Legendary entrepreneur Cindy Lee’s new book reveals story behind Asian supermarket chain T&T

·2 min read

To mark the 30th anniversary of T&T supermarket, founder Cindy Lee is launching an autobiography that reflects on the evolution of the largest Asian supermarket chain in Canada and her experiences as a new immigrant, entrepreneur and working mother, hoping to encourage more people with dreams.

On March 9, she held a book signing event at T&T’s Warden branch in Markham, which attracted not only staff but also admiring customers.

After 30 years of development, T&T is operating more than 30 stores in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec with over 10,000 employees. But at the beginning of its establishment in 1993, Lee never dreamed it would grow to the scale it is today.

“When I first immigrated to Canada from Taiwan, I couldn't understand what people were saying, and my English often made people look confused,” Lee said, over time, she became like a lonely deaf-mute, unable to adapt to society at all, no one talked to her, and she didn't talk to others.

In order to stay in Canada, she began to grind away at English and volunteered to work for a tax filing company for free to accumulate more local work experience.

As life in Chinatown settled down, the mother of three was exhausted of taking care of the family and working every day, so she hatched a simple dream — it would be great if all the Asian fresh food and groceries she needs could be purchased under one roof. At the time, there was not a single large one-stop Asian supermarket in the whole country.

With the help of her husband, Jack Lee, expert in wholesale business, and early investors, Lee opened two stores in Vancouver with six months, and that’s how T&T, named after Lee’s two daughters Tina and Tiffany, came to be.

“A lot of people think that I have a very high starting point with assists from big capitalists,” she said, “but what they don’t know is that at one point, I lost so much money that I could barely hold on and cried to give up.”

As long as the direction is right, you should stick to it, she often comforts herself this way in difficult situations.

In the book, Lee also shared her 62 work notes for the first time, including on-site observation, practical tips for retailers, as well as her experience for being an independent and trusting mother.

“If it helps others make a little less of detour, my experience is worth it,” she added.

The book is currently available for purchase in traditional Chinese through T&T official website, and the English version is under preparation and is expected to be released in the summer.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun