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Vietnam Native Finds the American Dream in Iowa

When it comes to work, specifically construction, Davenport developer Hong Le does not procrastinate.

Mon October 26, 2015 - Midwest Edition
JACK CULLEN - The Quad-City Times

BETTENDORF, Iowa (AP) - When it comes to work, specifically construction, Davenport developer Hong Le does not procrastinate. Instead of hiring subcontractors, Hong, who owns Hong Le Construction LLC, says he would rather work side-by-side with his employees to get the job done.

”My attitude is different from other builders out there,’ the 40-year-old said. ”I don’t sit in an office, and if someone doesn’t show up, I’ll do it.’

And that’s exactly what he’s doing in Bettendorf. The Quad-City Times reports ( ) that since January, Hong and his crew have built and opened three businesses in a 5,000-square-foot strip mall at 2211 Kimberly Road.

”I think the guy works 21 out of 24 hours of the day,’ Bill Connors, Bettendorf’s community development director, said.

Just to the north of his strip mall, Hong now wants to build a 4,800-square-foot commercial building at 2231 Kimberly Road, which abuts Duck Creek.

Prior to approving Hong’s initial site plan for the new structure, Bettendorf aldermen last week described his work on Kimberly as ”exceptional’ and ”first-class.’

”He’s not afraid to try anything, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Hong,’ Connors added.

In 1990, at the age of 15, Hong emigrated from Vietnam with ”basically nothing.’

”It didn’t matter where we landed,’ he said. ”Anywhere would’ve been better than where we came from.’

Hong arrived in the Quad-Cities with his mother and two younger brothers, who all still live in the area. He learned basic English and graduated from Davenport West High School.

With his diploma in hand, Hong delivered pizza for a few years and recalls getting robbed and beaten up on the job a few times.

From there, he worked in production at the Kraft Foods-Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport for four years.

In the early 2000s, Hong attempted his first development project. With some money saved, he saw an opportunity to buy a home in Davenport’s Gold Coast neighborhood and flipped it for 10 times the amount he bought it for.

Last year alone, Hong built 13 homes, and sold 12 of them, in the 1200 block of West 61st Street, Davenport.

At first, Hong said he worked alongside his employees to ”save money.’

”But now I do it because I love my job,’ he added. ”Why not? You never know what will happen tomorrow.’

Before breaking ground on his Kimberly Road property, the former location of the Fortune Garden Restaurant, Hong had to obtain a special development permit from the city to build within the 100-year floodplain around Duck Creek.

In 1978, cities were required to produce flood-zone maps. The documents identified properties, including those along Duck Creek that would be subject to a 100-year flood, which is an event that has a 1 percent probability of occurring in any given year.

Hong, with design help from Chris Townsend, owner of a civil and structural engineering firm in Davenport, installed several flood vents around the perimeter of his structure to trap water during an event.

Additionally, Hong elevated the site to build above the floodplain, said Connors, who added the structure is out of the floodway of Duck Creek, which flows to the north and east of his building.

Currently, D.Q. Nail Bar, which Hong’s wife, Dao, manages, fills half of the structure. Hong’s plumbing business, Q-C Rooter, and a showroom for his ”high-end’ cabinet and countertop shop, Granite & More, fill the space next door to the salon.

According to the website for his granite store, which has a second location at 732 W. River Drive in Davenport, Hong offers customers ”as little, or as much assistance as you need.’

”No job is too large for our knowledgeable crews,’ it says.

At the nail salon, customers can enjoy a glass of wine while they get a pedicure or relax on the building’s back deck, which overlooks a koi- and goldfish-stocked pond, complete with a fountain and nearby gazebo.

”I’ve always wanted to do something for my wife, and this came at the right time,’ said Hong, who refers to Dao as ”the boss.’

”We work as a team,’ she spoke up softly from behind the front desk at her salon.

Most days after school, Hong added, their two children, a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, paddle around the pond in a canoe.

While Hong plans to build and own the 4,800-square-foot building to the north of his strip mall, where a single-family home previously sat, he said a restaurant _ managed by someone else _ will occupy the majority of the space.

At a recent Bettendorf Business Network meeting, Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher said the future development could offer a ”terrific dining experience.’

”You can bike there, eat there and enjoy a great view,’ Gallagher said. ”You won’t feel like you’re on Kimberly Road.’

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