Local Story: Little Saigon

January 26, 2019

 

“Flowing water never gets stale.”

The traditional wooden boat sketched on Little Saigon’s logo and the bottles of their Vietnamese sauces was chosen with great care by its founders, Nghia (pronounced Nee-ah) and Loan Tran, for water has always played an essential role in Nghia’s life. His earliest memories are of accompanying his beloved adopted Grandmother in her boat as she paddled through South Vietnam’s many waterways and sold greens from her garden to the local villagers. Little did the seven-year-old know how quickly the calm waters of peace and security would turn into dangerous seas and change his life forever. In a desperate attempt to escape deteriorating human rights and harsh living conditions in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and reunification of the North and South, Nghia’s family joined with hundreds of thousands of others crowding onto makeshift wooden boats to flee their beloved homeland. An estimated one-third of the nearly one million who made the dangerous escape from South Asia during those years perished in the waters of the South China Sea, thankfully Nghia and his family safely landed in Malaysia. Four years of waiting and living scattered around the globe ended in the family’s joyous reunion in Edmonton as Canada generously welcomed more than 60,000 displaced Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian “boat people” in 1979-1980.

Farmer Rob and I were privileged to join an agricultural tour in Vietnam this past November and delighted in exploring the beauty of this lush, green country, its friendly people, the fresh, delicious, herb-filled cuisine and the insane motorbike traffic. As we crisscrossed the country, the desire grew to share Nghia’s story with you and highlight his delicious Vietnamese products and presence in our Abbotsford community.

Nghia recounts that it was his trip back to Vietnam as a young man that truly opened his eyes to the opportunities available to him in his new home as he watched many his age scrape out an existence in the now Communist country. It was a job offer at the Abbotsford Costco that brought him to our community, but it was the love of a beautiful young woman named Loan that kept him here. With twists and turns too many to count, as well as encouragement from a few generous Canadian friends, Nghia and Loan’s reputations as honest, hardworking and generous business owners have continued to grow and help shape Abbotsford’s thriving restaurant scene. Never mind the fact that the only authentic Vietnamese sauces created by a Vietnamese Canadian family can now be found on grocery shelves from Manitoba to Yukon and everywhere in between. Their five traditional Vietnamese condiments are carefully blended under Nghia’s watchful eye here in Abbotsford and Lepp Farm Market is honored to have them on our shelves.

Nghia’s a born entrepreneur, always on the lookout for ways to grow personally and scanning the horizon for new business opportunities. I sensed a kindred spirit in his lovely wife Loan as she admitted how challenging it was to open their new location and anxiously worried about how many more things her husband wanted to accomplish! But family always comes first, and this large, multi-generational Vietnamese clan of 30 gathers every Thursday evening at Grandmother’s house in Abbotsford to share “soup night,” her having gotten up at the crack of dawn to begin cooking a variety of soups that represent the diverse regional cuisines of Vietnam.

While Nghia is enjoying the success of owning three restaurants and seeing his products on store shelves, he continually reminds his two young children that only three things really matter in life – God, your brain and your health. He adds, “I’ve gotten onto a boat and risked everything, left it all for freedom. Risking it all in business is just risking money”. This man of flowing water will definitely never grow stale, and we eagerly await to see what’s coming next!