Like many actors, Jackie Nguyen (she/her/hers) had to shift gears from theatre at the beginning of the pandemic, after having been in New York and an actor for over ten years, most recently in the touring US production of Miss Saigon. “I was looking into different things I could do with my skill set,” Jackie recalls. “I thought that maybe I could go into event planning or wedding planning since I had done a lot of event work while touring. Every national tour I’ve been on I would help with events. It’s something I was passionate about.” But Jackie also had always wanted to start a book shop or coffee shop.
“I took a trip to Vietnam and I loved the coffee and thought, what if I combine my passion for event planning and for Vietnamese culture into a coffee shop.” And the idea for Cafe Cà Phê was born (Cà Phê is Vietnamese for coffee). Jackie had worked as a barista before, and by starting her own coffee shop, she has been able to effectively combine all of her passions together: Coffee, Vietnamese culture, and event-based type of work.
“One of the stops on tour was in Kansas City. It ended up being awesome. I was looking for different locations around the country for the shop, and some place with less of an Asian demographic and not as much Asian cuisine.” Jackie quickly fell in love with Kansas City, Missouri, and it became the home base for Cafe Cà Phê.
The coffee shop started as a food truck before taking a temporary residency with the Firebrand Collective in the West Bottoms neighborhood of Kansas City. “Food truck style of operations and events are harder because of regulations surrounding parking hours. The cart has limited supply because of limited water, and I can’t hold as much product because of weight limits. When I do events, I can only do about four hours before things start running out. But when you have a location, it’s easier.” The community has been so supportive of Cafe Cà Phê that Jackie is looking forward to finding a permanent home in a brick and mortar location in the area.
While Cafe Cà Phê has many of your favorite drinks you would find in a coffee shop, the specialty options are the Vietnamese and Asian-inspired drinks on the menu. An important part of the business is exposing its patrons to Vietnamese favorites and Asian flavors, with menu items including traditional Phin Drip Coffee and Vietnamese Iced Coffee and flavors such as ube, matcha, lychee, rose, and sesame.
Another big aspect of the business is elevating small businesses and BIPOC-owned businesses. Cafe Cà Phê sources its coffee from Nguyen Coffee Supply (a first-generation Vietnamese-American owned company) and Messenger Coffee (a local Kansas City favorite). Cafe Cà Phê also creates their own merchandise with locally-owned companies, and sources the rest of the merchandise they sell from businesses created by out-of-work theatre professionals or companies that are woman-, Asian-, Black-, or LGBTQ-owned. Some of the products are even created by Jackie’s former Miss Saigon tour colleagues. Cafe Cà Phê has also partnered with local Kansas City food vendors to do pop-up sales at the coffee shop. They even recently partnered with two local businesses, Ragusa and Evolve Your Dance, to offer a joint event with a Vietnamese coffee tasting, Italian chocolate tasting, and Rumba dance lesson.
Inclusion and advocacy is also important to the business, as you will find Cafe Cà Phê social media making posts on the subject of diversity. Moreover, to create an inclusive environment for their Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers, the staff went through an American Sign Language (“ASL”) training course for baristas and plans to continue learning ASL.
What’s next for Cafe Cà Phê? “The priority now is brick and mortar” explains Jackie, “but part of that journey will probably include releasing merchandise in the next few months to fundraise with people from out of town. I’m hoping by the end of the year there will be an online shop with items such as coffee to mugs, stickers, and other merch.”
What’s been on Jackie’s mind the past several months? “The shift from theatre to a completely different realm. To a new community and to coffee. A huge thought has been that imposter syndrome feeling. A lot of actors struggle with making the leap of doing something else outside of their comfort zone or the art. But the art has really served me so well in doing something else. I am still able to be really creative and really expressive. I want to encourage other people to try new things even if they are afraid. Sometimes it’s just as gratifying and rewarding, but you don’t know if you don’t try.” She further explains “I went from a career of 10+ years in theatre thinking that was the only thing I was ever good at and now I am not doing that at all and I feel just as fulfilled and creative in a completely different industry. So glad I did it.”