Gordon North, Entrepreneur: Faces of Hoi An

Whether you’re an expat or a traveller passing through Hoi An, if you’ve been loured into Dingo Deli by the imported meats and cheeses, strong latte’s or hearty Western all day breakfast, then chances are you’ve met Gordon North. The trailblazing mind behind this establishment has created more than just a café; it’s a community.

Originally from Toronto, Gordon left school at 16 to pursue work instead, ‘Education wasn’t as important back then.’ It was then that he started his first business and his path to entrepreneurism was paved. At 30, Gordon moved to Australia where he spent 21 years running multiple businesses from selling audio books to providing prams to Zoo’s.

After 21 years in Australia, Gordon needed a change. Learning that a visa could be easily obtained in Thailand he set off with his family with plans to become a digital nomad. En route to Thailand, they stopped in Hoi An for a holiday and never left. ‘We never made it to Thailand!’

Gordon North of Dingo Deli in Hoi An

Deciding to stay put in Hoi An, he was part of a small expat community of only 90 people. As one of the first English speaking families in town Gordon saw an opportunity to cater to the needs of foreigners living in Hoi An. He opened a business that combined coffee shop, home school and mini mart. Thus, Dingo Deli was born. Today, 85% of his business comes from expats.

In the 7 years since opening, the expat community in Hoi An has grown from 90 to over 1,000 people and it’s this growth that Gordon attributes the success of his business. Dingo Deli has evolved with the needs of foreigners. ‘We were the first people in town to provide milk. We had a contract with Da Lat milk (to sell in store), previously people had to go all the way to Da Nang.’ As the population grew and more mini marts opened, the offerings at Dingo Deli evolved and grew with it. The high quality produce available for purchase in store ranges from cheese and meat to international cereals and spreads. With the growing population in Hoi An, the bakery began selling wholesale artisanal bread to other businesses as well ‘I believe you have to invest money to keep your business growing and by providing really good value for money with our products.’

Dingo Deli moved to its current location 5 years ago and with what Gordon learned in the first few years of business was able to create an almost ‘purpose built’ location providing a play area, air con, strong wifi and a reliable generator when the power goes out around town. Dingo Deli has become the go-to spot for work, play and celebrations for the foreign community. An aspect that defines Dingo Deli and differentiates it from the rest of the cafes in town.

There have been challenges in running a business in Vietnam but the biggest reward is ‘seeing people come and meet, to watch the community interact together. When you come in most days you see someone you know. It’s nice to have a business interact with the community.’ Its interaction that he himself encourages, as he wanders the café floor, he stops by the tables and offers a quick hello and some friendly conversation to those eating, drinking or working in his café. It’s this friendly, personal touch that has no doubt been the driver in why people keep coming back to Dingo Deli.

Staff at Dingo Deli in Hoi An

It’s also his 38 staff that he attributes to his businesses success, with a head baker that’s been with him since day one and the same maintenance man for three years, ‘people [who visit Dingo Deli] know the staff, they’re a big part of our success, I think they like feeling like they’re part of the community as well.’

Dingo Deli’s extensive and well-rounded menu hasn’t seen any changes in 2 years ‘anytime I take something off the menu someone yells at me!’ But, there are still exciting changes ahead already in the works. With a strong sense of environmental awareness, shown in his support for Kayak River Cleaning, Gordon has plans to go eco-friendly. By implementing strategies to use less plastic, from introducing cloth bags and bamboo takeaway containers to growing their salad ingredients. Plans are also in place for post rainy season to introduce a green grocer section to the café. A 500 million VND renovation on the kitchen is already underway with refrigeration that will cater to the fresh produce storage needs.

Gordon himself won’t be going anywhere either. ‘I love Hoi An, my businesses, I’m looking at a new business of renting scooters so foreigners can drive legally here, that’s the next business venture.’ One sure to be popular with expats and travellers, it’s a venture that’ll further cement Gordon in the Hoi An community.