The Kids Are Alright

With so many 20-somethings still living at home, we explore our kids’ so-called failure to launch. Our findings? They’re doing just fine. Meet 25 members of Toronto’s Generation Y proving the pundits wrong.


The bread winner


Since opening in 2009, Yonge Street café Delica Kitchen has been satisfying cravings across Toronto — all thanks to the dedication of 30-year-old owner (and cookbook author) Devin Connell. Growing up immersed in the food biz (her parents founded Ace Bakery when she was 10), she initially worked in graphic design but couldn’t shake the desire to open her own café. Now the Delica team is gearing up to extend the reach of its authentic, all-natural culinary creations with a second location opening in early 2012.

The game changer


He may only be 20, but Thornhill native Milos Raonic can already scratch one lifelong ambition off his list: playing — and beating — his tennis idol, Pete Sampras, in an exhibition game at the Air Canada Centre last month. Currently ranked the world’s number 31 seed in men’s pro tennis, in addition to being Canada’s highest-ever ranked player, Raonic has quickly become the one to watch. His thoughts on tennis could also easily be his prescription for success: “I know that, when it comes to winning or losing, it’s down to me.”

The silver screen starlet


You might remember this flaxen- haired actress from the first two seasons of Being Erica, but it’s her recent role in David Cronenberg’s Freud-Jung drama, A Dangerous Method, that established 24-year-old Sarah Gadon as a rising star. When she isn’t on movie sets, the North York resident is busy studying film theory through the University of Toronto’s cinema studies program. With upcoming parts in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and a Ken Follett miniseries, she’s moved from small television roles to a promising film career.

The fresh thinker


Matthew Corrin has been helping North Americans get their five to 10 a day since 2005 when he opened the first Freshii location at the TD Centre in Toronto. Now the 30-year-old Summerhill resident has outlets in places as far away as Dubai and Austria, with another 300 locations under development. In addition to acting as founder and CEO, he’s taking on a new role as an investor and mentor to what he calls “rising stars” in business through EpicRise, a program that digitally connects industry leaders with aspiring young minds.

The grape guru


If you tried to walk in the shoes of 24-year-old founder of Stlto wines, Sarah Liberatore, you’d likely struggle to keep up. While living in Richmond Hill and studying commerce at Ryerson, Liberatore attended a trade show, sparking her interest in wine. Next stop? Italy — to create a new wine to compete with other concept brands. Always sticking to her vision (mixing Italy’s hottest exports: wine and fashion), she launched a glam collection that has been pouring into (and out of) LCBO stores to much critical acclaim.

The un-agent


Ben Barry became an entrepreneur when most of us were still learning algebra. He was 14 when he started his alt-agency on the premise that other modelling agencies perpetuate an exclusive notion of beauty that presents a distorted reality of what real women look like. His crowning glory came in 2004 when Dove came knocking on his door looking for diverse-looking models to cast in its Campaign for Real Beauty. Barry, now 28, is an award-winning entrepreneur, an author of two books on beauty, a columnist, one half of the fashion label Vawk and an adjunct professor at Ryerson University.

The mau5 king


DJ and producer Joel Zimmerman has been making tidal waves in the dance world with his progressive electronic music produced under the moniker deadmau5. Ignoring his father’s advice to pursue a more realistic career, he forged ahead, moving to Toronto from Niagara Falls at age 17. Now 30, with three Junos and a Grammy nomination under his belt, Zimmerman is a platinum record-selling artist who headlines festivals and fills massive stadiums with fans wearing makeshift mau5 heads.

The voyeur


Fashionistas worldwide swoon with envy over the success that 26-year- old Erin Kleinberg has achieved in one of the most coveted and difficult-to-crack industries. At just 20, the Richmond Hill native started an eponymous womenswear line, which attracted A-list fans, such as Kim Kardashian and Blake Lively, and sold in high-end stores from Holt Renfrew to Harvey Nichols. But she didn’t stop there. Teaming up with stylist Stephanie Mark and photographer Jake Rosenberg, she created the Coveteur, a wildly popular website that takes readers into the closets of fashion royalty like Rachel Zoe and T.O.’s own glamazon, Suzanne Rogers. Launching less than a year ago, the Coveteur has already collaborated with Elle and Vogue.

