The journey to become restaurant owner in Australia of a postcard seller

Once selling postcard on the street of Hanoi, Hoang Thi Hue never thought that one day she could own a restaurant in Australia.
November 15, 2019 | 15:31
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20 years ago, Hoang Thi Hue was a postcard seller, now the Vietnamese lady is owning a restaurant in Australia.

The life-changing encounter

Hue was born in 1985 in a poor family in Hung Yen province Vietnam. Her father was exposed to Agent Orange, as he was a soldier in the fight against Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Hue had to drop out from school when she was only 12 to support her mother in raising the family and taking care of her father. At the age of 13, Hue traveled to Hanoi on her own to find a job.

One of the job Hue had done then was selling postcards in the Old Quarters. One day, when trying to sell postcards to a foreign lady, Hue got the opportunity to change her life, as the customer she approached, Tracey Lister, at that point of time, was setting up the training centre for a hospitality social enterprise named KOTO (Know One Teach One), together with a Vietnamese Australian named Jimmy Pham.

Concerned about the young girl's unstable work on the street, Tracey soon took Jimmy to see Hue and briefed her about KOTO, a place where disadvantaged youth would receive vocational education, soft skills and English training to secure a stable job.

After some moments of doubt, Hue decided that she would trust the two new friends and applied for the programme. During the time there, Hue took part in on front of house (FOH) training course and graduated in 2002. She started as FOH supervisor at the KOTO restaurant and became a FOH trainer in KOTO training centre in 2005.

the journey to become restaurant owner in australia of a postcard seller
Hue (right) is passionate about promoting Vietnamese food in Australia. Photo: Australian Embassy

Hue’s first trip to Australia came in 2004 when she had chance to join a 3-month fundraising tour along with Jimmy and Ha, another Class 1 KOTO graduate. In 2009, Hue returned to Australia with a scholarship and completed an Advanced Diploma in Hospitality Management in Box Hill Institute. Hue kept moving forward by achieving another scholarship to pursue a course in Leadership and Management, in La Trobe University in Melbourne. However, scholarship funding cuts had disrupted Hue’s study. She decided to take a break and find a job at a restaurant in Echuca, near Moama (Victoria).

After graduation, Hue gained permanent residency status and spotted an opportunity to kick start a business in F&B in town. Together with two fellow KOTO and a Cordon Bleu trained chef, Sen on Madison, a resort with an attached restaurant was opened. In 2017, the restaurant was re-launched with a Vietnamese menu, featuring flavorful Vietnamese traditional dishes, such as bun cha, bun bo, Hanoian style spring rolls, pho xao - stir-fried crispy noodles and roasted pork belly.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Hue and her partners in introducing Vietnamese culinary culture to locals, Sen on Madison has become a well-known Echuca/Moama restaurant, attracting both locals and tourists. In 2018, Hue and her partners opened Sen Express, a Vietnamese street food and juice bar.

Giving back to the community and look forward to the future

the journey to become restaurant owner in australia of a postcard seller
KOTO trainees prepare Chung cake for the poor. Photo: Nhan Dan Online

Hue is in close contact with Jimmy Pham, Tracey Lister and other friends from KOTO and stay committed to supporting the social enterprise. In 2018, Sen on Madison ran a fundraiser for KOTO’s Young Leader project and raised AUD $10,000 (USD 6,800), thanks to Hue and her team’s connections with the local council, businesses and schools.

The restaurant also supports a local community living and respite centre for people with disabilities by donating food for the charity to sell to generate income. In addition, vouchers for fundraising events are provided.

Talking about her plan for the future, Hue said she wanted to introduce Vietnamese food to more people outside Echuca.

“But I still want to focus on the more rural areas, where there is less competition and where people are more likely to become loyal,’ And personally? ‘I want my son to have a better education, which I didn’t have a chance at when I was at his age.’

Disadvantaged youth like Hoang Thi Hue have been receiving supports from KOTO, the first social enterprise in Vietnam. The Australian Government is a dedicate sponsor of KOTO through providing funding and volunteers and collaborating to promote the Vocational Education and Training sector. Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has recently provided additional funding of A$250,000 to KOTO for a three-year project called HER TURN (2018 – 2021). The project will support further vocational training and entrepreneurial skills development for rural and ethnic minority women in Vietnam.
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