With an unbending focus on authenticity and quality, this close-knit family-run business has created success from clever products and sheer hard work. Samantha Schelling reports.
In 1978, Mr and Mrs Chen arrived in Australia as refugees from Vietnam. While they didn't speak English (rather learning it in their 30s), they did “speak food”. Mr Chen was one of 13 children, helping his parents who sold groceries and salted duck eggs.
It was his desire to share his love for food – particularly dumplings – with Australians, that sparked the eponymous Mr Chen’s food business.
Daughter Nancy joined the business 15 years ago, followed five years later by her sister Lucy. Four years ago the Chen siblings took the reins of the now second-generation business.
On a mission
Lucy Chen says, “We were children living in housing commission in Richmond when our parents started the business. They both worked day shifts and night shifts just to start their lives here.
“They started bringing in food from overseas because back then there wasn’t as much as there is now.
“Dad was kind of a one-man show, and for a long time it was just the two of them. They were both still doing their other day and night jobs for quite a number of years.
“It was only when they’d saved enough to get the business going they moved to doing it full-time.”
Chen says for several more years there was only a few people “doing everything”. “But we’ve been growing really fast. We needed to make sure that we’re having sustained growth, and in the last 12 months our team has doubled and there’s now 20 of us.
“The growth happened over the past couple of years, but Nancy and I didn’t realise that we were just taking on more work. It wasn’t until one of our marketing people said, ‘It’s amazing what you guys have done’. I didn’t say ‘oh, yeah!’, I wanted to cry – so I think that means we needed more help!”