Food industry work boosts language skills, financial security, say immigrants

phamthumbA bell chimes as the door swings open. A sweet and salty smell — with a dash of fresh herbs — perfumes the air, enticing you.

UltimateVSub serves up fresh Vietnamese sandwiches: crusty baguettes piled high with tangy chicken (or beef), shredded carrots, cucumber and brightly-flavoured cilantro, all wrapped in red and white checkered paper and served with a smile.

That smile belongs to Nancy Pham, who with her sister, took ownership of the Marda Loop sub shop last November.

Pham, speaking in her native Vietnamese through a translator, says that the skills she learns by working in the sub shop have been instrumental in easing the transition from her life in Vietnam to living in Canada.

Pham UltimateVSub

Nancy Pham, who came from Vietnam in 2008, says her English has improved since working in the Vietnamese sub shop.
Photo by: Devon Jolie
She is one of many who are facing this transition. According to the City of Calgary’s latest statistics, immigrants count for 30 per cent of the city’s population. Of that number, the city estimates that 42 per cent of these immigrants cannot speak either English or French.

Pham, who came from Vietnam in 2008, says she moved to Canada to be with her family and learn about Canadian culture. But she says that not being able to speak the language once she arrived here made it hard to feel she was a part of the community.

To help herself integrate into Canadian society, Pham decided to take on running a restaurant.

“I wanted to expand my experience in Canada and develop my skills in speaking as well as cooking,” Pham says.

Working at the restaurant requires her to speak English to communicate with her customers as she makes the subs to order.

Not only has her English improved, but Pham adds that her life in Canada has been

Fast facts about Calgary’s immigrants

• In 1959, 1 in 350 Calgarians were part of a visible minority. Today, that number is 1 in 5.

• The top 5 native languages of immigrants are English, Tagalog (Philippines), Punjabi, Spanish, and Mandarin.

• Half of landed immigrants are between ages 25 – 44.

• By 2020, Calgary’s immigrant population is estimated to be almost half a million.


more exciting since taking on the responsibility of running UltimateVSub, as she gets to interact with others on a daily basis while sharing a part of her culture with the Marda Loop community.

Like Pham, Hector Menjivar also views his restaurant as a way to excel and integrate into Canadian society.

Menjivar, who emigrated from El Salvador in 1982, came to Canada with the skills of a chef and a dream to open up his own restaurant.

After working in airport kitchens for several years, Menjivar and his family opened La Casa Latina, located on 17th Avenue S.E., in 2003.

He says opening a restaurant is a great way to be able to share the Latino culture with Canadians.

“The restaurant is important because we have established ourselves financially and can give our children a good education,” he says.


He adds that by owning La Casa Latina, he feels he is “100 per cent part of the country.”Owner of La Casa Latina, Hector Menjivar and his wife Lilian, say that their restaurant helped them establish themselves financially in Canada.
Photo by: Devon Jolie

Menjivar explains the success of his business allows him to support the Canadian economy through job creation, as well as the taxes and fees he’s required to pay to the government. And he also supports charitable causes throughout the community whenever possible.

With the goal to build another larger restaurant, he says he will be able to contribute even further to the community and really become part of Canadian society.

He adds, “The more we grow, the more we can give.”

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