Organic, local, wheat free, vegetarian. There are so many expectations that customers demand from restaurants these days in order to ensure they are getting the best of the ingredients and products sold but what if one of these desirables was ‘humanitarian’. Enter, Mrs My Le, owner of a 3 strong Vietnamese restaurant group, Mien Tay, and a fully-fledged philanthropist. Since opening her first restaurant in 2008, Mrs My Le has donated up to 40% of her profits (approx. £250k) to people, families and organisations back in Vietnam who are in greater need of money than she is. Mrs My Le’s humble and definitive view is that she would rather a child eat than her having a glamorous house in London.
“In Vietnam a family can survive on £50 a month which means that money goes a lot further than it does in the UK.” This really worries Mrs My Le, illuminating the vivid contrast between the two worlds.
Mrs My Le moved to the UK back in 2001 and worked doing 3 or 4 jobs a day, such as hotel cleaning. It was in these early days that she met her now husband Mr Su Tran and bonded over the love of cooking and their home cuisine from South West Vietnam. Mr Su Tran is a trained chef had has worked in the London institutions such as The Hippodrome and in China Town. They combined their savings and, in 2008, opened their first Mien Tay along ‘Pho Mile’, the bustling stretch of Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road. Eight years ago, the idea of encouraging Westerners to eat the food that Mrs My Le and Mr Su Tran had grown accustomed to was difficult, both in preparation and practise. Mrs My Le and Mr Su Tran got to the food market in Leytonstone at 8am every day to buy the fresh Asian vegetables and travelled back on the bus as quickly as possible in order to be ready for lunch service beginning at 11am. In practise, customers were intrigued by their authentic dishes but approached with trepidation so the menu had to be somewhat anglicised. These days, people are more adventurous and Mrs My Le can have real fun with introducing dishes that are as they would be in Vietnam, without being watered down or altered for a British palette. The Shoreditch restaurant is such a success they have recently had to buy a premises two doors down in order to have a fighting chance at appeasing hungry east Londoners. An additional restaurant, trading under the same name, can also be found south of the river on Lavender Hill, Battersea, where Mrs My Le can be found most of the time chatting to customers, being referred to as ‘mum’ by the regulars and answering any questions they may have about her cuisine – when she’s in the UK that is.
Mrs My Le regularly hops on a plane back to Vietnam with suitcases brimming with toys, food, medicine and clothes to give to people less fortunate. She visits old friends and family as well as seeking out more unassuming people she can help emotionally, physically and financially. Mrs My Le’s altruism has had a positive impact on various Vietnamese communities as well as individual families. Other tales of her life as a good Samaritan include helping to build bridges over flooded villages or new schools as well as paying for a family with lots of hungry young mouths to feed to eat regularly at a local restaurant whilst the chefs also taught the children how to cook for themselves. Mrs My Le’s help isn’t just admirable due to her passion and contributions but also her long sighted view to help future generations and bloodlines of families. This is true in her humanitarian work but also in her approach to her own family in the UK. Mr Su Tran trains up the husbands of their daughters to be the future head chefs of Mien Tay whilst the daughters follow in the matriarchal footsteps of Mrs My Le who, when inviting customers into the restaurants, welcomes them into her home; her world.
Morality is at the centre of Mrs My Le’s being, as it is of any Buddhism believer. One of the most endearing things about Mrs My Le is how humble and self-effacing she is. In much the same way that Buddhists do not seek to evangelize or coerce other people to adopt their religion, Mrs My Le believes that any contribution to charity is purely personal. Few people in the UK know about the extent of her compassion and she recognises this as her own choice and never transfers her own beliefs on to her customers. There is nothing on the Mien Tay menu to suggest that when a particular dish is purchased, money will be donated, and there certainly isn’t an optional donation on the bottom of the bill. However, on a recent trip to Vietnam in a packed out theatre hall, Mrs My Le was unexpectedly called on stage to a standing ovation to receive flowers, thanks and recognition for all of her benevolent work within the communities.
Mrs My Le’s ultimate goal for her time in the UK is to create The Charity Restaurant – an eatery that donates all profits to underprivileged people, families and communities in Vietnam. Mrs My Le’s concern is finding a property that is low rent and therefore not being able to fulfil her destiny.
“I do not have enough resources or time to set it up right now and I am getting older so I have less energy to achieve my dreams which makes me feel very sad.”
Guatama Buddha once said “Your purpose in life is to find our purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” – There couldn’t be a truer word spoken when it comes to Mrs My Le.
To help contribute to the many lives in Vietnam whilst eating amazing food, visit Mien Tay.
Written by Sarah Brading