Ipswich: Trong’s restaurant business celebrates family values
13:59 01 February 2014
Trong’s restaurant, now feted as one of the best in the Ipswich area, is about to celebrate 17 years in business.
The family Chinese restaurant, in historic St Nicholas Street, is a story of success for a family who fled Vietnam after the end of the Vietnamese war in the 1970s.
Millions of Vietnamese left their country looking to start new lives abroad, many of them risking storms and pirates and the dangers of sea.They became known as the Vietnamese boat people.
In Ipswich a reception centre was set up at the old Foxhall isolation hospital (where the Nuffield Hospital is today).
As a news reporter I remember going there. It was where I first drank green tea, and learned to eat rice from a bowl with chopsticks.
Foo Trong’s parents, dad Cau and mum Hop didn’t speak a word of English, but managed to get a boat to Hong Kong, where they had to apply to be allowed to come to the UK.
They arrived in Ipswich in December 1979. They had four children with them, brothers Foo, Hao and Viet and sister Lucy.
Foo’s dad, who is Chinese, had worked as a ships engineer and metalworker, while his mum is Vietnamese. Foo said: “I was quite young. One of my earliest memories here is seeing snow for the first time.
“We didn’t speak a word of English. I went to Copleston School where I did lots of English lessons, sports and maths, and I learned from the other people around me.”
Foo, two brothers and their sister still help out with the business, along with their parents. “My mum and dad still love being involved,” he said. “People don’t realise what is it like until they get into the restaurant world. We all get on well with each other, most of the time.
“I love the buzz and the hype and the pressure in the kitchen to get everything right every time. It is incredible.”
From a teenager he worked in other restaurants, and his parents for a Chinese takeaway, before they launched Trong’s in April 1997.
“It is incredible how time flies,” he said. “I don’t know where the years have gone by so quickly. I think our lives are so busy working and everything. We need to stop and take stock every so often and take note of things.
“It has been hard work but it is very rewarding and enjoyable. I have met so many customers over the past 15 or 16 years. Customers have become friends.
“Because it is family run, and not very big, you get to know a lot of people, and enjoy the customers’ company. I enjoy it all. I can’t see myself doing anything different really. I think I still have many years ahead of me.”
The restaurant was already looking busy up to Easter, he said. The phone rang several times while we chatted with customers wanting to book tables.
The customers had changed too, he said, and in a good way. “They are much more adventurous, it is not just sweet and sour any more,” he said.
“They know more about food and they are travelling a lot more. They are more knowledgeable. People didn’t used to know about ginger, and garlic and lemon grass. The food trade is improving and getting much better.”
Foo and wife Michala, who is from Bury St Edmunds, have three sons and one of them is working as a chef.
“Mum and dad were very brave to leave everything behind and take four children and move and go overseas,” he added. “I don’t think that I could have had the confidence to do that.
“Ipswich, Suffolk I think is the best place to raise a family. We have beautiful countryside around, the forests and the sea nearby for lovely walks. I think it is absolutely lovely. Yet you are only one and a half hours from the city. People always have time for one another here.”