Ton Dinh, owner and operator of International Imports, a Saab repair and sales shop, has a long history of working on Saabs. He worked as a mechanic for BSR, Charlottesville’s original Saab franchise dealership. Following Brown’s purchase of the franchise, Ton opened his own repair facility near Moore’s Creek. Working either outside or in a building with a leaking roof, he continued to expand his client base and expertise, hoping one day to purchase land on which to build his own shop. In 2004, he received his dealer’s license and opened International Imports at 1201 Harris St., in Charlottesville. For a town of its size, Charlottesville has a very large number of Saab owners, and Ton’s customer base continued to grow, largely by word of mouth.
– International Imports Bio
Ton grew up in Northern Vietnam about 75 miles from Hanoi where his parents were farmers (growing mostly rice). He said he wasn’t the best student in grade school so he quickly dropped out in the 4th grade. Ton spent his time fishing and helping on the family farm until he moved to southern Vietnam as a teenager, then left for the states in 1979 at the age of 16.
Ton laughs that he didn’t even have $10 when he arrived. He came to Charlottesville, VA through a refugee sponsorship which gave him enough allowance for one month.
When he came here, he had a few odd jobs before landing a full-time position at a Saab dealership, “detailing, washing cars, doing a little bit of everything” he says. Over time he eventually learned to also work on Saab engines. “It helped me to become a mechanic and I’ve been working on them ever since.”
Ton says that he believes immigration to the US was much harder then than it is today. Without knowing the language, culture, or having any friends “we didn’t have a lot of opportunities and people got confused, but we figured the US is the best country to move to.” Charlottesville was smaller, quieter, and a safe city, “one of the best cities to live in.” He has been fortunate to visit back home in Vietnam quiet regularly over the years, but does miss the culture and food.
And while he likes most cuisines from all over, Vietnamese Pho remains one of his favorite things to eat.
📷 & interview: @jaypuneezy