The Ray Kroc of banh mi--Vietnamese sandwiches--is dead.

This weekend hundreds flocked to San Jose for the funeral of Le Van Ba, the founder of Lee’s Sandwiches. A boat person who escaped from Vietnam, Le operated a lunch wagon with his son and, with the help of the rest of his family, turned it into a multi-million dollar company and made Vietnamese sandwiches famous in America.
Le launched his first Lee's Sandwiches store in San Jose in 1983, three years after having landed in the United States from a refugee camp. His company now has 44 stores in the United States and recently opened branches in Vietnam, Korea and China. According to Modern Baking News in 2005, Lee's Sandwiches ranked as one of the top 50 largest food service bakery operations in the United States.

The Le family has also become known for their philanthropy over the years. They donated $20,000 to the Haitian Red Cross relief funds, according to Nguoi Viet. In 2006, they joined another wealthy Chinese-Vietnamese family to donate $1 million to the Learning Center of Coastline Community College for the college’s first endowment campaign, according to Asian Week.


"Among those who achieved economic successes in America, Mr. Le and his family stand at the forefront, a cause for community pride," noted Calitoday. Le was 79.



Andrew Lam is the author of East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.