There are some very talented people doing very awesome things in Edmonton. That’s a narrative that’s gotten much more attention and has become much truer in recent years—increasingly, young business owners and entrepreneurs are committing to the city and chasing their dreams.
Among those young entrepreneurs are Vietnamese Edmontonians who are carving their own path by starting their own businesses—a daunting enough task without the added pressures of bucking more traditional, parental expectations that often come with Vietnamese families.
To celebrate the Lunar New Year, and my own heritage (I’m Vietnamese!), I’m highlighting a few Vietnamese entrepreneurs in Edmonton who leapt—and are running successful businesses in a wide range of industries.
They’re doing it! They are a source of inspiration, for the Vietnamese community and Edmonton as a whole, and they are most certainly worth following and supporting.
Note: this was originally written for the Edmonton Vietnamese Association’s Lunar New Year Magazine January 2019.
10 Vietnamese Entrepreneurs in Edmonton
1. Linda Bao, Owner, Linda Bao Counselling Services
Linda Bao helps people. She helps people who feel anxious, depressed, or ashamed. She guides them through relationship challenges, life transitions, and developmental trauma. As a registered social worker, through her business Linda Bao Counselling Services, Linda provides counselling and psychotherapy services to a range of people, from a range of backgrounds. It is meaningful, uplifting and important work. Linda’s parents raised her to be genuine and honest, and to see the good in everyone. Her parents taught her to love, respect and care for others, and she does—with each client she works with. While she’s seen success with her business, and has built up a solid client base over the last seven years, Linda says when it comes to running a business, it’s always a learning process. And that’s a challenge she rises to, because she truly loves helping others work towards personal change and healing.
Linda’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Seek advice and support from others who are already running a practice. Invest in hiring a qualified professional to do web and logo design as first impressions make a huge difference. Create an online presence. Get out into the community and network with other professionals. Possibly do contract work with an employee assistance program (EAP) company as a way to start building a client base, and most importantly, be kind and patient with yourself! Establishing your practice takes time and there are always highs and lows, therefore, just stick with it and do not give up!”
2. David Nguyen, Owner, Import Bible
David started his business Import Bible as a teenager. As an import car enthusiast himself, designing and creating T-shirts, accessories and artwork for others who shared his passion was a great way for David to learn graphic design, web development and business management. Over the last ten years, David has carved out quite the niche in the car community worldwide. Import Bible has been featured in international car magazines and has a loyal local following as well as a global one. David cites managing business finances as a challenge he’s had to overcome. He does extensive research before making business purchases as one way to make sure he’s spending smartly. And he’s always particular about the designs he comes up with. David credits his parents for reminding him the importance of obtaining an education, while still following your dreams, something he’s been able to balance as he works a full-time job and runs his business on the side.
David’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Start small and don’t be afraid to fail. These failures will help shape your success in the future. Along the way, you will gain an amazing amount of talent and skill that will help you through your lifetime.”
3. Dianna Man, Owner, Dianna Man Photography
Dianna is proud to be a self-taught photographer, specializing in lifestyle and wedding photography. She launched her business three years ago, wanting to be her own boss and dictate her own schedule—something especially important given her busy family schedule as well. Dianna started her career later than most—after raising her kids. As an immigrant, she never took anything for granted, and it’s this work ethic and attitude passed on by her parents, that Dianna credits to her current success. A constant challenge for Dianna is competing in a fairly saturated industry, where potential clients have a plethora of photographer options out there, but Dianna delivers a beautiful, sought-out style that’s setting her apart in the Edmonton photography community.
Dianna’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“PERSEVERE. Don’t give up and just listen to your inner wisdom. Do not compare yourself to others and be true to yourself. Don’t doubt yourself because you can be successful as long as you persevere.”
4. Thao Lam, Owner, An Chay Restaurant
Thao was inspired to start one of Edmonton’s best Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants with her husband over a year ago. She was a big fan of her mother-in-law’s vegetarian recipes, and wanted all of Edmonton to experience it. The restaurant has been well received, attracting a steady stream of return and new customers—Vegetarian or not, you’ll find a healthy, flavourful, Vietnamese dish at An Chay that will keep you coming back for more. But the success of the restaurant has not been without its challenges. Being so new to the business, Thao admits it’s been overwhelming. And with just one day off a week, Thao isn’t able to spend as much time with her young son as she would like. But going into business with her husband, having support from their family, and delivering on the delicious recipes originally made by her mother-in-law, has been a rewarding experience and a decision she hasn’t looked back on since.
Thao’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“It’s hard owning your own business and believe it when others tell you it’s hard but if you believe in what you do then just keep on pushing hard and be resilient.”
5. Sam Pham, Owner, J’Adore Design and Events
Sam is an event design and planning extraordinaire. The weddings and charitable galas she organizes are beautiful, and well-executed, and comes from a place of passion. Sam is the kind of person who puts 100% of herself in a project, and that’s evident in her work. She also comes from a family of entrepreneurs, something she credits for giving her a thick skin required for the ups and downs of owning a business. A challenge Sam faced when she took the entrepreneurial dive, was convincing clients to give her a chance despite a small portfolio to start. For those who did take a chance on her, she delivered such incredible events that the business soon started flowing in.
Sam’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Trust in yourself. Let go and try it. Don’t over think it, cause then fear will kick in and fear is the worst at holding people back. If you really believe then just keep going and eventually with time and hard work, everything will work out! JUST DO IT!”
