If you ask Vancouverites where to get a specialty Asian food, you’re likely going to get the same answer: T&T, Canada’s number one Asian grocery chain.
We had the chance to sit down with Jack Lee, President of the Presidents Club of Canada and co-founder of T&T Supermarkets. Lee is one of Vancouver’s most respected entrepreneurs who blended the East and West to create a chain of supermarkets that stock Chinese and Asian goods.
Lee will be speaking at the 2015 SociaLIGHT Conference Vancouver where he hopes to inspire entrepreneurs to be persistent and think big. In our conversation with him, we get to know the man behind the green and white logo.
The idea behind T&T was born when Lee noticed a gap in the Canadian grocery market, specifically when it came to service and accessibility for Asian consumers, so he acted quickly to fill this void.
“Asian consumers should also be able to enjoy a good shopping experience,” he said. “We created a joint venture with a partner in Taiwan, and another chain store in California and brought T & T to life.”
The company started as a niche supermarket for Asian consumers in 1993, opening their first location in Burnaby’s Metropolis at Metrotown, and quickly grew into a well-known retailer across many Canadian households. In 2009, T&T was acquired for $225 million by Loblaw Companies Limited, the parent company of brands like Extra Foods, Joe Fresh, President’s Choice, No Name and more, and has expanded to a total of 24 locations across the country.
Lee’s key to success? Teamwork.
“Teamwork is very important. Our team, led by Cindy Lee, was a big part of our expansion from wholesale to retail. The leader is important, but the leader also has to choose the right people for the right positions at the right time. We established a good team to carry on a good dream.”
The name T&T pays homage to the two original investors, but also has a personal touch as both of Lee’s daughters’ names start with a T: Tina and Tiffany.
What stood out most to us was the importance he placed on family. Whether it was telling us about his reassuring conversations with his father when he was first starting out, or how proud he is of the success of his three kids, Lee’s family was his inspiration.
“It’s important to balance your business life and your personal life. Reserve one day a week to spend good time with your children and family. If you can do this, you can recover your spirit and your health. This will be the best thing for you.”
Now that he is semi-retired and he and his wife are empty nesters, he has a bit more time to enjoy Vancouver and some of his hobbies: photography, ballroom dancing and sports.
“Canada has become my country and I feel so fortunate to be Canadian, and Vancouver is the most fantastic city to live in the world. It’s the only place where someone can travel from Asia, and ski or golf in the same day.”
His final words of advice?
“Action, action, action. Nowadays, people are overly cautious. I encourage young professionals and entrepreneurs to put their action plan together and to take risks. There is no need to hesitate.”
See and hear from Jack Lee in person at the second annual SociaLIGHT Conference Vancouver on September 26 and 27 at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Use our promo code VBUZZ and get All Access Passes for $194 (regularly $497).
Vancity Buzz is a proud media partner of SociaLIGHT Conference Vancouver