“I arrived from Vietnam in 1979 with nothing. I had no family or friends, no money, and I didn’t speak English.
I believed there was more opportunity in America. There is a big middle class and if I was willing to work hard, I would probably never go hungry. In Asia, some people are extremely rich, there is a very small middle class, but most are very poor.
Eventually, I brought most of my family here. I sponsored my mom and dad, and two brothers from Vietnam. Later, I brought my oldest brother and his three children from Hong Kong. It was important to me that my family also have the opportunity to come to America.
Working in the real estate business was my first job here, but the income was never very steady. It was okay when I was single because I had food to eat. I knew that one day I wanted to have a family so I needed to build something more reliable.
My father owned a restaurant in Vietnam when I was a kid. I’m actually a third generation restaurant owner because my grandfather also owned a restaurant. The food my family cooked was influenced by several different cultures. My father was born near Hong Kong so he brought his Chinese touch to Vietnam. In Vietnam there is a lot of French influence so I learned many different ways to cook."
"In 1989 I opened my first restaurant in Baltimore and it failed within nine months. My father cooked great food, but the area we were in didn’t have as much foot traffic as we had hoped. We knew we were taking a big risk because the restaurant business is very tough here. Only 10-15% of restaurants survive the first year.
Two years later, I opened a Vietnamese restaurant in Mount Vernon. I was there for about five years. It was a very big place with 4,100 square feet. A friend of mine, a Japanese guy, owned Matsuri in Federal Hill. He did very good business. At the time, Matsuri was small. It was just the first floor, about 750 square feet. I was getting tired of my big restaurant and I wanted to downsize. My friend wanted to expand his restaurant so we just swapped. We shook hands and that was it.
I became the owner of Matsuri in Federal Hill 25 years ago. My daughter was born that year, 1996. It was also the year after I got married."
"Matsuri has been a family business from the very beginning. My children grew up working here. My son and daughter still work here. Two of my brothers and my two nieces also work here. Whenever we are going through a difficult time, or there is an emergency, we just help each other.
There is a Chinese saying that my father taught me from a very young age, ‘A neighbor living nearby is better than a relative far away.’ Even though we have family to help, our neighbors have played a big role in our 25 years in business. The support of the neighborhood has been tremendous.
I don’t think we could have survived this long without our family and neighbors."
*Story made in partnership with Federal Hill Main Street &South Baltimore Gateway Partnership