Monday, July 16, 2018
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A Cagayan de Oro village boy realizes his dream in Canada

Duane is the first Filipino franchisee of Big Smoke Burger. CONTRIBUTED

Once, in a small village in Cagayan de Oro, a 12-year-old boy received his 100-peso wage as a street sweeper. He had been longing to eat a grilled chicken, but he chose to buy rice because it would last for days.

“My mother and I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to clean the streets. I needed to be fast because I’d go to school at 7:30. My father, Andy, and mom, Lorie, were street vendors selling fruit salad,” Duane Fernandez Zambas, 45, a Filipino Canadian entrepreneur recalls.

Despite poverty, Duane passed the national licensure exams for engineers, and his sister, Judy, the licensure exams for teachers.


A Canadian dream

Like many Filipinos who want to uplift their lives, Duane dreamed of immigrating to Canada while still studying electrical engineering at the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines.

He was one of the beneficiaries of the government’s Study Now Pay Later Program of the Land Bank. Duane passed the licensure exam in 1993 and was hired by the Philippine Airlines as an airframe and power plant aircraft mechanic in 1995.

When Duane was stationed in Mactan International Airport, he occasionally appeared on TV (ABS CBN Cebu) as a guest singer of Bro. Marcial and Friends. He also performed as a song interpreter during the 1998 Cebu Pop Music festival in Cebu City.

Duane used to drive this 18-wheeler truck across Canada. CONTRIBUTED

While gaining experience, Duane submitted his application for immigration to Canada under the skilled immigrant category in 1998. It was the same year that PAL laid off hundreds of employees due to Asian financial crisis. He was one of them. He went to Australia as a general laborer for Napoli Excavation and Plant Hire for a few months but decided to go back to Cagayan de Oro in 1999.

Duane still dreamed of Canada.

‘You can make it in Canada’

“On the first week March 2000 I flew to Manila and applied for a US tourist visa. I was granted a 10-year visa, and following my return to my hometown, I received a letter from the Canadian Embassy, requesting me to come for an interview on the third week!” Duane recalls.


The supposed 30-minute interview lasted for 2 hours.

“Due to my previous job in Australia, it was almost impossible to prove to the visa officer that I knew what I was expecting when I arrive to Canada and that I was willing to start from the bottom and work my way up,” Duane says.

The consul approved Duane’s immigrant status. Yet, Duane still wanted to prove something – he sang. The consul told him, “I strongly believe that you can make it in Canada.”

Duane arrived in Canada on September 2, 2000. After 22 days he started working as a shipper/receiver of dry and frozen goods in one of the largest food service companies in the country.

The Zambas family: Andy, Duane, Lorie and Judy. CONTRIBUTED

Although Duane is an engineer by profession he still took courses at the International Correspondence School, Canada’s largest school of independent online study, on aircraft mechanics to upgrade his skills. In between studies he was working 16 hours. He was aiming to work in aviation industry again.

“I also took part-time job at one of the do-it-yourself big box stores as an electrical associate to earn extra cash for my car insurance and also to improve my verbal skills in English. It is important to meet different people and to establish a network of friends and create a support system when starting up in a foreign country,” Duane explains.

I am making it in Canada’

Duane would have been an aircraft mechanic if not for the 9/11 tragedy. Yet, as one door closed a window opened.

In 2002, the food service company where Duane had been working since his arrival offered free schooling and training on truck driving. He got a license and drove an 18-wheeler. He also earned a business certificate with honors at Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning – Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga.

Not contented with just being a worker, Duane started running a few businesses that included rentals on real estate properties in the provinces of Ontario and Alberta. In 2010, he started a Quick Cash remittance business after acquiring a franchise on money remittance to the Philippines.

This was followed by a TICO (travel industry council of Ontario) license to operate as a travel consultant. In January 2016, DFZ (his initials) Enterprise got registered and since then has been his company’s primary business name.

Big Smoke Burger franchisee

Duane does not stop investing. His experience in the food business gave him an edge in getting approval from the MTY Group, a Canadian franchise giant.

“MTY is a franchise business which specializes in handcrafted burgers that feature gourmet ingredients sourced from top quality producers and local suppliers,” Duane explains.

Duane in the Grand Canyon. CONTRIBUTED

The slated opening of his Big Smoke Burger franchise is the second quarter of 2018.

Owing success to family

“I owe my success to my parents for giving me and my sister the best of life. Less is more– that’s what they have taught us all those years when we had nothing but us, our family,” Duane says.

His parents, Andy and Lorie, are permanent residents in Canada. But the couple opted to spend their retirement in the Philippines with Duane’s sister, Judy, who is a teacher in Cagayan de Oro.

To immigrants, Duane advises:

“Time hinders us from technically improving our skills and education, but try to explore online courses offered by most colleges and universities. You will be surprised how reaching your goals can be done in the comfort of your own home. Education was and still is the best investment there is for our future.

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TAGS: Big Smoke Burger franchise, Duane Fernandez Zambas, immigrant success story Canada, Land Bank Study Now Pay Later program, online courses, the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines
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