DNTO

From Hong Kong to Saskatchewan and an upscale Chinese restaurant

It was natural for the Yuen family to open a Chinese restaurant when they moved to Saskatchewan from Hong Kong. But when their son grew up he wanted to do things his way.
Sam and Andy Yuen of Odd Couple restaurant in Saskatoon (A. Yuen)
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Andy Yuen left a crowded bustling Hong Kong when he was 15 and moved to Wynyard, Sask., in the middle of winter with his parents. 

The family opened up a Chinese restaurant in the neighbouring town of Lanigan.

At first, Yuen wanted nothing to do with his parents' restaurant.  He said he wasn't proud of what they were offering. 

"We were a Chinese restaurant but we sold T-bone steaks, hamburgers, French fries and chicken balls!" exclaimed Yuen.

Yuen had never seen chicken balls before he came to Canada.

He decided to do something different with his life. He studied engineering but eventually discovered he really loved cooking.

Odd Couple restaurant in Saskatoon (A. Yuen)
So as a young adult he opened a modern Chinese eatery -- Odd Couple, named after Yuen and his dad.

"We fought a lot. When we were designing the space, he was really worried about the concepts," recalled Yuen. "And, we had a finite amount of money."

Yuen's dad wanted as big a kitchen as possible and Yuen preferred to spend money on the décor and lighting instead.

These days, Yuen's mom is the kitchen manager and his dad cooks a couple hours each day. He's also the handyman in the kitchen.  Essentially, they work for Yuen but he feels his parents are paid very well.

"If you don't have happy kitchen staff, you won't have good food," he insisted.

"I'm also the only child. The money will eventually go to me anyway, so I might as well make them happy while they are alive," he laughed.

When the restaurant opened in May of 2014, it was slow to start. It got busier that July.

"We worked long hours," explained Yuen. "One Saturday it was quite busy so I suggested we stagger the kitchen staff over lunch." 

Sam Yuen works in his son's restaurant in Saskatoon. (A. Yuen)
But Yuen's parents didn't like that. An argument ensued. "And my dad said 'I guess I'm gonna quit.'"

"He grabbed his car keys, took off from the back door and he didn't come back for the day, " said Yuen.

The next day Yuen went and spoke to his parents. "For them it was very important to have a break together, eat a family meal together every day," he explained.

"From then on we just agreed that we close from 2 to 4:30 every day. And we have lunch together."

"A restaurant is a caring business. It's not just about food," said Yuen. "It's about how much you care about people. I don't think I could find better people to work with."

DNTO host Sook-Yin Lee and Odd Couples restaurant owner Andy Yuen (CBC)
Hear Andy Yuen with DNTO host Sook-Yin Lee from the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon on DNTO Saturday December 5 at 3 p.m.