6. Anh Tuan (Anton) Hoang, Owner, Pho Boy Vietnamese Kitchen
Pho Boy Vietnamese Kitchen is a popular eatery on Whyte Ave. led by entrepreneur Anton Hoang. Anton has always been drawn to business. He founded a web development company at the age of 24, and since then, has actually been involved in a number of ventures before opening Pho Boy two years ago. There are countless challenges that come in the restaurant industry—like dealing with budgets and wages, marketing and promotion, and finding good, dependable employees. But perhaps the biggest challenge Anton faced with opening his restaurant, was the cancer diagnosis of his mother Daisy Cuc Hoang, a very active member of the Vietnamese community, on the very day Pho Boy opened. The restaurant’s first year of operation was a blur of juggling home care, family time and trying to keep the business afloat and growing. Anton’s mother died during Pho Boy’s first two years, but she, and his father always instilled in him a hard-working spirit, to persevere, and to maintain a positive attitude, and these are all things he did during this tumultuous time, and continues to do with Pho Boy moving forward.
Anton’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“There is no one specific path to success, and it will be different for each person that wants to take on an entrepreneurial venture. But some fundamental things will give you a better chance to succeed are things like being organized, having a good plan, having a good team, constantly learning and improving. It requires a lot of effort and resilience so if those are things you are allergic to, then don’t consider having your own business. There will be many “quitting points”, trials and tribulations. Keep your head on straight and spirits up, know who you are, what you are doing, and why. You also need a very healthy dose of good timing and good luck.”
7. Kim Nguyen, Owner, Plaid Collar Films
Kim is a professional and passionate storyteller. From her time at CTV Edmonton and CTV Vancouver where she shared stories on live TV each day, to her current work as owner of Plaid Collar Films, a video production company she co-owns with her husband Chris, Kim is always eager to share a good story. She’s also really good at it. Plaid Collar Films focuses on capturing love stories—creating beautiful wedding videos that will bring you to happy tears. The company has been operating for just over a year, and one of Kim’s challenges with its start, was trying to get people to take her seriously. Although she was in broadcasting, she up to that point had primarily been on camera—not behind the scenes, or in the edit suite. Teaching herself new techniques critical to the film industry, educating herself on video editing, colour grading, and graphics, was a challenge Kim tackled head-on. It took a strong will, work ethic and dedication—qualities Kim says her mother instilled in her, and qualities that she continues to demonstrate with her business each day.
Kim’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Don’t quit your day job right away. I’ve seen people do this and it got them nowhere. I worked in TV for two years wanting to quit… but I stuck it out and worked mornings at my CTV job and worked nights on the side filming and editing. Make sure you learn everything there is to know about the industry you’re about to quit your current job for. Make connections with people in that industry, and surround yourself with people who are more talented than you.”
8. Thuy Dinh, Owner, XO Bistro + Bar
Thuy Dinh is reinventing Vietnamese cuisine in Edmonton through XO Bistro + Bar. The modern Vietnamese restaurant takes traditional Vietnamese food and gives it a modern, upscale twist, right in the heart of Ice District by Rogers Place. Thuy has always been a natural risk taker, and starting XO Bistro + Bar was an exciting risk to take. She continues to learn something new about the restaurant business each day, and that’s something she truly enjoys. Thuy’s parents were involved in food-related businesses over the years, and her mother is an incredible cook as well. These are things Thuy says gave her confidence to open her own restaurant and become her own boss. She’s also not afraid to seek advice from other business owners either—learning from their process, mistakes and successes and applying those learnings to XO Bistro + Bar.
Thuy’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Just go for it. Do your research and make sure you are adequately prepared. It’s tough to make the first step but it’s rewarding to see everything come together. Don’t fear failure, it will happen but you have got to keep trying! Instead of dwelling on failures, focus on your strengths and empower others on your team to do what you are not good at.”
9. Sam Truong, Owner, Blue Gemini Hair Studio
When Sam left her stable, corporate job to start a hair salon with her sister Paulina, she took a 50% pay-cut and didn’t have a vacation for years. Being an entrepreneur isn’t glamorous. It takes a lot of work. And you have to do it for the right reasons. What those right reasons are varies for everyone. For Sam, the “right reason” was to support her sister’s dream. Paulina was a talented hairstylist, but didn’t necessarily have the business acumen or confidence required to start her own salon. Sam brought these skills to the table. By supporting her sister—her best friend—with her dreams, Sam got the opportunity to become her own boss, and together, the sisters now run one of Edmonton’s top salons: Blue Gemini Hair Studio, a salon that has won numerous international hair competitions and has been in operation in south west Edmonton for 10 years. Sam takes a hands-on approach to managing her business, and says her greatest source of inspiration is her grandparents. She applies advice they gave to her to how she operates the salon—treat people well and with respect. And if you are going to take on a job, finish it, and do it well.
Sam’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Think about your story, and why you want to open your own business. It can’t just be because you don’t want to work for someone else. You’ve got to be passionate, and be doing it for the right reasons.”
10. Mai Nguyen, Owner, Gourmai
Social Media: @maicaroon (Instagram)
Mai Nguyen makes a delicious dumpling. So delicious in fact, that she’s making, selling, catering dumplings (and more) through her new business Gourmai. When she’s in the kitchen, she gets lost in dumpling folding. Before she knows it—10 hours have flown by. It’s evident she’s passionate about the dumplings she’s making. But as an entrepreneur, Mai isn’t just cooking—she’s her own book keeper, delivery driver, research and development team, prep cook, marketer and sales person. Her work ethic comes from her parents. And coming from a Vietnamese household, facing expectations around what a ‘respectable’ job looks like—Mai’s had to work extra hard to prove to herself and her parents that she didn’t make the wrong decision getting into the food industry. Watch for Gourmai dumpling pop-up events this year, as Mai continues to experiment and expose her company to Edmonton dumpling lovers.
Mai’s advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Just do it. It’s the hardest step. There are a million excuses you can give yourself to not do it. I can’t say it’s easy, but it’s extremely rewarding.”