The digital artist


Artist Alex McLeod is well known for his fantastical computer-generated landscapes. These surreal digital renderings even won him the attention of Kanye West. A fortuitous mention of the 27-year-old Torontonian in West’s blog two years ago exposed McLeod’s work to a much wider audience than the critics and dealers in the art world, putting him on the pop culture radar. He has since showcased all over the world, including in New Zealand, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro and San Jose.

The hockey mentor


North York native Daniel Bochner has racked up an impressive portfolio both on and off the ice. He played junior hockey until he was 19, followed by three pro seasons in Europe. Then, at 24, he created Universal Hockey, an elite development academy that trains skilled kids to play at a professional level. Already successful in the GTA, Bochner, now 27, has big plans for Universal Hockey, including expansion into Asia and Europe — beginning with its first European Development Camp in Sweden this month.

The barista


At the ripe age of 27, Sam James owns and operates two popular coffee haunts — a far cry from the dishwashing position he held at a downtown restaurant when he first moved to Toronto. After taking it upon himself to learn how to operate its manual espresso machine after hours, James’ coffee career snowballed. Fuelled by his quest for high-quality java and his dislike for working for other people, James, who never went to college, opened his first eponymous coffee house in 2009. His mantra? “Success should be measured by how much joy you get from doing what you do, not how much money you make.”

The coupon king


There are few people who can claim to have had two successful careers before their 30th birthday. Ghassan Halazon, 27, left a lucrative investment banking position to launch Toronto’s in 2009, and the move has paid off, one might say, in dividends. The business, which competes with other deal sites like Groupon, is already one of the fastest growing companies in Canada. Halazon says his drive comes from enjoying his work: “Two years ago I was a disgruntled Wall Street banker making lots of money. But you have to find something you’re excited about to really start winning.”

The yogi


Thornhill resident Debbie Fung, 29, opened her first yoga studio in 2007 after falling in love with the practice when it essentially cured her scoliosis. Since then she has seen her business grow to become Toronto’s largest — and most eco-friendly — independent yoga school. Debbie and her partner Jason Lu go to great lengths to ensure everything in their four studios is sustainable, right down to homemade paraben-free soap in the showers. This attention to detail has made it the go-to school for the city’s A-list: everyone from Argos to CEOs is doing sun salutations at Yoga Tree.

The barrier squash-er


Under the constraints of female oppression, Maria Toor Pakay grew up playing squash with the boys in rural Pakistan. It wasn’t until her early teens that she started to enter tournaments before turning pro at age 17 and becoming Pakistan’s top female player. Eager to receive proper training, she spent two years e-mailing facilities around the world before Canadian legend Jonathon Power answered. In March, Pakay boarded a plane to Toronto and has since been training at Power’s academy in Downsview. Now 21, Pakay has no doubt she will one day hold the world champion ranking but, more importantly, that she will become the first female champion from Pakistan, a title that she feels will break down barriers in her homeland and pave a new path of possibilities.

The note taker


Forest Hill native Julian Brass, 28, is the founder of a one-stop digital community, launched in 2008, that connects spirited young professionals in a cool and sophisticated way, providing tools and information to inspire and empower them to do remarkable things. In three years, it has grown to include more than 75,000 members and attracts 100,000 visitors per month. Recently Brass transferred that energy offline, hosting the sold-out inaugural Awards to recognize young professionals’ achievements (much like his) across Canada.

The enigma


There’s a mysterious buzz around Abel Tesfaye, the 21-year-old voice behind the Weeknd. Unlike many of his peers in the music biz, he avoids the spotlight and lets his music speak for itself, initially releasing free tracks online with no link to his identity. This cryptic approach only increased public and critical interest: in a few months, he garnered thousands of fans and was shortlisted for the Polaris music prize. Decidedly unsigned, Tesfaye is navigating the industry on his own terms and, with sold- out shows and music heavyweights like Drake in his corner, it seems to be working for him.

