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2024 Cornerstone Citizenship Award - Patti MacDougall Belleville Chamber of Commerce - 160th President's Dinner Celebration

The CITIZENSHIP award is presented to a Chamber member who has embraced the spirit of the community by their selfless acts and support to causes that improve the lives of Belleville’s citizens.

Patti MacDougall, owner of Papa John’s Restaurants in Belleville, Trenton and multiple other locations, knew from a young age she wanted to sit in the big chair and make the important decisions. She just didn’t know until much later how much she would be able to help people once she got there.

She says it has been a long road – at times a very difficult road – but one well worth travelling.

“I always believed that if you have a vehicle to give to others, it is your responsibility to do so,” Patti says. “I didn’t ever believe you do something to get something back. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.

“But it can be daunting. You read P&G just donated $20,000 to United Way and Kellogg’s gave $10,000 to someone else and you are like ‘What the heck can we do that can really make a difference?’

“But we can all make a difference. You don’t have to drop $10,000 somewhere to make things easier for someone else.”

Patti, with partners Dave Stewart and Ron Neal, opened Papa John’s Belleville in 2008. But Patti got her first taste of ‘the big chair’ when she was 12 years old and visiting her father at work where he ran the local cable company in Thunder Bay.

She recalls there were people knocking at the door asking for her father, and phones ringing for him and people popping in asking “Mr. Friesen can I talk to you for a minute?

“Dad got up from his desk and I went and sat in his chair,” she says. “And I remember thinking, in that moment, that is exactly who I want to be someday. It was one of those defining moments of life, I guess.”

It would take Patti a few years and many kilometres before she would get there though.

The first stop was Sarnia where she eventually met Mike MacDougall, who would become her husband for 42 years. They met in 1975, were married two years later and started a family five years after that.  Alan arrived in 1982, followed by Katie in 1985 and Tim in 1986.  In 1993, the family moved to Wooler. Patti got a job doing floral design at Marvin’s Flowers part time.

“Always in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to go into business but I didn’t know the path,” she says. “I didn’t know how I was going to get there.”

Fate intervened as one of the customers at Marvin’s was “Mickey D,” otherwise known as Dave Stewart, owner of the Belleville McDonalds Restaurant. Stewart, a customer at Marvin’s, walked into the store just a week after Patti and her family had been at the restaurant.

“The kids loved it because they had a playland,” Patti recalls. “The one in Sarnia didn’t have a playland so they thought they had struck paydirt.

“I told Dave that story and then unbeknownst to me he phoned Joyce (Patti’s manager at Marvin’s) and said, ‘If that young lady ever leaves will you please let me know. I have a position for her at McDonald’s.’”

As it turned out Stewart didn’t have to wait for Patti to leave. McDonalds was expanding into WalMart and Stewart asked the “young lady” if she would be interested in “joining his team.”

“I was like, ‘Joining your team? To do what?’” Patti says. “He said, ‘To manage.’ I said, ‘Dave I’m a floral designer. I know nothing about managing.’ He said, ‘We have a great training program.’

“So I went home and I said to Mike, ‘He wants me to go into management.’ And Mike said, ‘You always wanted to get into management and business.’ And I thought, yeah but I didn’t really think McDonald’s was the route.”

It turned out it was exactly the route. Patti started with McDonald’s in June of 1994 and spent nine years in Belleville and one year in Trenton.

Stewart retired in 2000 and, in Patti’s words, “hated it.” Which led to a lunch in 2006 with Stewart and Ron Neal where Stewart suggested joining forces yet again.

Patti remembers Stewart didn’t have a particular venture in mind, but he wanted Patti and Ron as partners. He would be the main money guy to start then Patti and Ron could buy him out.

 “I went home and told Mike what he wanted and we scrapped together – literally – the $50,000 so I could invest,” she says. “And then I went out looking.”

That search eventually led to Papa John’s.

It took two years from that first lunch to opening the doors at the first Papa John’s in Ontario, the Belleville store, in 2008. The store did a grand opening in September 2008 and with a commitment to open nine more stores in the coming years, everything was moving ahead beautifully from a business perspective.

Until early in 2009, when Patti’s oldest son Alan was killed in a tragic accident.

“I did not know what way was up,” Patti remembers. “I couldn’t even think about building another store, let alone nine.

