The Perfect Blend: Alumni Story

From newcomer to new business owner, Sang Pham has never been so happy.

From a city of more than nine million to a small town of less than 100,000, Sang Pham’s move to Cape Breton has been a whirlwind.

Growing up in the south of Vietnam, Sang always knew that Canada’s coastal shores were a place of beauty, and he never imagined he’d be so lucky to visit, let alone live and raise his family here. There’s a stark contrast from Cape Breton to the city where he was born and raised. “You can never tell if it’s night or day in Ho Chi Minh City,” says Sang. “The pace of life is always bustling and streets are always packed with people.”

For Sang, the calm and serene Canadian dream was about to come to life. After a 17-year career managing and operating his own business, which specialized in commercial refrigeration, Sang decided to broaden his horizons – quite literally.

In 2019, in-depth research into universities around the world led him to an interesting discovery. “After learning about Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, I was fascinated by the beautiful trails and peaceful scenery on this Island,” says Sang. Mesmerized by the beauty, he knew he needed more than trails and scenery; he needed to learn. Sang wanted a quality education and a program that was designed for someone with his interests and strengths. “When exploring more about CBU, I discovered that it’s the only university in Canada with an MBA program that emphasizes community economic development. Just like that, my decision was made, and I didn’t hesitate to apply,” says Sang.

Sang was accepted and began his studies. He was impressed by the quality of the program and was inspired by the subject matter. “In addition to all the typical business subjects found in a traditional MBA program, the MBA in Community Economic Development focuses on exactly that – economic development, leadership, governance and change management. It gave me an exciting new perspective on the way we do business.” After excelling in his courses, it was time to figure out his next steps.

In the summer and fall of 2021, Sang was preparing to graduate in November. Proud of his accomplishment, he was set on owning a business once again, but now with a new set of tools to help create opportunity and encourage economic prosperity in his new community. Sang started to look for the right fit.

“In the process of looking for a business to buy, I contacted and negotiated with many businesses selling in the area, including The Ugly Mug in Sydney River. When I visited the cafe with my family, I immediately felt a connection, and it really felt like destiny to be part of this business.”

In October of 2021, just weeks before his graduation, Sang purchased the Ugly Mug, a well-established coffee shop and was once again a business owner, but now in his new home – Cape Breton.

The Ugly Mug, which specializes in coffee, tea, treats and other foods, also offers fashion products, gifts and home decorations. “I am sure that anyone who has been to this place will never forget it because of the friendliness and cheerfulness of our enthusiastic staff.” Today, Sang, his wife and two children, live in Sydney with his children attending school locally.

He’s accomplishing more than he ever dreamed, and it’s all thanks to his courage to bet on himself and choose an education at CBU. From a big city that never sleeps to a small Island where kindness is woven into the everyday culture, Sang has created a life for his family just like a cup of coffee from the Ugly Mug – rich, warm and comforting.