By Tony Lu
Three years ago, after a long career in the restaurant industry, I bought a Fatburger franchise in downtown Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, a mixed-use complex near Gastown, the Central Business District and, of course, Vancouver Harbour. In addition to meeting my expectations of success for the first business I’ve ever owned, running this restaurant has allowed me to achieve a better work-life balance as my wife and I raise our young daughter.
Educated in the burger business
I was born in Brunei, a tiny country on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, and lived there until the age of 16. As a child, I enjoyed playing badminton and was an average student at school. I always wanted an office job when I grew up, perhaps working as an accountant.
In June 1986, I moved to Richmond, B.C., with my parents and two of my brothers (our other siblings live all over the world). That was during my Form 4 classes, the equivalent to Grade 10 in Canada, and I finished up my high school education in Richmond for Grades 11 and 12. It was quite a culture shock, going from an all-boys Catholic school in Brunei to a public school in Canada. And it was right during Expo 86, which was certainly an exciting time to be in Vancouver.
During my Grade 11 studies, I took a part-time job at an A&W restaurant. They kept promoting me and I was a manager by the age of 21. I spent a total of 10 years with the company, continuing to work my way up, rather than pursuing a post-secondary education.
When A&W franchised out their corporate stores, I left to join Triple O’s, one of British Columbia’s best-known burger restaurant chains. That’s where I met Frank Di Benedetto, who had helped develop the concept and would later go on to acquire the Canadian master franchising rights to Fatburger and bring it to the local market.
At the beginning, I managed the first Triple O’s location in downtown Vancouver, but again, I soon worked my way up. I spent 16 years with Triple O’s, primarily serving as a district manager, which meant driving around a lot to visit all of their stores. I even opened restaurants as far away as Thailand and Hong Kong!