One half of the the successful entrepreneurial couple that owns Lot 88 Steakhouse and numerous other restaurants and businesses in Greater Sudbury started with nothing but valuable life lessons his parents taught him.
John Law, who was 10 years old at the time, learned about taking risks from his parents when they immigrated to Canada in 1976 from Vietnam.
Growing up in Winnipeg, Law said he witnessed his mom and dad's optimism, perseverance and hard work. He watched them adapt to life in a cold country and overcome obstacles to open a restaurant.
Fast-forward to 2023.
Law and Jolie Nguyen, his wife and business partner, own Law Enterprises, which operates Lot 88, as well as the Swiss Chalet, Montana’s, Kelsey’s, Cora’s Breakfast and barBurrito franchises, as well as the Overtime Sports Bars in Sudbury.
Beyond food service, the company has diversified and also owns Northern Climate, Wellness Studio, Nauss Plumbing, Flooring & More Superstore, Big Deal Furniture & Appliance and Windows Unlimited.
Another Law business, Happy Life Cannabis, has stores in Sudbury, Chelmsford, Val Caron, North Bay, Espanola and Thunder Bay.
Later this month, Law and Nguyen are planning to open Poké Bar, which serves sushi bowls, sushi burritos and bubble tea. It will be located next to barBurrito on The Kingsway. Poké, incidentally, is an Hawaiian dish that features raw, diced fish tossed with rice, vegetables and sauces.
Karen Bass, manager of Flooring & More Superstore in New Sudbury, admires her bosses.
"The couple has taken chances, risks, and many leaps of faith. I don't know who is crazier, John for the risks or Jolie for jumping in with him," she said.
Law and Nguyen, whose parents came to Canada from Vietnam in 1975, attended the same high school in Winnipeg, but didn't start dating until a few years after graduation.
They were together for about a year when Law got an idea to start his own computer business.
"John went out of town to work as a computer technician. This is when he got his ambition and passion to open his own business," Nguyen said.
"We decided to pick up and leave (Winnipeg) with a U-Haul. We ended up in London because our suppliers were in Markham. We worked two days a week out of a flea market selling and servicing computers."
Their next stop was Thunder Bay.
"John was so ambitious and smart," said his wife. “He figured out a way to be the only Dell Computer reseller in Canada. Dell was only sold online then.”
By 2010, the business model changed with big name competitors and it was the right time to get out of the computer business. Law's parents had a restaurant, so buying the Swiss Chalet franchise in Sudbury seemed like a natural fit.
Its success led to the acquisition of other franchise restaurants.
In 2017, the couple took another risk by competing steak-to-steak with several popular established steakhouses in Sudbury. The concept for Lot 88 was developed by Law. Patrons can cook their steak to their liking at their table on a lava rock grill.
In addition to the Sudbury restaurant, there are now Lot 88s in Thunder Bay, Orillia, Winnipeg and North Bay.
"John and Jolie started with computers. Then their lives zigged and zagged and ended up in the world of restaurants. This is where they both thrived," Bass said.
"They have diversified their portfolio and opened non-restaurant businesses such as my store, taking changes, and in doing so provided so many people with great careers."
"We employ about 400 people in Sudbury (and) almost 1,000" from Winnipeg to Orillia, Law said.
"That to me is success," said Bass, who describes Nguyen as bubbly and warm, the opposite of her "quiet" husband, but notes they share a strong work ethic and are motivated by success rather than making money.
Nguyen seems to agree with that assessment. "Success to me, it is the little things. Not having to worry about having a roof over your head. Having food on the table. And being able to sleep at night."
Law, himself, is a man of few words. "My success is to one day set up a charity foundation," he said.
"John flies under the radar. When you meet John, he is quiet, not flashy," Bass said. "He is calm and methodical. He has a saying 'no problem, only solution’.
"He does not get frazzled … he has a way of calming the rest of us down so we don't panic."
Law said he enjoys working and does not mind working long hours.
But Nguyen adds family remains the most important thing in their lives. The couple have three teenage children.
"We have dinner every night together," she said.
That sounds like success.
Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.