How a couple who arrived with no English or cooking skills has been running restaurants in P.E.I. for years

·2 min read
Wang Le, left, and Thuy Le, right, left Vietnam for P.E.I. in 1979 as refugees from Vietnam. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)
Wang Le, left, and Thuy Le, right, left Vietnam for P.E.I. in 1979 as refugees from Vietnam. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)

This is Part 3 of a three-part series in May — Asian Heritage Month — about people who have been bringing Asian flavours to rural Prince Edward Island. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Thuy Le still remembers what it was like when she and her husband, Wang Le, arrived in Summerside 43 years ago as refugees from Vietnam. They were in their early 20s, didn't speak English and didn't know anything about cooking.

Today, they've been running their restaurant in Alberton called Wang Le Family Restaurant since last December. Before that, they owned and operated one in Bloomfield for seven years, and another in Summerside for 12 years.

In their 60s now, the couple hasn't thought about retiring yet, Thuy Le said.

"If you're still bright, then keep going. It's good for your mind, physically and mentally, let's put it that way. So I keep doing it and see how far I can go," she said.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

'Each day we learn, get better'

The couple was sponsored by the Summerside Presbyterian Church and after arriving in Summerside in 1979, they went back to school to learn English.

Wang went on to attend the Marine Training Centre in Summerside, and once he finished, he worked on a boat as an engineer for many years.

In that job, he worked two weeks on, two weeks off, so during his time off, he worked at a Chinese-Canadian restaurant where Thuy was waiting tables. The jobs helped the couple to improve their English and know more about the community, Thuy said.

"There was so much to learn, to adapt to the things surrounding, but each day we learn, get better," she said.

Wang worked in the kitchen, washing dishes and assisting the owner. That's how he learned more about Chinese cuisine. The restaurant offered an all-you-can-eat buffet, and Wang noticed which items on the menu ran out most often.

He included those items on the menu when he and Thuy opened their own dining place in Bloomfield. And now at their new restaurant in Alberton, he still offers those dishes, such as honey chili chicken and stir-fried chow mein with veggies and pork, chicken or seafood.

And especially there's "Sizzling Hoy Sin" — a dish featuring seafood such as shrimp, scallops and lobster served on a hot plate, creating a tempting sizzling sound, Wang said.

"Everyone just loves the dishes," he said.

Submitted by Wang Le
Submitted by Wang Le

Knowing what the customers like is not enough, Wang said, it's also crucial to maintain the quality and consistency of the food.

"What we do today, we have to do the same thing tomorrow," he said. "A good service, quality food, that's how people come back."

The couple sold the restaurant in Bloomfield in 2014 and took a break to spend more time with their children and grandkids. But last year, they decided to come back to the West Prince area and open a restaurant because they've always loved P.E.I.'s rural communities, Thuy said.

"Everybody knows everybody. It feels such a pleasure and happy to live around here."

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