Greater Moncton Honours Immigrant Entrepreneurs From China, Vietnam and Africa

From left to right: Guy Leger, Expansion Dieppe; Binh Nguyen and Hoang Nguyen, the owners of Cafe La Lieto; Shane Thomson, Town of Riverview; Alfred Bessawa, co-owner of Design From Africa; and Dawn Arnold, Mayor of Moncton. Image: submitted.

MONCTON – Around 100 people from all over the world who have made the Moncton area their home filled the theatre at Aberdeen Cultural Centre on Thursday night. It was The Hive/La Ruche’s event to highlight some of Greater Moncton’s immigrant-owned businesses.

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold opened the event by emphasising the role immigrants play in the cultivating an entrepreneurial and innovative culture in the region.

“We are incredibly happy that you’ve chosen to come to Moncton,” said Arnold. “That you took the risks necessary to come here and now that you’re taking necessary risks to be entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial spirit that exists here is very strong and I firmly believe that you bring new ideas and innovation into our communities.”

The Hive is part of 3+ Corporation, which focuses on economic development for Dieppe, Moncton and Riverview. The Moncton Hive is part of a provincially funded network of “Hives” that are also operating in Fredericton, Saint John, Bathurst and Edmundston. They provide business services support to newcomers who are seeking to start a business in New Brunswick.

The Thursday event honoured three immigrant-owned businesses in the area – one each from Dieppe, Riverview and Moncton.

Design From Africa, an apparel business that aims to bridge cultural differences between people, is based in Moncton. Cafe La Lieto, owned by a Vietnamese family that also operates businesses in their home country, is in Dieppe. Near East Market, a Chinese restaurant-grocery store combo, is located in Riverview.

Alfred Bessawa, co-owner with Jabbar Lawani of Design From Africa, says the community spirit has been a great help to his business.

“The community here is just incredible,” he said. “Starting a business here and having the support from the city, from people, from friends, from our workplaces, to us it means a lot.”

For the holiday season, the pair will donate 30 per cent of sales per item until December 22 to House of Nazareth, an emergency shelter for the needy in Moncton.

“Now, we’re just trying to give back to the community,” he said. “We cannot help everybody at the same time, but at least, we can give the little we can and share with other people. And that’s also how we can build confidence with our community and be closer to our community.”

For Hong Liao, the owner of Near East Market, community and safety are also important. The Chinese native and her husband chose Riverview because it’s small and close to the ocean.

“I came from Guangzhou, in China. It’s a very busy city,” she said. “Because I have kids, I want somewhere not only for business, but the kids must stay safe, so the environment must be very nice.”

Meanwhile, Dieppe’s continuous growth has been a boost for Hoang Nguyen and Binh Nguyen, the owners of Cafe La Lieto. They bought the business in 2016.

“Before, there was no hotel [Wingate] here, and even the skating rink. So when we bought it, all these things just came up,” Hoang said.

Julien Robichaud, a business immigrant facilitator at The Hive, said the event seeks to shine a light on contributions immigrants make to Greater Moncton.

Even if we are having all these new people in the Greater Moncton Area, at the end of it all, they’re just like us, they’re human and they have their own talents,” he said.

Jean-Pierre Alexandre, manager of business immigrant services at The Hive, said raising awareness about those contributions and the challenges newcomer entrepreneurs face is important.

“Retention is a huge topic in New Brunswick,” he sais. “One point is to attract [newcomers], the second point is to keep them. And we need to be using their services, to be using what they sell, for them to be successful.

“Maybe we need to tweak our habits a bit and to try something different. Because maybe it will bring more new things to the community and it’s going to help the community to develop. They’re bringing kids, they’re bringing ideas and products, they’re bringing services.”

The challenges immigrant entrepreneurs are many. Among them is cultural subtleties, even for those who do master one or both of the official languages.

“What you have learned in another country is not the same as it is here,” said Alexandre. “You need to understand what is beyond a word, what is beyond an action, even the business plan is sometimes not the same. You need to have a passion for what you really want to do and you need to be patient to learn how to network efficiently to be able to be successful.”

Robichaud added that sometimes newcomers jump too quickly on a project to bring a service or product from their home countries that aren’t available in Greater Moncton.

“I think, one piece that’s often missing is to get to know more the culture of Canada and to understand more the market,” he said.

The Hive has launched a new website that will help immigrant entrepreneurs stay up to date on policy changes and events in the community. It was created by Punch Branding, founded by Roger Attlee, an Indian immigrant with experience working in Dubai with DDB Worldwide and Johnson & Johnson.

“Many times, people don’t know where to go for an event, don’t know what to do,” he said. “I think [the website] is a platform or a tool that was missing from inside and from outside Canada.”