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Heart of our City: Van Le

Sharing the love one cup at a time
Van Le owns and runs Javadotcup with her husband after previously working as staff for 10 years under the previous owner. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)

Van Le has a lot of love to give.

Le even says she cares too much, whether you’re her child or one of her many customers.

Born in Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, Le was raised in a big family and was one of eight siblings.

It was lots of fun growing up in her family, she said. Her father was a police officer, and her mother stayed home taking care of her and her siblings.

In Saigon, Le’s family life was very tight-nit, not just in the sense of a 10-person nuclear family, but in the context of her wider family as well.

Nearly all her extended family lived so close to each other that her home was really just one of many extended rooms. Cousins, uncles and various relatives came and went to each other’s abodes.

Everyone was one big family, she said.

Life felt and looked a lot like being at her cafe, she said. Chatting with her regular guests as they come in and out, making fresh-baked goods for eager faces and people sitting down to enjoy the cozy atmosphere draws many parallels to her childhood upbringing.

Some of her most cherished memories are those of Lunar New Year celebrations. Festivities would last for a week, and everyone would dress up in attire just for the special occasion, which was Le’s favourite part.

Women would adorn long colourful dresses, purple being a common sight, while the men would adorn themselves in formal suits.

At home, families helped each other prepare huge amounts of traditional dishes as everyone would take their turn visiting each other’s homes. Banana leaf sticky rice, dried nuts and candied fruits were universal go-to’s.

Outside, the streets were lined with market stalls. Roads would be closed off to traffic in the city centre with more than a million people cramming themselves in to celebrate the coming year.

When she finally left school and stepped in adulthood, Le took up a job in a textile factory. She worked there for six years until the day she got married.

Not long after their marriage her husband moved Canada for work, in a town called Prince Rupert.

“I love my husband,” Le said, adding that’s why she joined him there two years later.

Unlike the hot and humid Saigon, Prince Rupert was cold and wet. It was a refreshing change in climate for her.

“The weather was really nice,” she said.

Le came to Canada not knowing any English, but managed to find a job in Rupert Square Mall at a fast-food restaurant. She said her boss was very accommodating and helped her adapt to a new life in Canada.

“Day-by-day, I learned more [English],” Le said.

She learned the new language by listening attentively and interacting with customers.

Soon after settling into their new home in Prince Rupert, they welcomed a daughter and a son, Leona and Jordan, into their lives.

Le wanted to set a good example for them to work hard so they would achieve their goals in life. She worked three jobs at a time, seven days a week, to support her children, all while saving up money for their education. Also, Le said she wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she didn’t keep busy with work.

She worked late every day. Le would always return home with a smile on her face, taking the time to sit down every evening meal together as a family.

This tradition continued even when her kids left Prince Rupert for university.

“Every night, they had to call me,” she said. “They never missed one day because I worried too much. They knew that they had to call me every night.”

One of the numerous jobs Le worked at was the cafe she now owns. For 10-years, she worked under the previous owner. Out of all her jobs, she enjoyed the cafe the most because of its family-like structure and ways.

However, last year the previous owner moved away to take care of a family member and asked Le if she wanted to take over the cafe.

At first, she wasn’t sure if she should take over the business.

The cafe remained closed for several months, and previous customers already familiar with Le began to ask her when the shop would open again.

Eventually, she decided to leap toward the new opportunity. She also convinced her husband to step on board to help her run the cafe.

Le has now left behind the juggling act of three jobs and focuses solely on her cafe.

“I’m really happy,” she said with a laugh, adding she’s not exactly sure why she loves it so much.

Everyday Le’s customers continue to come in and say hi to her. She enjoys making each cup of coffee and serving every dish perfectly. To see the happy face of a guest eating a fresh-baked croissant or the satisfied sip of morning latte is what she loves to see the most.

If you’re a regular at her cafe, Javadotcup, and miss your regularly-scheduled caffeine pick-me-up, she’ll worry about it. Le will investigate, ask her staff and speak to customers to make sure everything is okay.

“I worry too much. I care about customers too much,” she said with a big smile jokingly.

Even though she still puts in many hours to make sure the cafe runs smoothly, Le now gets to spend time alongside her husband.

Looking to the future Le doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon and has no plans to leave Prince Rupert because this is where her family is.

Even when she used to visit family back in Vietnam, Le would miss her family in Canada. She’d only think about how much better it would be spending that same time with her kids and husband.

For now, Le says she wants to continue working until the day she gets tired. Only then will she think about retiring.

READ MORE: Lunar New Year celebrated in Prince Rupert

READ MORE: Heart of our City: Dai Fukasaku

Norman Galimski | Journalist
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PRINCE RUPERT BC: FEBRUARY 09, 2022 – Van Le owns and runs Javadotcup with her husband after previously working as staff for 10 years under the previous owner. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)
PRINCE RUPERT BC: FEBRUARY 09, 2022 – Van Le owns and runs Javadotcup with her husband after previously working as staff for 10 years under the previous owner. (Photo: Norman Galimski/The Northern View)