The developer


Richard Ivey School of Business grad Shane Fenton attended his first groundbreaking when he was just four years old. Now, at 28, he’s being compared to prolific Toronto developers such as Peter Freed. His latest project, Rise, a condo building at Bathurst and St. Clair, is marketed toward young professionals like him, a cohort he believes has been ignored by other midtown developers. His unique vision coupled with hard work (he clocks more than 100 hours a week!) has helped Fenton “rise” above the competitors.

The graffiti artist


Disillusioned by the complacency of institutionalized art, downtown graffiti artist Deadboy was inspired to take his talent to the streets after witnessing the chaos of the G20 protests. His work — particularly his anti-Ford renderings — packs an undeniable political punch and has made him an unlikely local celebrity, despite the fact that no one knows what he looks like (he wears a mask) or his real name. A proponent of street art’s rallying power, the 30- year-old is now working with the city to legalize graffiti. His argument: “It was because cities were created that graffiti started. So if you want to get rid of graffiti you have to get rid of cities.”

The tastemaker


In just two years, Tatiana Read, who turned 30 in September, has established her public relations company, Knot PR, as a force to be reckoned with. Competing with well-established firms that have a stronghold in the industry, she managed to wrangle an enviable mix of high-profile clients, including designer Mark Fast and hot spot Parts & Labour. Read, a Toronto native, credits her determination and drive for her early success. “Your job occupies a huge chunk of your time, and so I want to enjoy what I’m doing.”

The non-profiteer


When North Yorker David Berkal, 23, was frustrated with the selection of international volunteer trips available to him, he created an alternative: Operation Groundswell. His first trip took 11 people to West Africa in 2007. Today he offers more than 20 trips and attracts more than 200 participants annually, helping to raise awareness about poverty overseas and funds for community projects and microcredit financing. Berkal’s aim is to help communities through initiatives that are specific to their region and immediate needs, such as supporting good health in West Africa or local businesses in Haiti.

The triple threat


No list of Toronto’s top talent is complete without a nod to platinum record–selling hip hop artist Drake, a.k.a. Aubrey Graham. At 25, the Forest Hill native is already a triple threat (actor, singer and composer) and has the accolades to prove it: he’s won two Junos, been nominated for Grammys and has collaborated with some of music’s brightest stars, including Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and Rhianna. His recently released second full-length album, Take Care, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 — a place he’s been before, with last year's Thank Me Later.

The tree hugger


Laura Reinsborough, 29, has been building Toronto’s community by sharing its urban abundance. She is the founder and director of Not Far From The Tree, a not-for-profit that puts surplus fruit to good use by picking and sharing the cull. Reinsborough, who attended York University for environmental studies, says her drive comes from the sense of adventure and community she receives from the project as well as the “reconnection with city dwellers to our sources of food and where it comes from.”

The golden boy


Born in Toronto and raised in Oakville, Adam van Koeverden was not a particularly gifted athlete before the age of 13 when he first tried kayaking. But he showed promise right away, worked extremely hard and eventually starting to compete. Since then the 29-year-old has won a slew of gold medals, most notably during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, and is the reigning world champion in the K1 1,000-metre race. He feels that training with other very talented people has helped push him: “I put all of my energy into being the best paddler in the world,” he says.

The star scribe


Upon graduating from Columbia’s journalism program, Patrick White, 30, took on the weekend assignment beat at the New York Post. A year later, he was back in his hometown Toronto, at the Globe and Mail, where he's quickly moved up the ranks to City Hall reporter. Particularly proud of a recent piece he wrote on Nunavut, White says having “a bit of an impact on the world” is what keeps him motivated in a notoriously difficult industry.

The inspirational figure


At just 20 years old, figure skater, and North York resident, Patrick Chan is already one of Canada’s most prominent sports heroes. Since his start at six years old, Chan has worked with some of the best in the figure skating world, including another Canadian champion, Kurt Browning, who helped choreograph some of his most successful programs. Having placed fifth in the men’s event at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Chan clinched his first world championship title earlier this year in addition to winning Skate Canada in October. As for the key to his success? Chan has said to always look for things to improve upon and “never settle for what you have already.”

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