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Alumni Profiles

A ‘Smashers’ success: RRC grad turns dying demolition business into multi-million-dollar enterprise

February 15, 2018

David WilliamsSavvy salesman David Williams knows profit potential when he sees it.

And yet, when you ask him how he managed to turn a dying demolition business into a multi-million-dollar company, he modestly credits his teachers at Red River College — even though he graduated 15 years ago.

“I’ll never forget our marketing instructor,” says Williams, a 2002 graduate of RRC’s Commerce Industry Sales and Marketing program. “He was always discussing how diversification is the wave of the future because of the different economic challenges, and [that we should] try to have different types of business revenues.”

That seemingly small pointer became the secret to Williams’ success.

Five years ago — after working as a top-level sales executive at several companies and trying his luck launching a cellphone app — Williams turned to the trades, and started working with a duct cleaning company. His co-worker’s dad had a demolition company that was going out of business, so they took care of his remaining jobs.

Within a week, Williams realized it would be far more profitable to give up the dust bunny battle and pursue demolition full-time. That’s when he realized his dream of business ownership, and founded Smashers Demolition.

As anyone who’s ever watched HGTV would know, tear-down projects often lead to safety hazards — notably mold and, in older buildings, asbestos. Given that reality — and the tip from his RRC marketing instructor — Williams diversified his company by hiring asbestos and mold experts.

Now Smashers Demolition is, he says, “the No. 1 choice out there for asbestos remediation.”

“We recognized early on that safety is a huge deal in this field, and there were virtually no companies that were COR (certificate of recognition) certified in safety and asbestos,” Williams says. “We became COR certified in 2015 … That was a pivotal point. I’m pretty sure we doubled our sales when we got COR certified.” Read More →

Haute properties: Chef brings new life to iconic locations

January 19, 2018

Local foodies can thank the humble hot dog for leading Chef Norman Pastorin to a career in haute cuisine.

The 2002 Culinary Arts grad is head chef and co-owner of two top eateries in iconic Winnipeg locations: The Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant at the former Papa George’s site in Osborne Village, and The Grove Pub & Restaurant, once home to Tubby’s Pizza on Stafford Street.

But Pastorin was on a different career path when he found his calling in 1999, while in the Philippines working for an uncle’s marketing firm.

“One of our accounts was this food company, and their biggest seller was hot dogs,” he explains.

The company had its own food lab and hired students from the Centre for Culinary Arts of Manila to come up with new ways to present hot dogs to home cooks.

“I made a few trips to the food lab and was hanging out with the culinary students and I found that to be more interesting than what I was doing. I was like, ‘Wow, I think I want to give this a shot,’ and I just dropped everything and moved back to Winnipeg. I had a house here, and decided just to take a chance and enrolled in Culinary Arts,” he says.

“It was the best thing I ever decided to do. It just changed my life for the better.”

A University of Manitoba Bachelor of Commerce (honours) grad, Pastorin says he was late to the culinary table, but he kicked off his career on a fast track, working under acclaimed Chef Takashi Murakami at St. Charles Golf & Country Club. (Who was RRC’s Honorary Diploma recipient in 2011.)

“I did both of my co-ops there just because I was really growing at an accelerated rate, which was what I wanted because I believe I was 26 when I enrolled in Culinary Arts and all my peers and colleagues were like 18, 19, 20, so I really felt I needed to get a really good start.” Read More →

The more, the merrier: Culinary grad pens cookbook with tips for feeding crowds

November 24, 2017

Sharon Steward’s cooking is a real crowd-pleaser — and her new cookbook is sure to be, too.

A Continuing Education instructor at Red River College, Steward is busy prepping for the launch of Volume: Cooking for a Community on Sat., Dec. 2, at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

The book is inspired by Steward’s role as the kitchen manager and head chef at InterVarsity Pioneer Camp Manitoba, a Christian summer camp located on MacKinnon Island at the north end of Shoal Lake.

