A taste for competition

Cyra Belbin MBA'08

‌Featured in Maroon & White magazine, Spring 2014

Ask Cyra Belbin MBA’08 how she came to parlay leftover pasta into more than a quarter of a million dollars in prize money, and the Saint Mary’s MBA grad is surprisingly brief.

“Laziness,” says Belbin. “Sheer laziness.”

The longer version of the story begins one evening when Belbin returned home from her job as a marketing specialist with NSLC. “We had guests coming over and I was just too tired to cook,” she says, “so I looked in the fridge and spotted some leftovers.”

Summoning the creative cookery skills she normally reserves for fancy cupcakes, Belbin whipped up a batch of hors d’oeuvres by breading and frying balls of cold macaroni and cheese. “They had a crazy, mutant look,” she recalls, “but everyone loved them, so over time, I experimented with shape and size, and played around until I perfected the cheese mixture.”

The next step was snagging a spot on CBC’s Recipe to Riches, a six-episode, realty TV series that pits amateur home cooks against each other in five different food categories. As the winner of the savoury snacks competition, Belbin earned $25,000, product development for her Mexi Mac ’n’ Cheese Bites under the President’s Choice brand, and a shot at the finals.

A passionate ultimate Frisbee athlete, Belbin understands the importance of focus and follow through. “I’m very competitive,” admits the 31-year old. “Growing up in Saint Johns, Newfoundland, I was a figure skater. Then in high school, and during my undergrad years at Memorial, I competed nationally in track and field.

Belbin approached the final round of Recipe to Riches with the energy and determination that characterized her preparation for track and field events at the Canada Games in 2001. Her adversaries, in this case, were Jesse Meredith's Mini Raspberry Cheesecake Chocolate Cups, Winslow Taylor's Jammin' Jamaican Lobster Bisque, Alcide Desveaux's Grandpa's Acadian Meat Pie and Elisa Hendrick's Italian Lollipops.

“My MBA course work taught me to be strategic and organized,” she says. “I got things under control by preparing a communications plan and a social media calendar, so I was actually able to relax and enjoy the events leading up to the grand finale.”

Canadians voted online for their favourites, and the final episode in the series aired on April 2, 2014. In a triumph of what she describes as communications and marketing, Cyra emerged the winner, wading across the stage through scattered sequins to accept a cheque for $250,000. “As a student in the Sobey School of Business, I made connections that helped me get my job with NSLC four months before graduation,” says Belbin. “At the time, I thought I couldn’t get any luckier.”

Turns out she was wrong, but with $250,00 in prize money and her Mexi Mac ’n’ Cheese Bites on the shelves at Atlantic Superstores, SaveEasy outlets, and select Loblaws stores in Canada, the Saint Mary’s alumna isn’t complaining.

“If my product achieves Blockbuster status, I’ll do a bacon version as a brand extension,” says Belbin. “To some extent, I believe that you make your own luck, so I’ll just keep putting myself out there and we’ll see what comes next.”