Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated Minh Le purchased the building at 14 Balsam St. He purchased the former Tang's Kitchen business but leases the space from a landowner. CollingwoodToday apologizes for the error.
Minh Le has always loved to cook, but he never dreamed of doing it for a living.
That all changed this past year when pandemic restlessness caused him to quit his career and open a restaurant. He called it Minh’s and had one goal: to make locals fall in love with Southeast Asian cuisine.
Born in Vietnam and raised in Toronto, Le and his family have been consistently coming to Collingwood for the past seven years. Le had a career at one of the big banks in the city, but every weekend he and his family would escape to the area. When the pandemic hit and he started working from home, they began spending even more time up north.
Restless and bored of being on a computer all day, Le started to cook more and more for family and friends. One day his daughter spoke up and said he should open a restaurant of his own.
“She loves my food and knows how much I love cooking, but I thought she was joking,” Le laughed.
However, Le has always loved to eat, and every time his family was up in Collingwood, they would often eat out, trying all the different restaurants and cuisines in the area.
“I never found any good Vietnamese restaurants up here so I thought, let’s do this,” he said. “I was so bored working from home, so I said okay, why not.”
He quit his job in April and purchased an existing business (Tang's Kitchen) at 14 Balsam St. shortly after. He is leasing the space from the building owner.
Le spent the next several months renovating the space all by himself and experimenting with different dishes he wanted on his menu. He had never opened a restaurant before, but he spent several years in the industry while he was in school and had a good idea of the experience he wanted to create.
“Believe it or not, I did everything on my own,” said Le.
When it came to the menu, he was determined to make it something special. Le learned his way around the kitchen watching his mother cook as a kid in Vietnam.
“I was very young but I learned some things from her,” Le said. And he loved it, so he kept experimenting. He said, “I always come up with my own way to do a dish… All of my sauces I make in my own way.”
He also knew he wanted his menu to be small so he could showcase his signature dishes.
“Most Vietnamese restaurants have a minimum of 200 or 300 dishes,” said Le. “How could you keep it all fresh? I wanted to run my restaurant very differently.”
Finally, in September, Le opened his doors quietly. He started with a soft opening so he could make sure everything was perfect before he held an official grand opening. Little did he know his food was already in high demand, and Minh's has had lineups out the door every weekend ever since. Staff shortages and other supply issues caused by the pandemic made for a hectic fall, but Le loved every minute of it and is very thankful for the help he got from family in the early days.
“When you come and eat in my restaurant, you see I am very involved in the process,” he said. “I want to make sure everything is perfect.”
Le will often ask his customers for feedback after they finish their meals.
“The way I see it is I am cooking for my family, my customers are my family so I make sure to make them very happy when they eat my food or leave my restaurant,” he said.
With new restrictions in place, indoor dining is closed for the time being, but Minh’s is offering take out seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. All customers have to do is text their order to Le’s cell phone and he will prepare it for them as soon as he can. The menu isn’t posted anywhere yet, so you have to call first to see what is available.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I love the challenge,” said Le. “And it’s all worth it when I get a text from a customer and all it says is, ‘Minh… WOW.’ It just makes me so happy.”
Le still plans to hold a grand opening one day, and if restrictions allow, he is aiming for Feb. 1 — the Vietnamese New Year.