During camp season, Steward and her staff are responsible for serving three meals a day (plus snacks) to anywhere from 180 to 200 people at a time. Suffice it to say, she knows how to cook for a crowd.

Book cover: Volume – Cooking for a Community“Each recipe in the book has an amount for four to six people, and then also for about 80 servings,” Steward explains. “It’s a very exciting tool — one I’m hoping a lot of other places, facilities and individuals can use to help them serve their communities.

“(Given) the types of food service people do, people cooking in their community centre or their monthly church meetings or in athletic groups, this book has huge potential and there really isn’t a current resource like it.”

Steward graduated from RRC’s Culinary Arts program in 2002. Prior to enrolling, she worked at the Wildgrass Café on Pembina Highway and Bread & Circuses Bakery Café off Corydon Avenue.

She first became interested in cooking as a young child, growing up on a grain farm between the towns of Oak Bluff and Sanford, Man.

“Cooking and baking from scratch was a very natural and common part of our everyday life,” Steward says. “I have many memories of my mom and I packing up meals and taking them out to the field. We’d take a table and chairs out, and set up a full picnic on the back of the pickup truck.” Read More →

Appetite for construction: Carpentry and Business grad builds on industry success

October 24, 2017

Diego Vassallo got an early start on the fast-track to success.

Vassallo, the owner of KDR Homes and KDR Design Builders (Commercial) Inc., first got a taste for hands-on work as a child, learning to use miniature versions of tools set up alongside his dad’s workbench.

By the time he graduated from high school, he already had about five years of woodworking classes under his tool belt, so it was a natural choice to go directly from Maples Collegiate to Red River College. At 18, Vassallo was the youngest student in his pre-employment trades program, but he was already so advanced, he successfully challenged his first-year apprenticeship as a carpenter.

“From that point on I accelerated through the industry … I was lucky, I excelled,” he recalls.

The 46-year-old entrepreneur is still operating in high gear. The businesses he runs with his wife of 24 years, Domenica Vassallo, tackle everything from residential and commercial renovations to $1-million homes and high-profile projects including the City of Winnipeg’s new Transportation Management Centre, the St. Vital Park Pavilion, Grant Park’s MLCC and Osborne Village tapas hotspot Segovia. Read More →

Business Administration grad maintains client connections while pursuing Olympic gold

October 17, 2017

Raunora Westcott’s employers allow her to balance her business career with her side gig as a competitive curler. It’s a privilege she doesn’t take for granite.

As an account manager at National Leasing, Westcott spends her days helping clients meet their commercial, agricultural and medical equipment needs. But during her off-hours, she can often be found sweeping and sliding her way down a sheet of ice as the lead on a rink skipped by Michelle Englot.

Team Englot will curl in the 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings (Dec. 2 to 10 in Ottawa), where they’ll compete for the right to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeonchang, South Korea.

Westcott, who works from a home office, says National Leasing gives her the flexibility she needs to focus on her pursuit of Olympic gold.

“National Leasing has been really good to me,” she says. “They make sure that their employees are feeling balanced in their lives, and health and wellness is important to them.”

“They’ve always been supportive of employees and the sports they play and the activities they do, but once my team and I hit a national level where we started playing on the world tour more often, they really got behind me. They even sponsor our team.”

Westcott graduated from Red River College’s Business Administration program in 1998, and joined National Leasing that same year as a lease administrator. She says the practical and cooperative nature of the program prepared her for her eventual role at the company.

“As much as the group work was a bit of a grind — and there was a lot of group work — looking back I think that was the best experience of the whole program,” Westcott says of her time at RRC. “It prepares you for real-life experiences in sales, and in work in general. We’re negotiating all the time, we’re working with others, so I feel like that was a cornerstone of my success.” Read More →

Home is where the art is: Graphic Design grad launches clothing line celebrating provincial pride

October 12, 2017

Thinking local isn’t just Kyle Doucette’s passion — it’s his job.

