UPDATE: Restaurateur hopes to open again in new location after sudden closure

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 10, 2014
Cathy (Thy) Nguyen places a box of food removed from her restaurant, Pho Vietnam, into her vehicle Monday afternoon.
Star photo by Gary Kean

It was as cold as an icebox inside 27 Humber Road  Monday afternoon, but Cathy (Thy) Nguyen was still wondering what she was going to do with the last few boxes of food before it all spoils.

Nguyen is the owner of Pho Vietnam, a restaurant she opened in Corner Brook this past fall after she moved to the city from Saskatchewan.

The restaurant had been getting rave reviews from those who ate there. After a government inspector ordered electricity cut to the property this past Friday, many of those loyal customers have been doing what they can to help Nguyen deal with the unexpected and sudden closure of her business.

Last Thursday, a group of five inspectors — two provincial government electrical inspectors from Service NL, two representatives from the Corner Brook Fire Department and one municipal building inspector from the City of Corner Brook’s department of community services — paid a visit to the building and conducted an inspection of its electrical systems.

Nguyen, who rented the space in which she ran Pho Vietnam, said she was told there was an issue with the electrical system, but was not told power would be cut off the next day.

On Friday afternoon, she spoke with her landlord and was assured everything would be fine. At around 6:30 p.m. Friday, as Nguyen was busy serving a dining room full of customers, she was given notice the electricity would be cut off in two hours.

Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who speaks broken English, said she was shocked to learn her restaurant had to close.

“If (the inspectors) have trouble, everybody (should) let me and (the) owner know, maybe one week (of notice before turning power off) ... I don’t think only one day (was sufficient notice),” said Nguyen.

The decision to cut electricity off was made by the provincial electrical inspectors. Nguyen said it was the power company that informed her, but Service NL told The Western Star she was told by one of their inspectors.

Besides the restaurant, the power was cut to five residential units located in the same building. The eight people living in the building have all had to vacate the premises.

According to Service NL, which issued an emailed statement to The Western Star about the building Monday afternoon, the inspection was done at the request of the City of Corner Brook.

“This inspection determined that there were significant concerns and issues with the electrical system,” read the prepared statement from the provincial government. “An order was issued on Friday, Feb. 7 to the owner stating that the building needs electrical work in order to bring it up to the appropriate codes.”

Service NL said the condition of the electrical system in the building could potentially pose a threat of electric shock and possibly cause a fire, endangering the lives of those who work and live in the building.

“This decision was not taken lightly as we recognize that this order impacts on the lives of those in the building; however, the risk to the lives of those working and living there is too great due to the risk posed by the deficiencies to the electrical system identified during the inspection,” continued the emailed statement.

The City of Corner Brook said it asked for the inspection after receiving a complaint about the building and deferred all other comment to Service NL.

The restaurant had been so busy that Nguyen was preparing some food items as far out as a week in advance. The sudden shutdown left her little time to figure out a plan for all of the refrigerated and frozen food she had in stock.

In a prepared release, the Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade said it’s understandable if action was required immediately to ensure the safety of residents and customers if the building was in violation of safety standards, but added Nguyen should have been given proper notification.

“We understand that there was a lack of prior notification and adequate perparation time shown to Cathy Nguyen in this abrupt closure, contradicting our persona of a business friendly community,” the release states. “It is inappropriate to shut down a business with no prior notification to allow for necessary arrangements to be made to allow for the continued viability of the business.”

Luckily, some loyal customers who have since become friends with Nguyen have offered her fridge and freezer space for much of her product and have been helping her move it.

Jerry George was among those patrons who have become friends with Nguyen because of her food. Just last week, he and some other of Nguyen’s newfound friends were together to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

George is also one of those assisting Nguyen save her food products the past several days.

“When she faced this, she got in touch with us and we pitched in to see what we could do to help out,” said George.

George said it is hard to argue against the building posing a safety hazard for Nguyen and the other tenants, but also thought the short notice could have been handled better.

“To give any business two hours notice that you were going to be shut down and not being able to try and work with them in some way in order to mitigate the impact, from an expense point of view, I dont think was done right,” he said.

Nguyen said she has had customers from St. John’s tell her she should go to the capital city and open up. While she may consider that in the future, she said she wants to stay in Corner Brook and hopes to open a new location.

George hopes she stays too and that she overcomes this situation with some help from her friends.

“Her friends are working towards trying to see whether or not we can find a solution for her so that she is able to remain in the community,” said George.

Twitter: WS_GaryKean

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(Earlier version)

The owner of a new restaurant in Corner Brook is looking for a new location after her business had to suddenly cease operations this past Friday.

Cathy (Thy) Nguyen is a Vietnamese immigrant who came to Corner Brook from Saskatchewan to open the restaurant, Pho Vietnam, at 27 Humber Road last fall.

Nguyen was enjoying success for the first few months she was open, with a steadily growing clientele of repeat customers.

She had several people in her restaurant enjoying her Vietnamese cuisine early Friday evening when a crew from Newfoundland Power showed up to inform her that they would be cutting electricity to the building in just two hours.

The night before, said Nguyen, a group of seven inspectors visited the restaurant and informed her there were issues with the building’s electrical system. However, she said she was never given any indication the power would get cut off the next day.

Nguyen rents the space in the building, which also contains apartments. She said the owner of the building had told her Friday afternoon that Nguyen and her business had nothing to worry about.

Losing power unexpectedly meant all of the food Nguyen had prepared and had stored in her refrigerators and freezers was in jeopardy of spoiling.

Many of her friends — mostly from her loyal customer base — have been scrambling ever since to find freezer and fridge space for the food, but some of it will either spoil or have to be donated to charitable causes.

Nguyen is hoping to open up somewhere else but has no idea where that will be since she has not had adequate time to look for a new location.

The City of Corner Brook confirmed it sent three of its personnel, including two representatives from the Corner Brook Fire Department and one building inspector from the department of community services, to join two provincial government electrical systems inspectors for an inspection of the building.

“The City of Corner Brook received a formal complaint about a property on Humber Road last week," read an official statement from the City of Corner Brook. "Due to the nature of the complaint, the city carried out a joint inspection with the provincial electrical inspector."

The city said any further inquiries should be directed to the provincial electrical inspector. The Western Star is awaiting a response from the province.