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Opinion: Don Curry, Immigrant family wins business award at Chamber Evening of Excellence

Sudawan Butt, from Thailand, and her family, owners of Le Voyageur Inn in Mattawa, were the winners in the Small Business of the Year category (1-5 employees.) As a finalist in the same category, I was present to applaud their win and chat with them later
Qaisar Butt, Donna Backer, President and CEO of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce, Sudawan Butt and their son, Danish Butt, at the Chamber’s Evening of Excellent Business Awards at the Davedi Club October 17.

There was a little bit of diversity among the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce Evening of Excellence Business Awards winners October 17 at the Davedi Club.

It was nice to see, as there are more than 100 businesses in North Bay owned by immigrants. I know that because when I was the executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre we had a staff brainstorming session to name all the immigrant-owned businesses we knew, and we identified a little more than 100. That was more than eight years ago, so the number is higher now.

Sudawan Butt, from Thailand, and her family, owners of Le Voyageur Inn in Mattawa, were the winners in the Small Business of the Year category (1-5 employees.) As a finalist in the same category, I was present to applaud their win and chat with them later.

I was especially pleased because I am working with Sudawan to bring three new employees from Thailand to work with her. One is a chef, now roaming the seas with Viking Cruises, one is an experienced hotel front desk clerk, and the third is an experienced kitchen staff person.

All three are applying for permanent residence through the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program (RNIP), and all have received community recommendations from the Chamber. After that, it can take three to eight months for permanent residence approval.

Finalists in all the categories were featured in videos during the evening, and descriptions of all the businesses were in the slick programs placed at everyone’s dinner setting. The program noted the Butt family has a house close to the inn that supplies accommodation for their employees.

They subscribe them to the Chamber’s extended health care plan and they all get together twice a month to encourage staff to relax and voice any concerns they have about the workplace.

Le Voyageur Inn is a prominent building in downtown Mattawa that has been there since 1881. The Butt family cam from Thailand in 2006 and later transformed the property to a cozy tourist haven and award-winning Thai restaurant.

Who knew that you have to go to Mattawa to find the best Thai food in Northeastern Ontario? It is a title bestowed on Le Voyageur Inn earlier this year by Lux Life magazine’s Restaurant and Bar Awards.

Quoting from the program, Le Voyageur Inn has increased its digital marketing presence to reach different customers, made structural improvements to accommodate guests with disabilities, renovated their patio and has modernized the premises. Menu items have been increased to include vegan and gluten-free options.

On the awards evening I was sitting with a couple of veteran communications and marketing professionals, Scott Clark of Clark Communications, who was a finalist in the Small Business of the Year (6-15 employees) category, and Dave Wolfe of TWG Communications, one of the event’s sponsors.

We were talking about increased immigration to the region, mainly due to RNIP, and Scott recalled a project I did for the Far Northeast Training Board seven years ago. I travelled their catchment area and did interviews with immigrant business owners in Latchford, Temiskaming Shores, Earlton, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, Timmins, Chapleau, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst. There were lots of them.

Scott said that after he heard about that project, he started noticing the increased number of immigrant business owners in the region, and it hasn’t slowed down since then.

I was the off-camera interviewer for a series of interviews with North Bay immigrant business owners that TWG Communications did for the City of North Bay. You can see the videos here.

It is wonderful to see a bit more of a cosmopolitan vibe in the region.

I wonder, though, if the broader Canadian immigrant experience will play out here as well. The first-generation immigrants work very hard establishing a business, but their children become well educated and decide they want to do something else, rather than take over the business. Maybe because it’s because they’ve seen how hard their parents had to work, or, more likely, they received a college or university education and developed other interests.

We are seeing the first wave of new immigrants now, with families like Sudawan’s in Mattawa. It will be interesting to see what the second generation will do. No matter what they do, I hope we all encourage them to stay.

Editor’s Note:  Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigrant Consultant living in North Bay. He is a member of Bay Today’s community advisory committee

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Don Curry

About the Author: Don Curry

Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant and president of Curry Immigration Consulting and a former journalism instructor
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