How 2 newcomers are chasing their business dreams on P.E.I.

Opening a new business can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during the restrictions that come with a pandemic.

Opening a business during the pandemic has not deterred them

A look at some of the products on offer at Alambé Vietnamese coffee shop. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Opening a new business can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during the restrictions that come with a pandemic.

Here's how two business people on P.E.I., both newcomers, are making a go of it. 

A Vietnamese coffee shop

Hiep Pham, owner of Alambé, wants​​​​​​​ to introduce Islanders to Vietnamese coffee. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Hiep Pham is the owner of a new Vietnamese coffee shop in Charlottetown, but his business card simply reads "A Coffee Lover."

Not just any coffee, but Robusta coffee from his homeland in Vietnam. He's hoping Islanders will love it too.

"A lot of people know about Vietnamese coffee, but what is the real quality and everything like that? They don't really know exactly what is that and I said OK, I'd love to introduce the coffee to all the markets."

About five weeks ago, Pham opened Alambé, a coffee shop in the former MacAulay's Bakery location on Kent Street in Charlottetown.

It's just beautiful, the people beautiful, the community beautiful."​​​​​​— Hiep Pham

Yes, another coffee shop on Kent Street. Just a couple doors down from Tim Horton's, and from a space recently vacated by another coffee shop, Kettle Black.

Pham moved to P.E.I. from Saigon a year ago with his wife and three children. His family owns a roastery in Vietnam, and Pham thought moving to a tourist destination like P.E.I. would help introduce the coffee to a new market. 

Pham said it has been "challenging," but he remains optimistic.

"I and my wife were already prepared … to go through a tough time for this business during the pandemic. That's why everything to us, just beautiful and nice."

He said Islanders have been kind and supportive. For example, he said one man helped him understand how and where to dispose of waste, and a woman brought flowers for his staff after noticing them smiling and laughing during a training session.

She said, "It's just so nice," Pham recalled.  

"The next day she brought us one bouquet of flowers and a pot of flowers.... It's just beautiful, the people beautiful, the community beautiful."

A family grocery store

Teddie Li and Jade Liu, shown with their children Eva, six, and Eason, four, opened Best Choice Grocery in early July. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Teddie Li says about 70 per cent of the customers at his family's small grocery store on University Avenue in Charlottetown are Chinese.

But he wants to change that.

"I'm trying to expand my store to the local people, to the Islanders."

That's one reason he started to stock his shelves with products from Costco. About once a week, he makes the trip to Moncton and loads up on Costco favourites like fruits and vegetables, Kirkland snacks and of course, toilet paper. He knows he can't mark the prices up too much, but figures he at least saves people the costly trip across the bridge.

I think it's going to get better and better.— Teddie Li

"We don't have Costco here but people like Costco stuff so we buy from there and sell it here," he said.

Li sells Asian groceries, as well, which he gets from suppliers in Montreal and Toronto. He said one difference between Chinese and Canadian products are snacks — they are spicier in China — and yogurt — it's sweeter and creamier in China.

"Honestly, the yogurt here is more healthy and is better I think," he said. "[But] people are used to the taste of Chinese yogurt."

Best Choice grocery has started stocking Costco items. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Li and his wife, Jade Liu, moved to P.E.I. from Beijing in May 2019. Two months ago, they opened their grocery store, Best Choice, in the building they share with The Great Canadian Bagel.  

He said the air is cleaner on P.E.I., and it's a better place for them to raise their kids.

"The education system here, they make them feel more free to grow up. It's less pressure than in China."

Li said the grocery store is just breaking even at the moment, but he is finding ways to attract more customers. He has been in discussions with Skip the Dishes about providing a delivery service.

"I think it's going to get better and better," he said.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.


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