"Back then, I had four or five guys around me all the time," Chew said. "We'd stay up late. Roam around. Fight in the street."
"He became so determined," Kim Chew said. "The game taught him how to win and how to lose."
By 1972, however, his small printing business was foundering as the Vietnam War eroded the region's economy. He immigrated to Southern California, first earning $2.75 an hour staffing a conveyor belt at a beverage factory. In 1981, while working for a medical services printing company, he persuaded a friend to loan him $5,000 for the down payment on a small printing press, which he set up in his garage.
He started printing business cards and letterhead and soon talked his way into larger accounts.
"I was still working my other job," he said. "I would get home, start printing and print until morning. I would turn it off, go upstairs, shave and go to work."
He soon quit his "other" job. With his wife and three children -- who all mastered the art of printing as young teens -- he poured himself into the business. They bought a four-color press, then a six-color press, then their first building in 1987.
By the mid-1990s, he was doing $6 million in sales and had his eye on a strawberry farm on Main Street. In 1994, he bought it for $1 million in cash.
Today, he and Kim, their three children and six grandchildren live a few miles away, in three of the five houses on a single block in Orange. There are 12 more relatives on the payroll. The company expects to handle about $11 million in sales this year.
But the heart of his 78,000-square-foot empire is the 12-court Orange County Badminton Club.
Its floors, built of Danish beechwood, rest atop a 2-inch cushion designed to save the knees of the athletes. The gym is temperature controlled, and since traditional ventilation would require air flow that would disrupt the natural arc of shuttlecocks, Chew designed a special air-conditioning system that uses giant, gentle vents lining each of the walls.
There have been numerous frustrations.
Chew bickers frequently with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which devotes very little money to the sport. He props it up the rest of the way, spending $490,000 last year on coaches' salaries, players' travel and more, leading some to dub him the godfather of American badminton.
The family wants to broaden awareness of the sport, but corporate sponsors have been slow to respond. His efforts to introduce badminton into local schools in an attempt to expand his base beyond Asian Americans have been fruitless. Without a broader base of elite athletes, the level of competition can't rise. As it is, U.S. players who make the Olympics expect to struggle against athletes from nations where badminton is a phenomenon and a lifestyle -- Indonesia, China, Korea, Denmark.
But these Olympics, he figures, are still just the beginning. His highest hopes rest with two players who aren't old enough to qualify this year. Both, predictably, are relatives: a 14-year-old niece, Cee Ketpura, who has never lost a match in her age group; and 13-year-old grandson Phillip Chew, whom Don Chew calls the "Tiger Woods of badminton."
"Olympic gold for the U.S. That is the ultimate dream," he said. "People tell me I'm crazy. But I never give up. Never."