From Japan’s most popular ice cream brand, to freshly made won tons and spring rolls, Maccha Sushi has treats to satisfy the cravings of every homesick international student in Vernon.
Vernon’s newest dim sum and Asian grocery store offers freshly made sushi along with steamed dim sum treats such as shrimp dumplings and barbecued pork buns, along with a large assortment of grocery items.
Owners Vincent Cao and Vivian Hu opened Maccha in August and business has been growing steadily ever since.
Seaton grad Cao was in Grade 10 when he moved to Vernon from Shanghai with his mother, who was looking for a community in Canada where her son would be able to improve his English.
He met his future wife when the two were both students back in Shanghai. The couple married in 2010 in China and are now the proud parents of daughter Connie, 28 months.
“It was hard when I first came here because it’s so much smaller than Shanghai, but now I’m used to it and it feels like home,” said Cao.
Back home in Shanghai, Hu worked as a project assistant in the IT department of an office. In Vernon, she found work at a sushi restaurant and wholesaler on Kalamalka Lake Road. She went on maternity leave when Connie was born in 2013.
“I had never been to Vernon before and it was a big change from Shanghai, which is so much bigger, but I like it now,” said Hu. “We still have lots of our friends back home but we can stay in touch with email, and my parents are here right now so that helps.”
Cao’s interest in the restaurant business began while he was still in high school and got a job at Denny’s, where he started off as a part-time dishwasher before moving up to cook and eventually being promoted to assistant general manager.
“It was a great experience because I learned a lot and they taught me a lot of things, but it’s a 24-hour restaurant so the shift work is hard, so it’s kind of stressful,” he said. “We figured if we’re going to work 10 hours a day for someone else, why not work for ourselves.”
He also spent time gaining experience at a number of other Japanese, Thai and Chinese restaurants in Vernon.
“We both had full-time jobs but we were always thinking about running our own business,” said Cao, whose parents and in-laws were able to offer some financial support the couple in getting their business off the ground. “It’s been really good working together.”
The couple found the ideal spot for Maccha Sushi, in a store-front conveniently located on 27th Street, not far from Cao’s old high school.
They did some renovations, took out the old carpet, installed a freezer, a stove, plugged in the rice cooker and got to work.
The couple printed up brochures with their menu and delivered them to local businesses along 27th Street, to let everyone know they were open.
“I also delivered samples to Hyundai and GM so they could try our food,” said Cao.
It’s proved to be an ideal work situation. Maccha Sushi is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., so the couple works long hours, but with Hu’s parents visiting from Shanghai for six months of the year, they are able to run their business and enjoy family time while at the same time secure in the knowledge that their child is looked after by her grandparents.
“We don’t usually bring Connie to work, but my parents bring her at lunch and we all sit down and enjoy a meal together,” said Hu.
In addition to their menu of items for eating in or taking out, Maccha Sushi is also making a name for itself by providing prepared sushi for a number of local grocery stores, including Butcher Boys and Quality Greens.
As well, the restaurant provides meals for the hot lunch program once a month at Kalamalka secondary school.
“I got lucky because the foods teacher there was my teacher at Seaton before she transferred, Lilly Smith,” said Cao. “When I was at Seaton, there weren’t many international students here, but my mother wanted me to be in Vernon and not Vancouver because I would be forced to speak English here.”
Cao’s mom was right. His English is excellent and he is running his own business, where he is able to cater to not only locals but the many international students who come in to enjoy a taste from home, to sit and have a cup of tea and do their homework or just perhaps to speak their own language for a few hours.
“We do some home cooking for them as well, so they can enjoy some things they used to eat at home, and because I worked at Denny’s I will sometimes make things like omelettes and eggs Benedict.
“My mom also told me that one day I would get married and will need to learn to cook so I can cook for my family, so I have her to thank for teaching me.”
In addition to the tasty dim sum and sushi, Maccha Sushi stocks a wide variety of grocery items and snacks such as chicken broth, prawn crackers, White Rabbit candies, Japanese curry Kokomaro, congee in a can and an exotic version of a familiar treat: green tea Kit Kat bars.
“We also sell the number-one selling ice cream brand in Japan.”
For Cao, opening his own business has proven to be hard work, something from which he has never shied away, but also plenty of fun and an ideal way for him to be able to spend time with his wife and daughter.
“The most enjoyable thing is I can spend time with my family,” he said. “I used to go to work at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t get to see the baby a lot.
“Here, if it’s slow one of us can leave and take her to play at Ya Ya’s.”