. All kinds of unfriendly stuff that I’m not super pleased about having done so I decided to get out. Learned a lot, though,” she says.

The Armed Forces may seem like an unusual choice for a self-proclaimed “hippie” like Tufts, but she had her reasons. She felt unfulfilled working as a chef and was struggling with ongoing health issues. It took doctors three years to discover a 20-pound tumour in her stomach. Once she finally had it removed, she was ready for a change.

“I wanted to do something physical because I hadn’t been able to use my body in three years and I wanted to push it to the limit,” says Tufts.

Though she morally disagreed with some of her duties in the Armed Forces, Tufts appreciates what the time in the service did for her.

“Before the Armed Forces I was not self-aware, not aware of my strengths. In high school my guidance counsellor legitimately told me because I was strong in arts and horrible at everything else that I probably wasn’t going to make much of myself. When I got into the Forces people started saying, ‘Hey, you’re really good at something,’ ” she says.

After the Forces, Tufts decided to work for herself. Around the same time, she met her partner, Sonia Gilles du Mota, who had recently lost her job and was in the process of redefining her career. They decided to join forces and open a restaurant.

“Sonia was in Portugal, there was a phone call, I said, ‘Hey I have this restaurant idea,’ Sonia’s like, ‘maybe,’ and she came back from Portugal and literally two weeks later we had a business plan. Three weeks after that we had signed a freaking lease for the restaurant. And that’s Riot,” says Tufts.

When they found out about the space in Gus’s pub becoming available, Vandal Donuts came together in a snap. “We had an idea in our back pocket for a donut shop. It was really fun and almost effortless. We got together the business plan, financing and staff in under a month.”

Servers Meg Spindler and Jessy Kafka say they love their new jobs at Vandal.

“I’m super stoked to be working for her, she’s super down to earth and really stoked about running a fun place,” Spindler says.

“She is very inclusive with all her team. She cares very much about all of us,” says Kafka.

Tufts stresses the importance of knowing yourself to anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur: “Self awareness is the thing you 100 per cent need to learn. Self-awareness, gratitude and really enjoying the process.”

Nicole Tufts at Vandal Donuts’ former location in Gus’s Pub on Agricola Street.

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