Cuisine For A Cause: Winnipeg Restaurateur giving back

by Prairie Division
Categories: Prairie News

May 4 is a date that will always be significant for Tam Nguyen, and this year, it’s the date he’s going to give back to the community that took him in nearly 37 years ago.

After fleeing from Vietnam in 1980, May 4 was the date he arrived in Malaysia and knew he was going to survive. Now the owner of Tam’s Pho restaurant on Portage Avenue, Nguyen will be donating all of the proceeds from sales on May 4 to The Salvation Army in Winnipeg.

“I escaped from Vietnam on April 30, 1980,” Nguyen recalls. “I lived through the Vietnam War, and when the war finished in 1975, I said good; I don’t like war.”

But fallout from the war included a Communist government that Nguyen and his family did not support, leaving them to fend largely for themselves.

“I left and they tried to take me to the army, but I said no and I was hiding,” Nguyen says. “So many things were going wrong in my life, and I had no job. So they called me to join the army and I said no; I don’t want war, I don’t want to fight anybody, I don’t want to kill anybody. But they took me to the army for two weeks, then I escaped from the army base and went to Saigon.”

Hiding in what is now Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen stayed in a house with a friend and 10 others, before they decided to pool their money to buy a boat, and sail out of Vietnam.

“We got on the boat on April 30, it was a small boat, two metres by 10 metres,” Nguyen says, recalling that there were 17 aboard the small boat. “I ate raw fish for three days. I prayed to God all I could; ‘Save us, save me, and I will do some good for others.’”

On May 4, 1980, the boat arrived in Malaysia, and Nguyen was turned over to the United Nations, who would relocate him to Winnipeg, Manitoba as a refugee.

“May 4 is my day,” Nguyen says with a smile on his face. “That is the day I know; I’m alive.”

After arriving in Winnipeg in October, 1980, Nguyen struggled to learn English before deciding to just get a job working in a TanJay factory. After that he got a job at a local tailor shop in town, and after picking up enough conversational English, opened his own tailor shop in 1986. Since then he’s also opened Tam’s Pho restaurant in 2015, where he and his wife serve traditional, homemade Vietnamese cuisine.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; we all need help every once in a while,” Nguyen says, recalling that he would go to The Salvation Army in Winnipeg for clothes when he was still new to the country and struggling to make money. “Recently I’ve seen the people crossing the border from America to Canada, and they have nobody to support them. And who’s taking them? The Salvation Army. I said, ‘Wow, that’s great.’ It made me remember when I was young, and I was scared too. And if I didn’t have help from other people, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

So this Thursday, May 4, Nguyen will be donating all of the proceeds from his restaurant to The Salvation Army in Winnipeg.

“What you do, is what you receive. If you do good things, you will receive good things.”