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Hoang Lee- Living the American Dream 

If you can walk, you can work; that was the philosophy of Hoang Lee’s father. Growing up in Vietnam, he says he started working when he was two. Mr. Lee is the chef/owner of Saigon Paris Bistro, located in a strip mall adjacent to The Bell Tower Shops. 

His father’s work philosophy has molded and shaped him through challenging times, times that most of us can’t even imagine. After the Vietnam War, Hoang fled his troubled country, spending 17 days on a boat that landed in Hong Kong (1979). His dream was to come to the United States but communication was cut following the war and he could not locate relatives who had made it here to sponsor him. The future restaurateur lived in a refugee camp, before making it to the Philippines where he learned English, and finally got that sponsorship. He says with gratitude, “Because I came from a country so poor and war torn, I came here and feel like I’m in heaven.” But heaven wasn’t easy. He remembers, “It’s tough when you come here by yourself and have to support yourself and then family in Vietnam. I make a dollar, I send 50 cents to them.” 

In Vietnam Mr. Lee says, “I never cooked anything, never washed a plate but when you come to America anything can happen. You can do anything you want here.” He enrolled in college and got a job in a restaurant. “I went for electrical engineering, but I didn’t make it,” he says laughing. He even tried his hand at crabbing in Punta Gorda, laughing again he says, “I didn’t make that either.” He was good at cooking. Answering an ad for work at the French Roast Café, in a year and half, he and his wife saved up enough money to buy it from the owner who took a liking to Lee, and was ready to retire. 16 years later he is delighting patrons with his flavorful mixture of French and Vietnamese cuisine, cooked to order. Mr. Lee says, “I cook like you cook at home.” Try the rich chicken curry (customers rave over it), the Pho is pho-nomenal and he is proud of his fried rice; it has a touch of heat. French dishes include escargot, duck, steak au poivre, and more. Mr. Lee still has family in Vietnam and while they will never be allowed to visit Fort Myers to see his success, their lives are changed by it. He still sends them money. As we complain about challenges in our lives, Mr. Lee reminds us, “Nothing compares to America. No mat ter where you live, or where you work. Everyone’s dream is to come here. I accept what ever happens here; I’ll take it.” 

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