Does it always take a big break to turn an idea into full-fledged entrepreneurial venture? I don’t know, but without a doubt it’s what happened to Ted Manziaris and me back in 1991 when our recycling and garbage collection business consisted of two guys and a beat-up K-Car.
In those days we both had full-time jobs in other industries but we used to hand out our Turtle Island business cards in Toronto during the day and collect scrap or trash at night. One Friday morning we dropped off our card with a guy named Bernie Fournier who was in charge of janitorial services at Maple Leaf Gardens. That night we got a phone call from him at around 11 p.m. Bernie said, “Look, I’ve got a problem. Do you guys have any trucks on the road?” I told him absolutely, and we’d be there in an hour.
The first obstacle was Ted had the car because he was on a date with his girlfriend (now his wife). These were the days when a pager was considered leading edge. I paged Ted and he put his girlfriend on the bus and came to pick me up. He was in downtown Toronto and I lived way out in Scarborough (a Toronto suburb).
Bernie told us Maple Leaf Gardens was full of trash and there was no one to clean it up. They couldn’t use the incinerator because the Environment Minister had banned incineration. The next day the facility was hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most important charity event: the Bobby Orr Skate-A-Thon.
The Gardens had hosted a Jehovah’s Witnesses event and all the concessions had been closed because they didn’t expect to sell any pop or hot dogs. What they didn’t realize that a majority of the 18,000 people who came to the event brought food in plastic or paper lunch bags and pop in cans. At the end of the concert the building was a complete mess.
Bernie didn’t have a clean-up crew because he didn’t think he would need one, and the garbage company they were using, Laidlaw, wouldn’t pick up the phones because it was a Friday night. We looked around the place and told them “Go home. We’ll take care of it.”
Ted and I scoured the local streets, rounded up some homeless guys and spent the entire night cleaning up the Gardens. We grabbed bag after bag, can after can, and crammed all the garbage into the back of our K- Car and shuttled load after load to the dump. Then we swept the entire Gardens.
Just as Bernie came in at seven on Saturday morning we finished the mopping and the place was spotless. We were totally spent. Meanwhile, the car was soaking wet and it looked and smelled disgusting. We thanked Bernie for the opportunity and took off to recover…..