Victoria Vu Duc was 13 when she founded her Vietnamese cuisine business Vic & Co Cuisine Viêt during the pandemic lockdowns in March 2020.
Like many others her age, Vu Duc found herself bored while her school was shut down and sports were cancelled.
With free time due to the lockdowns, Vu Duc began cooking Vietnamese food with her mother Coco Tran, who immigrated to Canada from Vietnam in 2000 and owns two salon businesses. Vu Duc began giving food to friends and family in the Gatineau community to foster positivity during the tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So that’s when I started cooking a lot. I saw a lot of the news of people losing their loved ones, so I just wanted to spread some joy, especially around my community,” said Vu Duc.
Friends and family suggested Vu Duc should start a business from home and sell her food to more people in the community. So, Vu Duc designed a logo with her mom, created a Facebook page and started her business aimed at giving back to the community and sharing Vietnamese culture.
Vic & Co gained more exposure as media outlets interviewed the young entrepreneur and investors reached out to open a restaurant location.
In April 2021, Vu Duc opened a renovated, small, but friendly and homely, restaurant location in the Deschênes neighbourhood where she grew up. With the help of her parents and siblings, Vu Duc has successfully operated the restaurant for nearly two years.
On Vic & Co’s first day, Vu Duc remembered seeing a line out of the restaurant’s door, with the phone constantly ringing and TV crews covering the event. The opening was such a success that the supply was sold out in two days and the restaurant had to close for a week to regroup.
“I was very grateful for that moment and it was surreal,” said Vu Duc. “When you open a restaurant, you’re not sure that it’s going to continue on very well, or if there’s even gonna be clients that come. So that was when I was like, OK, yeah. This is a good thing, I want to continue this and I think my family was very proud of me as well.”
What started out as Vu Duc cooking in her home kitchen and delivering food every weekend has become a profitable and growing business.
The restaurant originally had three items on the menu: soup, spring rolls and fresh rolls. It now has an extensive and diverse range of Vietnamese foods and drinks.
Despite her success, the young entrepreneur has faced challenges that come with owning a business while in high school.
Balancing academics, playing basketball and operating her business was difficult for Vu Duc to manage. As well, Vu Duc was new to learning the operational, financial and legal challenges of owning a restaurant. With the help of her hard-working parents and a resourceful community, Vu Duc has overcome these obstacles.
“It was a lot to juggle,” said Vu Duc. “But you know, you live and you learn, so we got the hang of it after all.”
Vic & Co’s community and customers helped by providing tips on the restaurant business and offering useful contacts to help the inexperienced food service entrepreneur.
And Vu Duc gives back to the community in many ways as well.
Vu Duc created a scholarship fund called the La bourse de persévérance de Vic & Co which she said has given away 40 scholarships to children who exemplify perseverance and a strong work ethic.
Along with this, Vu Duc somehow finds the time to volunteer at a community kitchen and donate meals to the community fridge.
Her kitchen is staffed by her family, but also friends her age to provide a positive opportunity to enter the workplace when it can be hard to get hired with little experience.
Vu Duc’s mother describes her daughter as an “old soul” because of the responsibility she resembles beyond her years.
However, Tran is most proud of her daughter for her generosity when it comes to supporting her community.
Vu Duc is passionate about science and biology and plans to pursue it in science or medical school.
As for the business, Vu Duc hopes to master inventory and staffing for the restaurant and has discussed eventually making a drink-focused Vic & Co brand or franchising the restaurant locally.