The fall of South Vietnam in 1975 didn’t translate into the downfall of Loc Le. Thousands of customers of Jimmy’s Egg are grateful.
With a fresh start in the United States, Le eventually came to own, hone and expand a restaurant chain that has become well known for its breakfasts and lunches.
Le, who had been a businessman in South Vietnam, had nothing when he came to Oklahoma with his wife and four children in 1975. He was 36.
“I was starting with less than zero because I couldn’t speak any English,” he said.
A Catholic, he was sponsored to live in Oklahoma City by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish.
Initially, he was an inspector for the Santa Fe Railroad. He also worked with Union Pacific in Omaha, Neb., for four years. He liked Nebraska so much that he has since started four Jimmy’s Egg restaurants in the Omaha area.
Becoming a restauranteur
In 1980, his family wanted to get into the restaurant business and set their sights on a lone Jimmy’s Egg eatery at NW 16th and May. It was owned by the namesake, Jim Newman. After it was purchased by the Le family, Loc soon realized the project was going to need his full attention.
He gave it the same determination he gave his previous interests in Vietnam, which included a canned food company and real estate holdings. He had dealings with the government of South Vietnam. When communist North Vietnamese forces made their push into the south, Le knew it was time to leave or face a possible internment camp.
He wasn’t exactly a boat person, because he owned a big fishing vessel that held about 30 members of his family. He escaped. All of his money and assets didn’t.
“I lost everything,” he said.
Le isn’t the kind of guy who lives in the past. He threw his energy into the restaurant business. No detail is too small.
It took him and his family months to decide on what constituted the perfect pancake. Once they came up with the formula, every restaurant and every pancake would meet that standard.
It’s the same with what Jimmy’s Egg buys. It’s only the freshest and best meats and eggs. Customer wait times are kept to a minimum and even the seating is limited. He said during an average day, handling more than 700 customers puts too much of a strain on the kitchen.
He also keeps the prices as economical as possible.
Le employs nearly 1,000 people at the restaurants. Some of them have worked at his business for more than 20 years.
His expansion now is outside of the metro, which has 16 Jimmy’s Egg locations. There are 38 total, including restaurants in Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Nebraska.
Continuing to grow
Le would like to see franchises across the country, but he’s in no hurry to expand too quickly. And nobody gets to buy a franchise unless it’s operated by Le’s standards. Corporations have offered to make him an even wealthier man by purchasing Jimmy’s Egg outright.
“I’m not selling,” he said. “This is my baby.”
He does, however, have a new ally in the project, Jim Burke, who co-founded the Garfield Restaurant chain.
“I partnered with Loc a few years ago because Jimmy’s Egg has the ability to expand into a regional or national breakfast and lunch chain,” Burke said.
Le’s business savvy continues to impress Burke.
“Besides being a great friend and partner, Loc is a natural at business and great with people — two traits necessary for building a restaurant company,” he said.
Like many entrepreneurs it’s not all about the bottom line. Apparently, the Vietnamese government bears no ill will over his past as they invite him to visit. Le makes three to four trips there a year and leads effort to help the homeless and other needy. He also helps charitable causes in Oklahoma.
In his 70s now, retirement and a life of leisure do not enter into the equation.
“Work is my hobby,” he said. “If I retire, I die.”