Known for their home-cooked meals — in particular, their breakfast — Le’s Family Restaurant has been a part of many Dawson Creek residents’ daily and weekly routines for 30 years now.
What’s been the secret to the lasting success?
“You give people good service, good food, they support you,” says the man himself, Le Nguyen.
The food, they note, is home-cooked — not packaged — and largely sourced from local businesses.
Tracey, Le’s wife, gives another reason.
“The family business vibe I think — there’s not a lot of that left.”
It’s truly been a family business from the start.
Le first came to Canada as refugee in 1980 from Vietnam, a single father with two kids, speaking no English. He was a helicopter mechanic before coming over, but he needed a job. Three weeks in Canada, there was an opening at Ricky’s Pancake House.
“I never cooked a day in my life,” he explains. “They trained me — I didn’t even know about bacon, I didn’t even know about ham.
“Survival kicked in.”
He got the job, and worked his way in most of the restaurants in Dawson Creek, putting in seven-day weeks, 15 hour work days.
Eventually, he made his way to the restaurant at the Travelodge.
It was there they met. Tracey, originally from Sudbury, Ontario, actually was hired to replace Le who had left his job. But a week later, Le came back, and Tracey says, “We were just co-workers for a year, and then all the rest is history.” They married in 1987.
In 1988, the Travelodge restaurant became the original location for Le’s Family Restaurant, when the owner left and the owner of the Travelodge asked him to run it.
“We didn’t have anything to lose, because we were going from paycheque to paycheque, and we thought, ‘What the heck, we’ll try it,’” says Tracey.
They eventually opened a location at the airport, but decided to focus on just the one location when they bought the current location across from Dawson Creek Mall, along with the Voyageur Motor Inn in 1993. (“Mind as well learn something new,” Le quips).
They’ve come to love Dawson Creek. They raised five children here — many of whom run their own businesses here — and have five grandchildren. (“It’s a nice place to raise a family,” notes Krista Nguyen-Forshner, one of their children).
“I love the people of Dawson Creek,” he says. “It’s a small town. I found that people are just lovely people here.
“If I was in a big city, I’d probably leave [. . .] I know just about everybody in this town.”
Another key to the family business atmosphere is a staff that doesn’t see a lot of turnover.
“A lot of the customers they come in and don’t see the staff changing all the time, so they feel more at home. They know the girls will bring them a glass of water — they don’t have to say anything — with no ice, the french fries with gravy on the side. They know everything,” says Tracey.
“The staff is my backbone,” admits Le.
It’s been a good 30 years for Le’s Family Restaurant. While Le admits he is trying to slow down now, they both say all the hard work has been worth it.
“I just want to thank the people of Dawson Creek,” he says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be doing this.”