“Sitting around the house I thought I was going to lose my mind, so I thought it was better if I tried to go back to work. I looked at my kids who went back to work a week after losing their brother and said ‘OK I can do that too.’

“We were surrounded by so much support from our family, but also by the people who worked for us. One woman, Jen, three or four nights a week she brought dinner to the store and sent us home with dinner.”

The kindnesses were essential as life moved on. There was already a signed lease for a Trenton store that had to be opened, as it turned out in February 2010, a year after losing Alan.

“I don’t even remember the store opening in Trenton,” Patti says. “I know we opened the store, did all the training… we still have some of the same people who were there when we opened the store. Somehow we got through it.”

Part of the path for getting through it was a meeting in 2009 with Brenda Snider, executive director of Volunteer Information Quinte.

Patti says her meeting with Brenda opened her eyes to the need in the community and the fact that little acts of kindness can have larger and far reaching consequences.

“I was so lost,” she says. “What can I do? How can I help so somehow there is some kind of glimmer of hope or help or something in me. So for me it was a profound moment after losing Al.

“I always taught staff to have pride of ownership. You are feeding people. Food brings people together… Pizza brings people together. It’s a feel good thing. So for me it was, how can we amplify that? What can we do?”

The answer started with the Community Development Council’s Good Backpack Program, which provides a backpack full of school supplies to low income families and families in need.

Patti’s son Tim also started a hockey game in Alan’s memory every year which raised money to help fund similar programs.

The Good Backpack Program led Patti to The Learning Foundation and its Food for Learning Program. Once she sat on the board of directors for The Learning Foundation, she says, she gained a new perspective about the level of need out there.

“Once you get into it, you see the need, the need, the need,” Patti says. “I was like, my head exploded with the need. And then helping with that became so well received it was like, ‘Wow.’

“That was a real stepping stone for me. Once I got into doing things and understanding the need, I just felt it was the right thing to do.”

As the outreach was growing so was the business.  They opened their Kingston stores in 2012 and 2013 and a store in Peterborough in 2015.  They bought two stores in London and one in Brantford and in 2017 opened their final store in Cobourg.

With that growth came more opportunities to reach out and more opportunities to be part of more communities.

Among other things, Papa John’s supported the Rick Meagher Charity Classic Golf Tournament which raised money for local children. Patti also got involved in 100 Women Who Care and today, among other efforts Papa John’s provides hot lunches to 20 area schools – 11 in Belleville and nine in Trenton.

The restaurants also sell packages in which money can be donated to area schools and provide a family dinner to a “star student” submitted by schools recognizing a student for being kind or for helping others.

“I love being in the schools and I love seeing the kids, knowing they love when we bring them pizza,” Patti says. “One little girl told me, ‘Papa John’s day is my favourite day of the week.’

“The kids make my day. I am really humbled and really proud of what we have done. You know you are making a difference in the places that need differences.”

Patti stresses that not everyone is capable of making large donations or making a big difference by themselves. But many people working together, she says, can change the world.

“I firmly believe that each one of us doing a tiny bit can get us back on track,” she says. “Because we all are human and we all need that connection and we all want goodness.

“When I was that 12-year-old girl at my dad’s desk, I knew where I wanted to go and I knew who I wanted to be but I had no vision of how I was ever going to get there.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of tears, but I tell you every single day I walk into that Belleville store and I say to myself, ‘I can’t believe this is mine.’ And when I look back over everything, I am so proud of what we have done here.”

 

 

 

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NRG Alternatives - 10% Discount
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Papa Johns Pizza Member Offer- 25% off
Jesan Property Maintenance - SAVE 10%
Be Prepared First Aid Traning - 15% off
Esso Chamber
Parsons Cleaners Member offer - 10% OFF
Be Prepared First Aid Traning - 15% off
Papa Johns Pizza Member Offer- 25% off
Allen Insurance - Exclusive Chamber Member Rates
NRG Alternatives - 10% Discount
Body Systems Nutrition - 15% OFF purchases.
Cloud Bookkeeping Services - 10% OFF
Dinkle,s Restaurant - 10% OFF
Superior Propane - Save 5% on fixed price propane
Jesan Property Maintenance - SAVE 10%