Don Eng – Save-on-Foods / Pattison Food Group

Would-be mechanic is legal fixer for Canadian supermarket chain

When Don Eng daydreamed at his supermarket job while in high school and college, it wasn’t about managing legal affairs in the grocery industry someday.

He planned to become a mechanic and was thinking about carburetors, transmissions, brakes and used car parts. Then one day after work, Eng came home to find a letter saying he’d been admitted to law school—and ran with it.

Don Eng | Vice President, Legal and Privacy Officer | Save-on-Foods / Pattison Food Group

Don Eng | Vice President, Legal and Privacy Officer | Save-on-Foods / Pattison Food Group

After enrolling in law school, Eng found he could apply his passion for cars and mechanics to his studies. For example, when he went to the junk yard to buy a used car part, he’d think about how Canada’s Sale of Goods Act applied to his purchase. That helped him understand how the legislation worked, and he applied this method in other ways, he says.

In 1994, after working in private practice for several years, Eng got the opportunity to build his own legal shop as the first in-house lawyer for a chain of supermarkets in western Canada. Almost 30 years later, he’s now the vice president of legal and the privacy officer for Save-On-Foods, the flagship for the Pattison Food Group.

“I never realized at the time I took the position that the organization would have evolved into what it is today,” Eng says.

Provisioning the provinces

Owned by Jim Pattison since 1968, what’s now PFG is led by the Save-On-Foods chain, which was founded in 1915 as Overwaitea Foods. The name comes from the founder’s practice of selling 18 ounces of tea for the price of 16 ounces.

In 2021, Pattison consolidated his companies—among them, Save-on-Foods, Buy Low Foods, Quality Foods, Pure Pharmacies, Everything Wine—under Pattison Food Group. With more than 300 stores, PFG serves British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon Territory.

Don Eng | Vice President, Legal and Privacy Officer | Save-on-Foods / Pattison Food Group

In October 2021, PFG expanded into the U.S. by acquiring Oregon-based Roth’s Fresh Markets. PFG is also expanding by acquiring distributors. The acquisitions help secure PFG’s supply chain and increase its efficiency, says Eng, who’s helped guide every acquisition since joining the company.

In 1994, the in-house role was different, he recalls, and he decided to take a more hands-on approach to better understand the legal needs of the business.

“The typical role of in-house counsel at the time was sending to and managing legal work with outside counsel. I decided to do as much work as I could in-house. We do so to this day,” Eng says.

A new approach

Back then, Eng couldn’t just Google “in-house lawyers” to learn what the position required. Instead, he went to the library to learn how he might integrate with the business.

First, Eng needed to better control internal legal matters and outside counsel. He recalls discovering two firms were working on the same matter without anyone realizing it. He developed systems and processes for more detailed reporting and accounting by outside firms and consolidated how many were used.

“The key thing was to ensure there was a rapport, a proper skillset and understanding of expectations,” Eng says.

Don Eng | Vice President, Legal and Privacy Officer | Save-on-Foods / Pattison Food Group

He began handling the bulk of the legal load, including the due diligence real estate and retail contracts, vetting advertising for compliance and handling licensing and intellectual property. He now handles competition and privacy matters, too.

Eng says much of what he developed is augmented by new ideas from his legal staff of six lawyers and four legal assistants. Though the lawyers are generalists, he encourages them to specialize in legal fields to become experts.

“I’ve actually worked harder in the in-house role than I ever did in the private practice,” he says. “We get to know and understand the  business. No outside counsel can offer that level of understanding or service.”

Wrenches and writs

Eng, who grew up near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, says cars are still his hobby—but he didn’t become a mechanic because his mother wanted him to get a college education. When he enrolled in college, he was so undecided that his sister selected his first semester courses for him.

While in university, a friend asked Eng to help him study for the LSAT, then encouraged him to take the test, too. Told by the College of Law that applicants had a less than 10 percent chance of admittance, Eng admits he applied in part to tell his mother he tried, got rejected, and could now become a mechanic. He was accepted.

Don Eng | Vice President, Legal and Privacy Officer | Save-on-Foods / Pattison Food Group

Eng earned his bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Saskatchewan—“the only law school close enough to walk to, so the only one I applied to,” he says.

Eng not only enjoys practicing law, he enjoys teaching it. He’s been an instructor in business law at Vancouver Community College since 2003 and he also encourages his team of lawyers to teach when they’re ready.

The private practice work provided plenty of exposure in practice areas including criminal law, as well as court appearances, but it didn’t appeal to Eng as much as the business and insolvency law did. Eng joined what was then Overwaitea/Save-On-Foods after a friend told him about the open position.

“I love the variety of work. It’s so broad,” he says. “We aren’t just doing one thing at a time. That can certainly be overwhelming to some people, but as long as you are prepared to be open minded and take on the challenge, the variety really makes this worth it.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2022 Edition here.

Published on: January 27, 2022



Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.


I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.
It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.


Spring III 2024



  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.