The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and Women in Business are excited to honor Thi Nguyen, Founder of Chez Francois Poutinerie as a 2022 Woman of the Quarter. 

Thi Nguyen

Woman of the Quarter Q&A

Q: Describe your business and what you do.

I am the Founder of Chez Francois Poutinerie, a unique restaurant within the Naperville and Chicagoland market. Our goal is two-fold, introduce poutine to the area residents and provide employment opportunities to developmentally disabled adults.

Poutine is a staple food in Canada that was first established in Quebec back in the 1950s. A basic poutine meal is made of specialty French Fries, cheddar cheese curds, and topped with a tasty hot brown gravy. This trendy and portable meal is one that should quickly become a favorite comfort food option in the US!

Q: What do you love most about your work?

Naperville has been so giving to developmentally disabled residents, but that support drops off once the resident turns 22 years old. Having a 15-year-old autistic child, I have experienced the empathy, kindness, and support provided by the Naperville school district and its residents. I want to give back to the community by providing much-needed job opportunities for special needs adults. I hope I will inspire other companies in our community to give them a chance to be included in our economy.

Q: What led you down your career path?

80% of adults with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed! My inspiration for opening this unique restaurant was my son, Francois, who is autistic. My family moved from Quebec to Illinois due to my husband’s job transfer 8 years ago. Francois was non-verbal while living in Canada. After much research, we decided to move to Naperville based on its outstanding school reputation for dealing with special needs students. Francois has flourished in the Naperville school system; he is now able to communicate in both English and French. The Naperville community has provided Francois with a much-needed welcoming and inclusive environment which helped him grow as a person. Now I want to give back to the community that has given me and my family so much support. State funding and support for developmentally disabled adults is very limited once the adult turns 22 years old. By opening this restaurant, I want to provide needed employment opportunities for the special needs adults within a welcoming and safe work environment, where all the people are treated equally. Giving them a sense of purpose and self-worth that some may be lacking.

Q: What advice do you have for other women in business?

  • Follow your instinct and take risks, don’t wait for permission because permission will never come, and it will never be a good time. Just jump!!!!
  • Don’t quit even when it’s hard, keep moving and don’t be afraid to ask for help because you always learn from somebody who went through that same journey. Don’t quit too soon!!!
  • Be kind and humble, no matter how much you may achieve or may already achieved, there’s someone who has done more. Always be a learner!!!! You can never learn enough, and you will make mistakes, but pick up the pieces and get back in there and play.

Q: Name someone in your life who inspires you and tell us why.

My mother has been my inspiration all my life. She was forced to quit school at the age of 8 to take care of her 8 siblings. She was the smartest in her class, but she gave up a lot of her dreams. From a young age, she always told me, “education is powerful and it improves your chances of building better lives to change the world.” She taught me that nothing is free in life you need to work hard and earn it. If you succeed in life, then you need to be grateful and give back to the less fortunate. She is 71 years old and still working.

Q: What other passions and hobbies do you have?

I love traveling with my family and friends, exploring the world, and eating street foods. My husband and I love to cook and entertain our friends and family- it is always a party at our house and sometimes it becomes a bed and breakfast for our traveling friends.

Q: Aside from the Chamber, how do you stay connected within the Naperville community?

As part of the restaurant’s mission, we launched “Friends of Francois” a non-profit program that brings together special needs children, their family members, and peer buddies to participate in various activities. Because most adults begin to feel isolated when they reach 22, we host dance parties, bowling, a Halloween trolley, a Christmas party, community trips, and karaoke nights.

Woman of the Quarter Bio

Thi Nguyen

Thi Tram Nguyen is the founder and owner of Chez François Poutinerie, a restaurant featuring authentic poutine with exceptional service while providing job opportunities for adults with disabilities.

Nguyen was born in Vietnam and grew up in Quebec, Canada with a degree in Law and Marketing. She is a certified French-Vietnamese medical and legal interpreter with over 20 years of experience in pharmaceutical and medical sales.

Thi Tram Nguyen is currently the Co-Founder of the FUN Club for Friends of Francois (non-profit organization).

Chez François Poutinerie