Every year, French Café owner Grace Agostinho, 52, creates a goal that she hopes will lead to happiness, almost akin to a new year’s resolution. Her goal in 2016 was to defeat the cancer that she was diagnosed with in 2014 – she completed her fourth and final treatment last September. This year, she has a different goal in mind: retirement.
Agostinho is leaving the Manotick-based café she has operated for a decade to follow some of her dreams, including writing and travelling. “I want to take three to six months to relive my childhood,” she says, hoping to include Portugal in her travels.
She has a positive outlook on post-café life, and she has used same positivity she’s used to run her business.
“There’s no judgement here,” Agostinho says of the café’s openness. Agostinho has always wanted French Café to be
somewhere that people can go to “as they are,” with “good news or bad news” – essentially, a relaxing and welcoming café. She’s tried to create the same experience for
her employees. Agostinho has what she calls a dream list, on which employees can ask for any time off they may need.
Agostinho’s positivity is sustained even after hardships, like her cancer diagnosis from three years ago.
“Life is always perfect,” she says. “You just have to make the best out of every situation.” Agostinho continued to run French Café, but would often have to balance running the café with paperwork and hospital visits relating to her diagnosis. She was concerned that cancer would bring more pressure to her kids and staff. But Agostinho, a “spiritual person,” not only kept herself motivated, but would often motivate others.
“When I was staying in the hospital, nurses would visit my room just for my humour,” she says.
Before opening the café in 2007, Agostinho had an interest in acting, as it was a way to display her creativity. Her customer base mostly comprises of Manotick villagers, but people from all over Ottawa – “from Orleans to Kanata,” she says – pay her café a visit. The café is no different from a stage, in that she can display her creativity to an audience.
“People eat with their eyes,” she says, explaining why all her baked items are decorated. She’s also gone her own way in terms of menu items, pointing out that she chooses to sell items like a spinach fruit salad and a soup puree made from fresh herbs over a more predictable lineup of sandwiches and baked goods.
Creativity has always been important to the French Café business model.
“There’s a difference between being a visionary, and just being ambitious,” she explains.
Agostinho describes the latter as a trait of someone who aims to do more of what already exists, while a visionary wants to be different and new. Agostinho says she’s managed to be a visionary in her own right. French Café had Wi-Fi before it was the norm for establishments like it to, and the café’s menu always kept things interesting.
Agostinho says she has “no regrets” about the choices she’s made, both in and outside of French Café. As she puts it, running the café was a chapter of a book, and now, it’s time to start a new chapter.