Tony Ly was sitting in an economy class at Ohio State University with a guy sleeping on his one side and a guy reading an ESPN magazine on the other.
That’s when Ly realized he really didn’t want to be an accountant.
“It dawned on me that these kids are coming to class, one is sleeping and one isn’t paying attention, and they are probably going to pass,” the 2007 GlenOak High School graduate said. “I’m miserable, and none of this makes any sense.”
Ly packed up his books, walked out of class and dropped out of college after attending for just over a year.
Not knowing what he wanted to do, Ly returned to working in restaurants and bars. It’s all he’s really known. At age 14, he started working for his uncle, Ricky Ly, the owner and namesake of the popular Asian restaurant in Jackson Township that closed in 2011. He also worked at his mother’s Chinese carryout restaurant in Hartville.
It was his uncle who taught him all the nitty gritty details of the restaurant business and why he would do certain things certain ways. His parents, while they supported Tony working at the restaurant, had hoped that he would apply that work ethic and business sense in a different career.
Ly returned to Stark County in 2010. He worked for an uncle in the Cleveland area as a bartender on the weekends, giving him time during the week to search for restaurant properties up for sale or lease and pass out the business cards he had printed with his title listed as “Restaurant Consultant.”
He focused on properties in the Canton area.
“There was enough people that still remembered Ricky Ly’s, and I knew Canton,” he said. “This was my hometown, and I had no desire to move.”
After a year of searching, Ly got a call from Steve Coon, a downtown Canton developer and president of Coon Restoration & Sealants, who asked if he would be interested in touring a property he owned next to the Palace Theatre. The property at 585 Market Avenue N had most recently housed a steakhouse called The Brownstone.
Ly was 23 years old when he opened Basil Asian Bistro in May 2013. He maxed out every credit card he owned to decorate and used the money Coon lent him for inventory and payroll.
On opening night, Ly estimates Basil attracted only a dozen customers and had roughly $300 in sales.
“I was stressed out and thought this was the worst mistake I made in my life,” he recalled.
Six years later, Basil has become a cornerstone in downtown Canton, and Ly has opened several new businesses. His most recent venture, Angry Avocado, opened in July at 217 Market Avenue N. Beyond restaurants, Ly and his wife, Cassie, celebrated their first wedding anniversary in September and welcomed their first child, Bodhi, in early October.
Ly’s Local Favorites:
Most unique or unusual product made in Stark County:
“Just about anything Melissa and Dave Sherrill of Arrowhead (Vintage & Handmade Goods) create. From hats, pins and art. It’s always something spontaneous and quirky and makes me smile.”
Favorite local restaurant:
Lucca Downtown. “It’s where I took my wife, Cassie, to have dinner at before I proposed to her, and I forgot to bring my wallet!”
Local CEO or business owner admire:
Steve Coon, downtown Canton developer and founder and president of Coon Restoration & Sealants. “Steve is the person who gave me the opportunity to open my first restaurant and showed me why I should invest in downtown Canton.”
Favorite spot to grab a drink:
The Imperial Room. “It’s kind of like Cheers. Everyone knows your name. No flair, nothing flashy. Your quintessential dive bar.”
Favorite theater performance group:
Canton Players Guild Theatre. “Support community theater! Every show I’ve been to is an intimate experience. It’s crazy how often I will run into someone and realize ‘Oh, that was you!?’ in a show we just saw.”
Favorite place to see live music:
“ArtsinStark Music Block project between The Auricle and George’s over the summer has been full of energy and a blast. Love seeing the look on people’s faces that drive by on Cleveland Avenue and rear their heads–yeah, that’s right, Canton is hoppin!”