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Cactus Club Cafe CEO Richard Jaffray was honoured at the BCBusiness magazine Top 100 event in Vancouver yesterday (CEO.CA photo).

Cactus Club Cafe founder and CEO Richard Jaffray shared his entrepreneurial journey with over 1000 interested Vancouver-area businesspeople yesterday.

Mr. Jaffray participated in an hourlong live interview with BCBusiness magazine founder Peter Legge at the Hotel Vancouver for the annual BCBusiness Top 100 event.

Jaffray says the best decision of his life was to become an entrepreneur. He began as a lemonade stand proprietor and was always wheeling and dealing as a kid. His big epiphany came as a result of a for-profit party he organized during university that paid for a month-long surfing trip in Hawaii. Not long after, Jaffray had the instinct to move to Vancouver to start a business, and dropped out of the University of Calgary at age 19 to do so. In his first few months in Vancouver, Jaffray lived in his car, an old Dodge Dart, and told the audience he even had a roommate! After a few months, he took up residence in a sailboat so he could build up some capital to start a business.

Jaffray opened his first restaurant, Cafe Cucamonga, at age 23. He would park his convertible out front and leave a palm tree in the back. People driving by just had to look.

The Cactus Club Cafe chain soon followed, and over nearly 30 years Jaffray built the most iconic restaurant chain in Western Canada with 27 locations. But it wasn’t always easy for him. The company almost went belly up in the mid-90’s after opening four restaurants in Calgary. For several months, Jaffray had to borrow money to meet payroll. He was forced to close three of the four Calgary locations.

“There’s an eerie calm when you hit bottom,” Jaffray said, “I knew I would fight back.”

The step-back enabled Jaffray to refine Cactus Club and prepared the company to capitalize on a massive opportunity over a decade later. In 2008, Jaffray hired celebrity chef Rob Feenie, a move he called his second best entrepreneurial decision. Mr. Feenie upped the level of Cactus Club’s culinary game, and helped get media attention. The same year, Jaffray made a big bet on building a new location at Bentall in Downtown Vancouver, which was at the time one of the most expensive restaurant builds in Canadian history. Bentall was a massive success, followed soon after by stunning locations at English Bay and the Vancouver Convention Centre. Cactus Club’s three flagship restaurants in Vancouver are easily the city’s most picturesque– and consistently high quality casual fine dining restaurant experiences.

In the Q&A, we learned a few of Mr. Jaffray’s business principles:

“Don’t rush into anything, take the time you have to make good business decisions.”

“Never tell people what you’re thinking, hear other people’s thoughts first.”

“You will fail more than you succeed. The key is no knockout-blows.”

“If you can get me to say I will do something… I’ll always try to finish what I do regardless of the circumstance. My word is very important to me.”

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything,” Jaffray said. “It’s all about integrity all the way through… Do it right or not at all.”

“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”

“Hire motivated, excited people.”

Jaffray said billionaire investor Jim Pattison’s book gave him important business lessons, and Mr. Pattison recorded a video message for the event congratulating Jaffray. Jaffray also credited businessman Frank Giustra as a friend and mentor and the epitomizer of the “do it right or not at all” mentality.

BCBusiness founder Peter Legge asked Jaffray to define success, to which he responded, “Success is a line up at the door. Demand is exceeding supply. Surfing. Catching the biggest wave of the day.”

“Life’s a journey on a sailboat not a speed boat.”

Congratulations to Mr. Jaffray for the honor and BCBusiness magazine on another outstanding event.

Toronto readers, Cactus Club’s 100 King St. West location is opening “soonish.” Make sure you check it out.

Read more: Inside Cactus Club: founder Richard Jaffray has big plans