TORONTO – In Grade 10, Lits Kong won a financial grant that allowed his family to open a Laotian restaurant. She didn’t know it at the time, but this close connection between business, food, and family would become central to her life decades later.
For a high school project, she created an acclaimed business plan, which led to a government grant. The earnings helped her parents buy a building in Winnipeg, where they lived at the time, and eventually open a restaurant in the space called Lao Thai.
For Kong, a great responsibility began at a young age. When she was six, she started waking up early to cook sticky rice, eggs and stir-fried vegetables for her parents before rushing to school and getting home in time for dinner at her family’s table at 5 p.m. .
“I was very, very safe,” Kong said. “I have only known Laotian cuisine in my entire life.”
Kong’s mother was pregnant with her when their family crossed the border from Laos to Thailand during the Vietnam War. She was born in a refugee camp and by the time they arrived in Canada she was 4 months old.
As an adult, Kong moved from Winnipeg to Toronto to devote himself to finance. Two decades after the start of her career, she was working as a mortgage specialist for several clients in the Queen and Dufferin area and noticed a vacant property at 2 Gladstone Avenue. It was perfect for a restaurant.
Six months later, in April 2018, Kong opened a second Lao Thai restaurant, built on his parents’ location in Winnipeg, while still working in the financial industry.
“My heart and soul are… I love food. But at the same time, finance, mortgages and estate planning are another part of me that I love, ”Kong said. “I thought to myself, why not do both? “
In the early years of the company, the pandemic struck.
Kong was the only full-time employee at the Toronto location, answering phones, handling deliveries and pickups, while preparing every dish and working as a mortgage specialist.
“I was dying,” Kong said. For three months, she was posted for a job to hire another employee, but no one applied.
Meanwhile, after two decades of community service, Winnipeg’s Lao Thai was forced to shut down. Kong made an executive decision. “I needed my mother,” she says.
She closed her restaurant for over a week, drove to Winnipeg out of the blue, and told her mother she had three days to pack her things and return to Toronto with her.
To this day, Kong still has only a few part-time employees who come on weekends, but at the moment she has her mother by her side in the kitchen.
Back in high school, Kong secured the financial support that paved the way for their family’s first restaurant; years later, her mother returns this opportunity, serving as a mental health bridge during a difficult time.
“I hope the family legacy will continue in this way,” Kong said.
ABOUT TABLE SPEECHES
Table Talk is CTV News Toronto’s weekly series that explores the people who shape Toronto’s food scene, published every Friday on CTVNewsToronto.ca.