le van ba, founder of lee's sandwiches, dead at 79

Aw man. Received the news the other day that Le Van Ba, the successful businessman behind behind the popular Vietnamese sandwich chain Lee's Sandwiches, died of cancer last week. He was 79: Le Van Ba, the Ray Kroc of Vietnamese sandwiches, dead at 79.

Le, who arrived in San Jose in 1980 as a refugee from Vietnam, launched his first sandwich shop three years later, and saw it grow into a chain that now has more than 30 locations in Califoooonia, plus locations in four other states.
Le Van Ba, who died of cancer Tuesday at the age of 79, was the patriarch of a creative and industrious clan that includes his wife, Nguyen Thi Hanh, and their five sons and four daughters. The family landed in San Jose as refugees, with Le becoming the Ray Kroc of Vietnamese sandwiches by adapting the American fast-food restaurant principles of Kroc's McDonald's to the delicious meats, pates and spices of Vietnamese cuisine, all served on freshly baked French-style baguettes.

With seven shops in San Jose, a growing footprint in Southern California and across the Southwest, the chain launched by Le Van Ba and his family is among the first Vietnamese enterprises to cross over into mainstream malls and shopping centers.

"His most important contribution was taking something that was a mom and pop concept of a Vietnamese sandwich and mainstreaming it, using the McDonald's or Burger King model and popularizing it," said De Tran, publisher of VTimes, a Vietnamese language newspaper in San Jose. Le was also known in the Vietnamese community for his philanthropy, Tran said.
I have enjoyed a sandwich or two or three from Lee's. It's not the best banh mi I've ever had... but you have to appreciate the McDonald's-like entrepreneurship that went into building and growing an operation like that -- after coming to this country with nothing.

Lee's Sandwiches is responsible for bringing banh mi to the masses. And for that, I salute you, Le Van Ba. More here: Le Van Ba, Founder of Lee's Sandwiches, Dies At 79.

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