As the founder of Friendly Manitoba Clothing, Doucette pays homage to the prairie lifestyle by designing and selling T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with staples like the province’s prairie crocus, as well as his company’s namesake phrase.

Customers from Manitoba and beyond have responded well to the quirky streetwear line since it launched last spring — and Doucette couldn’t be happier about keeping his growing business right where it started.

“I like the idea of keeping things small,” says Doucette, a 2011 graduate of Red River College’s Graphic Design program. “I don’t have any hopes of grandeur. I don’t want to go into big box stores or anything like that.”

In fact, Doucette didn’t see himself having a storefront at all, until he was given an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. In the summer, another local business owner approached him with his first big break: A rent-free space on the second floor of The Forks Market for three months, as part of the Downtown BIZ’s Launch It initiative. Doucette leapt at the chance to build his clientele and network with other local retailers, while enjoying program perks like free Wi-Fi, signage and workshops.

“There’s a constant place where I can interact with customers,” he says of the storefront, which he’ll occupy until November. “It’s a lot more convenient than just doing things online.”

Of course there are the typical challenges that come with running a new business, especially one that’s a “one-man show”, as Doucette calls it. But he credits the training he received at RRC for giving him the tools he needed to have confidence in himself and his line.

“I’m grateful for the education I received there,” says Doucette, who admits to applying to the program with very little knowledge of graphic design. “At the time I don’t think I understood what I was learning but everything I was taught there applies to what I do now.” Read More →

A legacy of caring: New scholarship launched in memory of local activist

September 20, 2017

“I realize that alone, I will never stop poverty, hunger, war, etc., but by doing whatever I can to help those in need, I can set into motion a chain of events that could in fact make those kind of differences.”

— Richard (Asher) Webb

During his lifetime, Richard (Asher) Webb exemplified the philosophy that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

A 1986 Computer Programming graduate who’d returned to Red River College to study Business Administration when he died at the age of 49 in 2009, Webb devoted his time, talent and irresistible enthusiasm to helping others, driving social and political change, promoting the arts and nurturing a universal sense of community.

“He was very outgoing — he was very social minded,” says brother Ken Webb, RRC’s former vice-president of Academic and Research. “He was a servant leader and a great organizer and a lot of his passion was around organizing groups and activities to make the world a better place.”

His family established the $750 Richard (Asher) Webb Social Justice Activist Memorial Award to honour and extend a legacy of kindness and caring, recognizing RRC students who inspire others through efforts to further “equity, inclusion and social justice through community engagement.”

Patrick Webb, who lives in Edmonton, says he’s proud of his late brother’s accomplishments on a great many fronts. A lifelong champion of the underdog, he didn’t just talk about equality and social justice issues, he did something about them, and he convinced others to join him.

“He wasn’t an armchair quarterback and a critic,” says Patrick. “He lived by his values and led by example and tried to get other people to do the same thing.”

When he lived in Vancouver in the early 1980s, Webb organized the city’s first hospice for HIV/AIDS patients, at a time when they were frequent victims of fear and misinformation.

“He gave his all to care for the terminally ill, many of them in hospice or hospitalized,” says his sister Linda Dyck, from Vancouver. “He helped ease many during the most difficult times of their lives. He cared for and provided emotional support for both the ill and their families, often to the very end.” Read More →

Triumphing over tragedy: Early Childhood Education grad draws spiritual support from late husband

September 8, 2017

It’s never too late to follow your dreams. And if you think that’s just a silly cliché, you really ought to meet Olga Rusnak.

If you had asked Rusnak 10 years ago if she thought she’d ever graduate from Red River College and land her current job as a daycare provider at the Makoonsag Intergenerational Children’s Centre, she would have answered with a definitive ‘no.’

“I’ve always wanted to work with children, but I didn’t have the education for that,” says Rusnak, 56, who recently proved dreams can be realized at any age.

