When Tri Nguyen walked into the Shipwright Inn, he knew he’d found his business on Prince Edward Island.
“This is the right place for us,” he thought, as he admired the crafted woodwork, antique furniture and glistening chandelier in the Victorian home built by Charlottetown shipbuilder James Phillips Douse in 1865.
Nguyen and his wife emigrated from Vietnam to give their two sons exposure to what he describes as more “advanced” education.
“The approach to education is very different from what we came from, more student-centric,” he explains. “Instead of just one-way knowledge transfer from the teacher to the students, here students have the freedom to debate, have more open discussion.”
The quaint atmosphere of the Shipwright Inn and the lush beauty of its gardens embody why Nguyen and his wife chose P.E.I.
“P.E.I. is one of the most beautiful places, peaceful places in Canada. We just love here.”
The family left behind a life in bustling Ho Chi Minh City and immigrated under the Provincial Nominee Program. Arriving in June 2016, they bought the Shipwright Inn that October. Nguyen says their research had revealed the importance of tourism in the province, and they felt they could manage the smaller scale of a nine-room bed and breakfast.
Nguyen’s background in marketing for consumer goods companies, including Procter & Gamble and several local firms in Vietnam, helps him anticipate the needs of visitors. “We need to act before they ask,” he explains. “It’s an advantage for me to research and understand the guests’ needs.”
About 50 per cent of guests come from the United States and 40 per cent from within Canada, though the inn commonly has visitors from Japan, other Asian countries, and Europe.
The establishment has gained a strong reputation due to its heritage, cozy atmosphere, and delectable breakfasts created by the P.E.I. chef. The inn employs four staff, and Nguyen says everyone has worked hard to maintain the five-star rating.
He describes “the fine line between satisfaction and disappointment,” explaining that guests evaluate their experience based on fine details like immaculate cleaning or coffee packaged for the road when they head out to explore the Island.
When asked what advice he would give other newcomer entrepreneurs, Nguyen emphasizes the importance of research. He credits the Vietnamese community, the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers, and P.E.I. Connectors for providing him with better understanding of the local business environment.
In just over a year running the inn, Nguyen has formed an attachment to its history. If you wonder why the Confederation-era structure does not face the street, he will tell you Douse constructed his fine home to face the waterfront.
“He could stand here and watch his workers,” Nguyen explains.
He admits he felt intimidated taking over this local landmark. At first, he shied away from mingling with guests, thinking they might expect a host with Island roots.
He soon discovered his newcomer status did not pose a problem.
“The guests didn’t care where you [are] from – as long as you are sincere enough, you are genuinely serving them with your good heart.”