“It’s all about the journey”: Tung Nguyen’s venture from newcomer to business owner

By Olivia Matheson-Mowers

Posted on February 23, 2022

Photo by Olivia Matheson-Mowers

Sitting in his newly opened bubble tea shop located in Toronto’s vibrant Danforth community, Tung Nguyen doesn’t believe that he’s achieved success but has enjoyed every moment of the journey that has led him here.

“I believe that true success is always being open to growing and redefining your success as you continue your journey,” he explains. “The real success is seeing how much you’ve grown on your way.”

Big dreams for life in Canada

When Nguyen first came to Canada from Vietnam at 16 years old, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do or who he wanted to be.

He originally settled down in a small town tucked away in central Alberta where he earned his high school diploma. He lived a very sheltered life that provided a close-knit community of international students and attentive caregivers.

“It was comfortable,” he says. “But it didn’t offer me the opportunities I had dreamed about when I first moved to Canada. I felt very confined to what I could do while living there.”

Self-fulfilling creative pursuits

To push himself to grow, Nguyen moved to Toronto. It was initially very lonely and isolating but it encouraged him to put himself out there and form connections. Unsure of his end-goal, he decided to immerse himself within the local art scene by working on multiple commissioned art pieces. It allowed him to apply his creative talent to a wide range of projects including portrait paintings and mixtape covers for local musicians. He was also able to expand his personal network by participating with group mural paintings for various Toronto neighbourhoods.

While his time on the art scene didn’t result in any significant monetary value, it was a liberating experience. He explains that in Vietnam, there is a pre-designed career route and a strict timeline for specified milestones. The freedom to be able to engage in a purely self-fulfilling act is something he believes is unique to Canada.

“That’s one of the things I love most about Canada, is that you can take your time to figure out who you want to be,” he says. “You have the freedom to develop your own identity.”

Immersing Canadian identity with cultural roots

It’s a freedom that Nguyen has enjoyed, but warns that it can have its disadvantages. As he continued to construct his identity, he experienced moments of losing his connection to his roots, something that left his parents feeling confused and disappointed. It was a wake-up call to Nguyen that he needed to find a way to grow but still hold on to his culture.

“We have a saying in Vietnamese that roughly translates as, ‘become a mixture but don’t dilute,’” he says. “You have to find that balance and I struggled with that for a long time.”

For other newcomers struggling with achieving a balance between their new Canadian identity and their roots, Nguyen advises them to find what works best for them. That could mean having designated phone calls with your family once a week or introducing and celebrating traditional holidays with your Canadian friends.

“There’s no set definition, it’s something very personal,” he says. “For me, living in Toronto helped because I had access to Vietnamese communities while also being able to interact with people from other cultures. It takes a long time but you can find that happy middle.”

Self-discovery in customer service

After incorporating his roots into the identity he had formed while living in Canada, Nguyen continued his journey of self-discovery. He took on part-time jobs within the customer service industry, primarily in popular coffeehouse chain shops. While it was initially a way to pay his bills, he began to notice he possessed a natural talent for building connections with customers. It also allowed him to develop his leadership skills, as he motivated diverse teams to deliver top-notch service with a smile.

To grow his customer service skills, Nguyen enrolled in George Brown’s hospitality program, where he earned top marks and graduated with honours. He credits his academic success with the freedom that Canada provided him to find something he was truly passionate about.

“It was my first time really focusing on school, because I was ready, ”he says. “I didn’t rush into something just to make everyone else happy.”

Coping with professional setbacks

Upon his graduation in early 2020, Nguyen secured an internship placement at a prominent hotel located within Toronto. It felt like everything was lining up perfectly—until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His internship was cancelled and his hospitality career goals seemed impossible to achieve.

Initially he felt discouraged and lost, however, he reminded himself that he had faced other uncertain moments and it was all part of his journey. He remained open-minded to other opportunities and took up various construction jobs to fill his time. The experience opened his eyes to the realization that he didn’t want to rely on other people anymore—he wanted to be his own boss.

Transitioning into a business owner

Nguyen’s patience and open-minded outlook eventually paid off when an acquaintance who remembered his talent for customer service approached him with a business partnership. Together, they decided to franchise a shop with Gong Cha, a popular bubble tea chain. His partner handles the project management aspects of the business, while Nguyen manages the operations and day-to-day activities.

“It just all came together so perfectly,” he says. “Sometimes I think I was just lucky but I remember that I took my time and I gained all these experiences that made me capable of doing this job and doing it well.”

Advice to newcomers

Ngyuen’s overall advice to newcomers coming to Canada is to not be afraid of taking chances and be open to making mistakes. He recommends forming smaller goals, ones that allow you to grow but don’t feel unobtainable.

“That way, you’re taking small steps instead of looking down a road that feels endless and hopeless, which will just leave you discouraged,” he says. “Just keep moving in the direction of your goals and be proud of your little victories.”

To learn more about Nguyen and his bubble tea shop, check out their company’s Instagram page or drop by for a visit!

Instagram Profile: https://www.instagram.com/thedanforthcha/
Address: 451 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K 1P1

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