Back in University, I had the opportunity during the summer to sell children’s educational books. The job itself was BRUTAL. Direct sales, all alone, door to door. Yu-uck. When I look back on it however, there were some life-changing experiences throughout those summers. The power of positive thinking, self-motivation, learning how to read people. All lessons that have helped me through some tough stuff. One of the books we were required to read during our intensive training seminars was ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.
Now imagine a 15 year old young man, struggling with extreme shyness, still learning the nuances of the English language, who is thrust into a serving position at his family’s restaurant. He makes the decision to read this book, and become a master of studying people. Using techniques described in ‘How to Win Friends…’he becomes not only a wonderful waiter, but a natural businessman.
Fifteen years later Tom Vuu is the manager of Huong Lan Vietnamese Restaurant. A family run business that has survived, no… flourished over the years. His mother, Lan is still the head chef and his father, although semi-retired is still involved in the day to day operations. The war torn history of their country and the struggles they overcame to come to Canada continue to influence their daily choices and incredible work ethic.
As most of us know, in 1975 after the States lost the Vietnam war, North Vietnam invaded the South. Many families including Tom’s fled the country and were placed in UN refugee camps, and asked to wait until sponsors could get them out of the country. Tom’s dad managed to get out but had to wait for an unbelievable eight long years until his family was able to join him. Tom recalls one night when he and his mother attempted to reach the beach in Cambodia where boats waited to bring them to safety. Crawling though mud and wading though water, hiding from soldiers armed with AK-47’s they would hide silent with fear. For most of us it is the stuff of movies, for them…experiences that shaped their lives.
The Vietnamese perspective is that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so the effort must go in every day. Take advantage of good times, because it could change. This philosophy is the driving force behind a family passionate about ensuring their restaurant is the very best it can be. They are proud of their authentic Vietnamese food, their well-trained and dedicated staff and the great value they offer their customers.
Huong Lan has a dedicated body of regulars. The food is fresh and filled with delicate flavours, the atmosphere is busy but friendly. Kids are more than welcome here, often seen sitting up at the counter area…watching TV and chatting it up with the staff.
When I went in with a friend, we were treated to the dinner for two, which included hot & sour prawn soup, chicken chow mein and grilled pork chop on rice. We were both impressed with all of the dishes, but our favourite was definitely the hot and sour soup! Tom’s favourite is Bun Bo Hue, a spicy rice noodle soup with beef flank, pork roll, pork brisket, onion and black pepper. He claims it is the most traditional Vietnamese dish on the menu and they don’t recommend it to new customers…ya gotta work up to that one.
They aren’t sitting back and relaxing with their success either! Exciting new things are coming to Huong Lan. You may have seen their Wonton soup for sale in grocery stores, as it is now available in over seventy locations. Their kitchen at over 2300 square feet has been developed as a full production kitchen. They are continuing to expand their grocery offerings, so it will be easier to enjoy their food from home. As far as dining out goes…this year we will enjoy the summer sun outside on their new patio while sampling a summer Vietnamese fusion test menu!
Hope you have a chance to stop by soon and try out some of their famous Pho (pronounced ‘fa’). At home you can try out this recipe Tom shared with me…hmmmm…fried rice. Follow their Facebook page, they offer many great deals and fun contests, easy way to keep in touch. The amazing family behind Huong Lan has certainly shown that through great adversity, you can build great success. Nanaimo is just lucky that they chose to share that success with us in the form of delicious food and wonderful service.
“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ~ Dale Carnegie