The second-oldest of six children, Rusnak came from a poor family, and dropped out of school in Grade 9 to help her mother care for her siblings. She worked in retail for many years to provide financial support for her family — and she’s proud to say four of her siblings went on to graduate from high school.

But once she reached her late forties, Rusnak herself felt stuck.

“As you get older, you think, ‘I wish I had my education.’ I used to think, ‘If I could only have this job …’, but you need an education. You can’t get anywhere without an education.”

Rusnak told her husband, Daryl (John) Rusnak, how badly she wanted an education so she could fulfill her dreams of working with children. He offered nothing but support.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t. I’m too old, and I’m afraid.’”

Thankfully, John’s persistence paid off, and Rusnak eventually went to Urban Circle Training Centre Inc., which provides culturally appropriate education and training to Indigenous women and men in Winnipeg. There, she received the support she needed to graduate from the Centre’s high school equivalency program in 2009. Read More →

Back to nature: Business Administration grad launches handcrafted hair-care line

September 8, 2017

Tania Czemerynski’s bad hair days are behind her — and she wants to tame your mane, too.

Czemerynski is the founder of Cze by Tania, a Winnipeg business that specializes in all-natural hair and beard care products for women and men. Czemerynski launched Cze (pronounced ‘Chay’) in the fall of 2015, but the roots of her hair care business go back a little further.

“I started (making hair care products) because my hair was super dried out — it was broken and brittle. I didn’t do it with the intention of starting a business,” Czemerynski says.

“I started making my own home remedies sometime in 2013. I started to research different oils and things to make my hair grow out, because my hair was broken — it wasn’t growing. My boyfriend was like, ‘Your hair feels like a mop.’ I had spent so much money on store-bought products, so I started to make my own and it was really noticeably different within six weeks.”

A 2012 graduate of Red River College’s Business Administration program, Czemerynski went on to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Manitoba two years later.

She had entrepreneurial ambitions, but initially Czemerynski was only sharing her home hair remedy with family and friends. It wasn’t until co-workers (at her former serving job) asked to try her “magic hair oil” that Czemerynski realized she had a potentially profitable product on her hands — and her head. Read More →

Culinary grad relishes a challenge

August 23, 2017

No shirt, no pants — no problem, at Thermëa by Nordic Spa’s restaurant.

Guests can dress for lunch or dinner, but if they’d rather unwind in a fluffy bathrobe and spa slippers, that’s OK with Chef Thomas Stuart.

The 2005 graduate of Red River College’s Culinary Arts program is all about making patrons feel relaxed and comfortable, and he’s happy to massage his Scandinavian-inspired menu to satisfy eclectic appetites at the upscale eatery, whether guests are in the mood for gourmet S’mores, a vegan salad or beer-braised lamb shanks.

“Being a food service for a spa has been kind of an eye opener for me because we have people with every different expectations coming to the spa and coming to the restaurant,” he says.

“I’ll have people who just want a burger and French fries and then I’ll have another group that’s sitting at the table beside them that want a four-course table d’hôte fine dining experience, so that’s been my main challenge.”

But it’s been a fun challenge for the adventurous chef.

Stuart, 34, has been rattling pots and pans since Thermëa opened three years ago. In fact, he was hired a year before the spa’s delayed debut, so he traded his chef’s toque for a hard hat and steel-toed boots and pitched in, moving lumber, painting fences and doing other odd jobs. While the kitchen had already been designed, he got to outfit it with small appliances, whisks, spoons and other wares, and he created the menu from scratch.

He picked a good time to join the Scandinavian food movement. Restaurant Magazine has named Copenhagen’s Noma the world’s top restaurant in four of the last seven years, sparking a new global culinary wave.

“Now you can go to a bookstore and find a whole section of Scandinavian cookbooks, which is something that 10 years ago you wouldn’t have been able to do,” Stuart says. “So it’s kind of a fun time to be able to do that and get inspired by a growing trend and contribute to it.” Read More →