It’s easy to get overwhelmed by Tap Phong Trading Company, a hub for kitchenware and restaurant supplies that has been part of Spadina Avenue in the heart of Chinatown for 37 years.
A stroll through the aisles is breathtaking: Twenty-five different kinds of stoves. Twelve slow cookers. Seven bread machines. Four electric grinders. Two steaming guns, designed for home chefs and mixologists to add smoky flavors and aromas to dishes and cocktails.
And three generations to run the entire operation.
Tap Phong opened in 1984 where Ajisen Ramen, the Japanese fast food restaurant, is now located, before moving a block north five years later, where it quickly became known for much more than just East Asian ceramics that he initially sold. The owners saw an opportunity to serve the city’s cooks and restaurateurs, as well as the many visitors to Chinatown. For more than three decades, shoppers have wandered its shelves stocked with everything from utensils and fry cookers to steaming pots. Chinese lanterns and bead curtains, also for sale, hover above. Approximately 40,000 items are available, and many more are in a warehouse on Geary Avenue.
âWe not only offer a huge range of products, but we also have a wide range of prices,â the store’s retail manager, Lili Tran, said on a recent Monday morning. His grandparents (now deceased), parents, aunt and uncle first opened Tap Phong soon after emigrating from Vietnam to Canada.
Family members always work together to help manage the many moving parts of the busy store. Tran’s cousin Andrew is responsible for administrative tasks and online and social media initiatives, and Andrew’s sister manages orders. Tran’s mom, Anne, and Aunt Dee research new products and maintain the accounts they’ve developed with restaurants. âThey are also our connections to Asian communities here,â Tran says of Anne and Dee, who speak English, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin and the Teochew dialect. Her uncle Danny handles the accounting, while her father, John, oversees the warehouse inventory.
When Tran was growing up near Bloor and Ossington, she often joined her family at the store, where she learned how to run the business behind the counter, interact with customers and talk about their products, including Royal Classic plates. , paring knives and espresso machines. âSure, I might have missed out on some social activities because I was at Tap Phong,â Tran says, âbut I really appreciate the way my grandparents instilled a strong work ethic in me. “
Working in Chinatown for years has given Tran an insightful perspective on the evolution of the neighborhood, especially with the many condos popping up. âI’m worried about the loss of family spirit here,â she says, âbut I’m also very happy to see a mix of ethnic communities. It’s called Chinatown, but it’s not just Chinese here. Any day I will see our clients from South Africa, Ethiopia, Turkey, Vietnam and many more.
How do loved ones work so well together after all these years? âWell when you work with a family with different personalities it can be difficult,â Tran laughs. âBut at the end of the day, and I know it sounds cheesy, there is love and respect for family and, more importantly, I have a lot of admiration for what the previous generation built. “
For Tran, working at Tap Phong also brought an unexpected benefit: in 2007, she met her future husband, Richard, in the store when he was planning to buy kitchenware for a private dining concert he. got as a chef. “He asked me out, a little awkwardly, and I remember our first date was that George Clooney movie ‘Michael Clayton’,” she said, “and we’ve been together ever since.” She even pushed him to join the company. âHe now works with my father at the warehouse.
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