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  Sisters Kathy and Linda in front of Young’s Market on William Avenue
  Brandon, Kathy and Linda
  Newly arrived in Winnipeg, 1979 (l-r): Anita,
Brandon (hiding), Moc Que, Phong, Linda & Kathy
  Mom supervises the Young children’s homework. (L-r): Kathy, Anita,
Linda, Mom & Brandon in 1979
  Back row (l-r): Alicia, Anita & Andy Chan, Linda & Stanley Eng, Grandma Young holding
Calyssa Eng & Grandpa Young holding Lincoln Lim, Kathy & Nixon Lim and Brandon
Young. Foreground (l-r): Grandma Eng, Evan & Daniel Eng and Wesley Lim
  The Young Family celebrates Christmas 2008 with friends and staff

by Amalia Pempengco


“We came as boat people”

It was 31 years ago when the Young family arrived in Canada. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, they were one of the many thousands of families who escaped the war-ravaged country of Vietnam. They took to the ocean in tiny overcrowded boats and the media dubbed them “the boat people.”

Linda Young-Eng was only 5 years old when her family fled. She and her siblings, Kathy (8), Anita (4), and Brandon (2) were born in Vietnam, though their parents were Chinese. Food was scarce on the boat, but they have fond memories of eating crackers dipped in condensed milk. To this day, it is still a family favourite snack.

They hadn’t heard of Canada and didn’t speak a word of English when they first set foot in Montreal. She recalls her parents’ stories of their exodus, how they floundered on the sea and waited a month before they were allowed to dock. When asked where they wished to settle, they looked at the map and chose Winnipeg, hoping that it was not as cold since it was the lowest in the map. Hand in hand they stepped off the plane at the Winnipeg airport wearing sandals on a cold day in December 1978.

Three days from arrival, her mom immediately started a job, sewing. Her father eventually landed a job at a company making electrical transformers. As with most immigrants, starting life in a foreign country was very difficult, especially with the language barrier.

Kathy Young, the oldest of the siblings and now married to a Filipino-Chinese, recalled, “There was a very small Vietnamese community in Winnipeg then. We were so happy when one family came to visit us with congee (rice porridge).”

It must have been such a delight to taste something familiar from their homeland.

“We never heard about Christmas before, but there was one Chinese family [named Lam] who would invite us to their home and give us presents. Every year we looked forward to celebrate Christmas,” said Linda. “It was the only time in the year when we received presents.”

In 1983, the unthinkable happened – Mrs. Young was laid off from work. Driven by a determination to provide for her growing family, Mrs. Young thought of opening a grocery store. The obstacle turned to an opportunity. The pain of losing a job gave birth to a new business that would serve the Winnipeg community.

The early years

The Youngs bought a tiny store from the Vietnamese Association on the corner of Notre Dame and Francis. Brandon Young recalled how their mom cried on the first day the store opened. “I think she had only about $20 in sales,” he said.

The children were immediately put to work. Family excursions to the beach became a thing of the past.

“All we did was work, work and work!” recalled Linda. “We were small kids, but we had to mature quickly.”

“The store became like a new sibling,” Brandon added. “It required all of our parents’ attention.”

Years later, all the hard work, perseverance and taking chances paid off. The business grew as the Young children grew. They have all taken an interest in the family business. Brandon and his sisters graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business. All are now married and with kids, except for Brandon.

“I am married to the store,” he quipped with a big smile on his face.

Today, there are two branches of Young’s Market in Winnipeg. The McPhillips branch opened six years ago, while the new downtown branch opened a year and a half ago. Linda and Kathy manage the downtown store, while Brandon and Anita manage the McPhillips branch.

Giving back to the community

When asked what the secret of their success in business is, Linda said, “Luck, loyal customers, good suppliers and great employees. We cannot do it by ourselves! That is why we try to give back as much as we can to the community. We get excited when we get good deals from our suppliers. This is important to us because we pass this on to our customers.”

The Young family is no stranger to the Filipino community as they are always involved in community events such as in the recent fundraising for the flood victims.

“We are also involved with Folklorama. We sponsor events that celebrate tradition and culture,” says Linda.

Brandon also spoke of how they hire new immigrants, whether or not they speak English. He knows how life can be tough for newcomers to this country.

“We believe that keeping up and promoting our ethnic heritage, regardless where you are from, are extremely important. It provides colour and vibrant energy to this city,” says Brandon.

Advice for aspiring business owners

Finally, when asked about any advice they could share with new immigrants aspiring to start their own small business, Linda quickly answered, “Find a mentor. You can save a lot of time and money. If you know someone who has done it before, learn from them.”

“Find a passion,” was Brandon’s reply. “If you do not have the passion for your work, you start counting the hours. I stay at work and get excited about making positive changes to the store sometimes till 4:00 am.”

“And perseverance. Not everyday is a sunny day.”

Watching the three siblings laugh and joke together was like a breath of fresh air. Their faces were beaming as they talked about their life and work together.

From boat people with no country, no place to go and no future, to refugees in a country they have never heard before, whose language they cannot speak. From no job to store owners – the story of the Young family would inspire any new immigrant with hope.


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