Temas de Capa

Serving up Success for New Canadians

My Thai Team-2 - milenio stadium


The green curry is a delicious dance of slightly spicy and a little sweet. The pad thai is sticky, savoury, and salty to perfection. These dishes are part of the authentic food experience at My Thai, a restaurant franchise in Ontario.

Vanh Kalong’s restaurants often have customers in a line out the door, but it’s the people working on the inside; the dish washer, the host, the server, who seem happiest to be there. Because what they have on their menu is not just a job, but an opportunity to be supported by Vanh herself.

“Vanh is my Canadian mother here for me” gushes Piya Dol, as she fills a water glass.

A newcomer to Canada, Dol is serving at My Thai while in school. She says the job is helping her understand this new country while keeping her connected to Thailand.

You’ll find a story like Dol’s in every My Thai location; Ancaster, Brantford, Cambridge, and coming soon, Paris, Ontario, where Vanh fills her restaurant positions with people who are new to the country.

Contributing to other’s lives is part of Vanh’s mission, and working with newcomers is a natural fit, since Vanh was once in their shoes, literally. She remembers not having proper winter boots when she arrived in 1985. “When I first came here from Thailand I only had my little sneakers and I got frostbite” she chuckles and sighs.

Originally from Laos, Vanh escaped the communist regime in 1980 when she was in her early teens and entered into Thailand where she lived in a series of refugee camps for five years. Speaking about it now, her voice quivers with emotion, “Even at that age…you want more for yourself”.

Not one to give up, she worked within the confines of her situation, showing early signs of entrepreneurial spirit. Like when she snuck out on a particularly boring day in the congested camp. “I was so small. I slipped under the fence. Then, I saw a woman selling bananas at the market and I convinced her that if she gave me the bananas, I could sell them. I went back to the refugee camp and sold all the bananas. In 30 minutes I had doubled her money.” She says, “I learned that sometimes creative thinking makes money.”

Vanh often reflects on her immigration journey and the path that led her to owning a restaurant franchise. She explains it’s the people in the community who have made the greatest impact on her life. “If you want to do it fast, do it yourself, if you want to go further, do it with somebody else.”

After all, a job is only one piece to finding success here as a new Canadian. Vanh says are many hurdles to overcome that she helps her staff with when they first arrive, like having proper coats and boots to deal with a Canadian winter. And then there’re the administrative tasks that can be tricky to navigate, especially with a language barrier, “They don’t know how to fill out a form, they don’t know how to get an ID card.” But once the basics are covered, Vanh encourages her staff to dream big, “I ask them, what do you want to be? Visualizing is very important.”

Vanh credits her entry level job at Harvies for teaching her the skills to start My Thai. Server Piya Dol is already making a positive connection between the job she has right now and the future she sees for herself. “I work here at the restaurant, but Vanh wants me to get into my field of work, into healthcare, it’s really nice.”

“Everybody at My Thai starts at an entry level” says Vanh, “but I don’t want them to stop there. I encourage them to go to school and pursue their goals and dreams. I tell them, if you need to come in at 4pm because of school, do that.”

Accomplishing her vision of My Thai was tough in the early days. With little to no money, Vanh often slept on the kitchen floor. She would cook and give out her food for free to local businesses in the area in order to introduce herself to the community, because she believes strongly, that “you must give before you receive.”
Living by that motto is something she tries to instill in her staff. “It’s not just me (helping). I help them help each other, we figure it out together.”

This week, the federal government says it plans to bring in roughly half a million immigrants each year, for the next three years. The goal? To help curb the labour shortage affecting multiple industries across the country, including the service sector.

International students like Dol must work for one year in a position before they can apply for permanent residency in Canada. “When they come here, they have to work, pay taxes, contribute,” says Vanh. Watching her staff achieve that goal one at a time is very satisfying. “It’s a win-win” she says, “I want to live a purposeful and impactful life.”

And that’s a job well done.

To find out more about My Thai: www.mythai.ca

Gina Philips/MS

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