Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.
We often get asked by our customers; "who is Great Aunty Three?"
The simple answer is; Our Grand Mother!
Here is the full inspiring story behind Great Aunty Three.
My name is Michael Le. I am the founder behind Great Aunty Three. Our journey started back in 1989 when I was just 10 years old.
My family owned a very busy takeaway store in Kingsgrove. This is where I learned the artful skill of making a cappuccino whilst standing on milk crates (for extra height) and helped every single day including every weekend. We were a team of three; mum, dad and little me.
Dad taught me how to create delicious food from scratch, such as epic burger patties, Sautee onions to perfection, make the best homemade fried potato chips (double fried of course) with chicken salt and a dash of vinegar and our irresistible vanilla malt milkshakes!
Dad's hot chips were darn good that people would line up in the rain just for one of his butcher paper-wrapped bundle of chips for just $1.
Although I spent most of my free time at the shop and hardly had any free time to be a kid, these were some of my fondest memories.
But, after two years of grinding, the workload demand took a toll on my parents’ relationship. They filed for divorce and inevitably sold the shop and that was the end of the takeaway dream.
Fast-tracked to 1995 when I was 15, I fell in love with the incredible Vietnamese Baguette, (mainly because that was all I really can afford) For just $2 you were able to grab a banh mi that comes with a can of fizzy drink! #TrueStory.
Over the years I noticed so many bakeries and banh mi shops pop-up all-over Sydney. It was great for a kid like me as it meant I did not have to travel to Cabramatta or Bankstown anymore.
But, something was missing. One day, my mates and I were divided on where to eat, half of us wanted Pho, the other half wanted banh mi, as for me, Banh Mi was all I can afford anyway.
So, the seed was planted in my mind, a place where we can enjoy the best of street foods. It puzzled me why we couldn't get both.
I pondered upon owning my very own Banh Mi place that also had Pho but I was told it was ridiculous and it would never work and when I told a few friends and family, I faced a lot of criticism and even got laughed at.
So I scrapped that idea.
As the years went by, I struggled to find a career path that excited me. I told my parents I wanted to be a doctor but that was more for them. In the Vietnamese culture, it is admirable to become a Doctor, Lawyer or some kind of specialist. But I was not the best student at school. The next best thing, according to my family, is "an office job where I get holiday pay and wear a suit and tie" aka a Corporate Job.
So, I devoted my early adulthood busting my buttocks to upskill myself to get my foot into corporate land.
I felt empowered, accomplished and even proud, for the most part, but after a decade of climbing that corporate ladder, I eventually realized I was living my parent's dream and lost that inner spark. I slowly dreaded going to work. Instead of feeling proud, I felt undervalued and disconnected.
I decided to do some soul searching. It didn't take long to discover what made me happy, reflecting on those moments where I watched customers eagerly lining up for our food and their face full of delight enjoying our food.
I looked at my grandmother for inspiration as she was the supreme chef in our family, and everyone knows of her restaurant back in Vietnam.
In 1985, my grandmother decided to sacrifice everything she had worked for and sold her land and businesses to sponsor my family over to Australia. My older sister was attached to Vietnam and decided to stay back. When my grandmother arrived in Australia, she continued to sacrifice by becoming a Vegan. This was her way to pray for the safe arrival of my sister and uncle.
She loved cooking so much that she devoted her time to help a monk manage a Vegan restaurant in Cabramatta and became the head chef for over 30 years.
My whole family was in the foodservice industry. My uncles and aunties still own and operate one of Marrickville's longest-standing bakeries (35+ years), another uncle also owns and operates a bakery in Chatswood about the same amount of time, another uncle is a chef and so is my dad.
One would think since the family is in restaurants, it would be natural for me to progress into the same career path, right?
But, when I shared my idea with the family, they all frowned upon my idea. The only person that believed in me was mum. Mum said; "you can do it son". That was all I needed to hear and enough to give me the confidence to make mum proud.
At the time, I did not understand why, and it took me quite a while to realize that my family associated restaurants and bakeries as a means of “getting by” as immigrants in a foreign country. They view it as a struggle and not a career by choice. They reminded me that I should stay in corporate land and reminded me how lucky I am to be able to escape the restaurant bakery industry.
So, as they were on a mission to talk me out of my crazy idea, I went MIA and kept a low profile for 6 months and went full throttle. I set out to find the perfect location, without even a plan or knowing how I was going to pull this idea off.
I grew up in the Inner West of Sydney just mum and me. My father and sister were in Vietnam.
Mum and I ventured around Newtown and Enmore regularly and my (fondest) earliest recollections were going to Jewels (now IGA Newtown) and McDonalds Newtown then sitting at Camperdown Memorial Park (behind Maccas) eating cheeseburgers with mum.
This image is of me sitting in front of our home at 78 Metropolitan Road, Enmore. Yes, I am wearing a dress and if you need to know why, my aunty wanted a niece.
Our very first home was in Enmore, we lived at 78 Metropolitan Road before we moved to Camperdown in 1985. It was important for me to find a location that resonated with me, the Inner West was non-negotiable.
In 2011, with the help of a dear friend, I found our perfect location on Enmore Road, in Enmore (Opposite the Enmore Theatre and close to Metropolitan Road - our first home) so I knew in my heart this was the one so I signed a long-term lease. For the first time in my life, I felt absolutely liberated and taking the first step to live life on my very own terms.
I submitted my resignation with the bank on Feb 2012, at this stage I kept all this to myself.
No plans, just a vision but somehow that was enough to fuel my desire to make this vision come true.
We officially opened on August 18th, 2012. Even though it was a slow start, it was a wonderful time in my life being a father to my first newborn child and first-time business owner.
The hours were long. I remember, getting up as early as 5am so that we can go to the markets and purchase quality produce. We left our son in the care of his grandparents so we can go to work. We would get home and he would already be sound asleep.
That was probably one of the hardest things, not being able to tuck my child into bed and take him to and from school or bathing him. But, in my mind, I knew it was only temporary.
We were not familiar with trading hours and needed to stay open as much as possible to gauge our peak times. Some days we ended up staying past 11pm cleaning and mopping and not having our second meal until 12am-midnight.
On September 3, 2012, during the Father’s Day weekend, about a month after our grand opening, I received a text from the police advising me to call them regarding my mother.
I was in the middle of mopping the floors, it was around 9pm. This is where I learned my mother had passed away.
It was the saddest day of my life. I felt as though I lost my best friend and had so many wonderful plans to share with mum. I struggled to keep my composure but found peace working in the business.
Mum selflessly gifted me $20,000 of her savings to help me purchase an investment property which raised enough equity to completely pay off the entire fit-out and build of the project, but when I told her about my wild idea to quit corporate life and open a restaurant, instead of criticizing me, she gifted me another $20,000 to make sure I don’t change my mind.
She was a great mum and gave a child everything they could ever ask for and taught me to live life on my own terms and never let anyone get in the way of my dreams.
Even though the restaurant logo pays homage to my dear grandmother’s culinary skills, it has now also become my wonderful mother’s legacy.
We are turning 9 this year.
Over the past 8 years, it has been a tremendous rollercoaster ride, filled with incredible highs and lows with so many life long business and personal lessons.
There were times when I lost sight of how far we have come with Great Aunty Three but I am now more determined than ever to take Great Aunty Three to new heights and promise to continue my family legacy.
The next chapter of Great Aunty Three may take Sydney by surprise, but once again, after everything I have been through and learned when you have a definite desire, you must do whatever it takes to make it happen. #LiveByYourOwnTerms.