Recipe for success: How restaurants paved the way for immigrant families in Saskatchewan

June 28, 2017

By Andy Yuen, CBC News |

Over countless hours spent folding wonton wrappers and mixing hummus, immigrant families have forged their prairie roots in restaurants.

From a small-town Chinese restaurant in Lanigan, Sask., to authentic Mexican in Saskatoon, each family has their own story of why they left their home country and what they left behind.

What connects the immigrant families that have found their way in Canada through the food industry is how running restaurants have held them together.

In 1996, a 15-year-old Andy Yuen stepped off a plane from Hong Kong and took his first breath of bitterly-cold Saskatchewan air.

It was -35 C when Yuen and his parents were met at the Saskatoon airport by his grandmother, grandfather and uncle. The family was en route to Wynyard, Sask. — population: less than 2,000 — to run a Chinese restaurant.

Yuen remembers his first night in Canada, when the family stopped at a Chinese grocery store on 20th Street in Saskatoon before driving onward to Wynyard. That store is a minor detail in a mammoth trip but Yuen has never forgotten it, because now he sees it every day.

The building where the grocery store used to sit is across the road from Odd Couple, the restaurant he now runs with his parents and his wife. It’s a chic, narrow eatery of booths and tables with Chinese accents and stylish fittings — a far cry from the small-town restaurant where they landed in the 1990s.

Yuen’s parents came to Saskatchewan to help his uncle with his Wynyard restaurant so Yuen’s grandmother could finally retire.

They worked long hours together, cooking food to Canadian taste that was worlds away from the Chinese dishes they loved.

And Yuen’s parents found themselves learning to navigate the restaurant business, something they’d never been a part of.

“My mom didn’t really love it but when you come over to a new country and you don’t have much education and you don’t speak the language, it’s not like you have a lot of choices, right?” Yuen said.

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