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From refugee to franchisee: Kamloops business owner looks back where he started

Xuan Nguyen shares his story of coming to Kamloops as a Vietnamese refugee in the 1980s. The successful business owner started as a dishwasher before opening his own coffee shop that offers Vietnamese cuisine.
August 17, 2018 - 9:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - He's a familiar face around the city of Kamloops. There's a chance he's maybe served you coffee or traditional Vietnamese Pho.

His name is Xuan Nguyen. He's the owner of Pho Viet or Donut King, a coffee shop that also offers Vietnamese food.

He came to Canada nearly forty years ago — completely alone and not speaking a single word of English. It was a hard time for Nguyen, at only 17 years old he had already left behind everybody he knew while escaping a war that in his home country.

Nguyen was a refugee. Although he didn't choose to come to Canada, he says he's thankful to live in a country that offered him several opportunities and a chance at success. Starting off as a dishwasher at Tim Hortons and eventually opening his own business, he says he couldn't be more grateful to have stepped into a community as accepting as Kamloops.

"The people are very friendly. Everybody knows everybody," Nguyen says. "People have open hearts here."

Over time, he eventually became the owner of three Tim Hortons franchises and then opened his own Vietnamese coffee shop.

"I know how to do donuts, everyone in Kamloops knows that," he says. "When I opened Donut King... I wanted to do half Vietnamese and half Canadian."

It didn't take long for the restaurant to become a popular hit in the city, he says. Nguyen says he was happy to provide his community with his Vietnamese culture.

"I try to give back to the community as best as I can," he says.

Although he has had a lot of success with his business in Kamloops, he never forgets how hard it was at the start. He specifically remembers the challenges he had not speaking English.

"When I went to McDonald's I had to show them a picture of what I wanted to eat," he says, adding it was a big adjustment.

He says it's a big reason why he's never left Kamloops.

"You don't want to leave, it's because I don't know anybody else," he says. "I have no mom, no brother, no sister, nobody."

He plans to slow down soon, but his restaurant open will remain open. He recently obtained a liquor license to offer customers something different.

"I'm almost retiring, I'm getting old and I have to look after myself," he says. "I have been working, saving money and feeding my three kids for a long time."

Nguyen says after 38 years, he is happy to call Kamloops his home.

"I feel Kamloops is my hometown 100 per cent," he says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Karen Edwards or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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