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The Eastender: Au Petit Café keeps family legacy alive

Main Street Vietnamese restaurant opened in 1995

On Main Street between 32nd and 33rd at the foot of Little Mountain, small crowds are often spotted waiting in front of two cozy, side-by-side storefronts: Long’s Noodle House and Au Petit Café. Both opened within the past two decades and have become fast neighbourhood favourites. With family ties, affordable prices, roots in immigration, accommodating staff and, of course, unique flavours from across the Pacific, both have gained a solid reputation among Vancouverites looking for something special to eat.

With a collared shirt, Bluetooth piece in his ear and professional demeanor, Do Minh Trinh wouldn’t be out of place in a fast-paced office.

But Trinh works in another busy environment: a bustling Vietnamese café on Main Street called Au Petit Café.

Lunch is the most hectic. Customers on breaks crowd the space waiting for French-style sandwiches and many are forced to stand outside. Some who manage to grab seats slurp bowls of pho. Calls for takeout go straight to Trinh’s earpiece while he multitasks serving in-store customers and informing staff of orders.

Trinh’s parents opened the café on Main in 1995 after a similar Chinatown location earlier in the ’90s. He credits the success to his parents, who overcame the challenges of starting a new business.

The Trinh family was originally refugees from Vietnam who came to Canada on a boat more than 30 years ago.

“When I look at it, yes, it was a very saddening experience,” said Trinh, who was eight at the time. “But everything that happens you can perceive it as a good or bad thing. Perception is very important, learning how to perceive things correctly.”

Trinh accepts the situation for what it was and shared a Chinese idiom about overcoming difficulties: when one’s horse dies, one has to walk.

“My father made a lot of friends and that really helped,” said Trinh, who has taken over the café after his parents retired but still experiences their legacy among guests. “He was very sociable, very polite, so that every time people come in they always ask ‘Where’s your father? Where’s your father?’”

The culinary side of the café was nurtured by Trinh’s mother. “She takes her own recipes and moulds them into a product that is most accepted by everyone,” said Trinh.

The café offers unique choices that are not often found at Vietnamese restaurants, such as the beef stew noodle soup, curry beef stew and Hainanese chicken, all of which are customer favourites.

The family recognized that sometimes flavours at restaurants can be too hot or too mild but found ways to cater to everyone.

“For example, for our curry, some of our clients say it’s too sweet, so we utilize a little bit of our salt and pepper so that they can adjust the flavour,” said Trinh. “If they want it a little spicy, they can add a little chili. My mom told me to add chili and mix it up with lime.”

The special sandwich is another popular item Trinh enjoys. A generous portion of homemade ham and meatballs are served with vegetables between warm French bread.

Hot peppers are available for the adventurous. The sandwiches, called banh mi or Viet subs, have roots in French colonial influence.

While development at this end of Main near 33rd Avenue isn’t as rapid compared to the stretch near the King Edward intersection, there are a few low-rises nearby.

“Main Street has become more ethnically diverse in terms of businesses,” said Trinh. “It’s a good thing because there are a lot of varieties for people who live around here. So you know, I totally wish there would be even more restaurants and stuff around here. I’m sure it’s coming.”

Trinh’s parents still visit the family business from time to time. There are always guests who greet them fondly.