Ba Luong, co-owner of Super Cao Nguyen, OKC’s oldest and largest international grocery store, now runs the business with his brothers that his immigrant parents started to provide Vietnamese food to Oklahoma’s Vietnamese community. What started as a small grocery store now has morphed into a business with 50 employees bringing in food from 60 different countries all over the world.
When Ba Luong, co-owner of Super Cao Nguyen, was not even 2 years old, his family fled persecution in Vietnam on a small fishing boat, hoping to make their way to Thailand or Singapore – anywhere away from communist Vietnam.
“They ended up blown out to sea,” he said. “On the last day of food and water, they found themselves going up to an island and didn’t know what it was.”
That island turned out to be Malaysia, a country not accepting war refugees at that time in the last 70s.
“Luckily, they came up to this boat captain that was by the shore,” Luong said. “He said, ‘When you get here in the morning, sink your boat and swim for the shore. That’s the only way that the government will accept you as a refugee. And so, they got as close to land as they could without being sent back, sank their boat and everyone swam for safety.”
After time in a Malaysian refugee camp, a Baptist church sponsored them to come to America.
“We landed in America, July 4, 1978, in Washington, D.C,” he said. “So as Americans celebrated their independence, so did we.”
To reunite with family and friends, the family moved to Fort Chaffee in western Arkansas. Missing the foods from their home, his parents decided to open a small grocery store serving the Asian community near the fort.
“They scraped up whatever money they had, borrowed whatever money that they had to, and opened a small little convenience store in Fort Smith, Arkansas,” he said. “And they opened that store for a little bit to serve the Vietnamese community that was being resettled in Fort Smith, Arkansas, from Fort Chaffee.”
Around the same time, the founders of what would become Oklahoma City’s Super Cao Nguyen, which is now the oldest international grocery store in the metro, wanted to sell and move west with other immigrants to California. The family purchased the small store and moved to Oklahoma City.
That was the final move for the Luong family, as some 40 years later, the business has grown from the initial 1,000-square-foot store to an about 40,000-square-feet international grocery store featuring items from 60 different countries.
“For a small little grocery store started by a couple of immigrants that didn’t really speak the language and had to kind of learn along the way, I think it’s pretty neat to see how much we’ve grown,” he said.
Luong now runs the store with his two other brothers, which is a passion as they grew up working in the store as well.
“We grew up loving food because food was central to our lives,” he said. “And so this is the perfect job for us because we’re like kids in a candy store.”
But his parents are still involved, coming in the store every day.
“I don’t think they’ll ever retire,” Ba said. “They come in to enjoy customers that have been coming to the store since the late 70s. They still have seen those folks. And those folks want to come and see them too. And that’s one thing that they want to see — that continuity from generation to generation. I mean, now I’ve even got my kids working at the store too.”