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Little Saigon's Café Queen

With hot drinks and even hotter girls, Natalie Nguyen is trying to uncloak the area's most enduring mystery: Vietnamese coffee shops

"With sad eyes," the columnist continued. "Tuyen told me of her tragedy of moving to the United States. . . . Tuyen said, whether hot or cold, winter or summer, she and the other waitresses were only allowed two pieces of clothing to cover the intimate areas of their body. They had to wear 10-[centimeter] heels and gaudy makeup to attract customers."

But the attack on the coffeehouses also sparked an outpouring of support from café owners and their fans. PhoBolsaTV, a popular YouTube channel covering the Vietnamese American community, released several interviews discussing the shops. The most-viewed clip features a man defending them as a mostly innocent place to relax. When questioned about possible gang involvement, he responded by saying, "If a place has a good reputation, everyone will want to go there. Gang member, non-gang member, it doesn't matter. It's like a restaurant. If the food is good, anyone would go."

Nevertheless, new laws were passed in Garden Grove and Westminster that brought heavy regulation to the cafés. No more late hours, no minors during school hours, no more smoking. Shops in Westminster were basically chased out of the city by an ordinance that banned TVs and music in "cafés, coffeehouses and tea houses." Waitresses in both cities were ordered to cover their breasts, pubic areas and the "natal cleft" (the legal term for one's butt crack).

Patrons playing 13
Austen Risolvato
Patrons playing 13

Windows in Garden Grove coffeehouses were ordered to not be tinted to the point at which police officers couldn't see inside. Cafés were to not dim their lighting enough to restrict vision, have any "amusement devices" (video games that could be converted into illegal gambling machines) or karaoke, or allow patrons to—according to Garden Grove municipal code—"indulge in boisterous conduct or use of profanity." While Santa Ana doesn't have these kinds of laws on the books, its shops immediately began to self-regulate in fear of retaliation.

The strategy to legally crack down on the coffeehouses was largely successful. Law enforcement insists that Asian gangsters rarely, if ever, frequent coffee shops anymore; because of the complete ban on amusement devices in Garden Grove, illegal gambling has gone down. Several of the cafés that were raided—including Skyy Cafe, Missi Cafe and Café Passion—have closed. Some reported decreased revenues, and many owners sold their shops, but Café Lu was, according to Nguyen, mostly unaffected because of its diversified clientele.

And that's where she saw an opportunity.

*    *    *

In a far corner of her coffee shop, Nguyen sits with a group of regulars, large square sunglasses covering most of her face despite the dimmed interior. A petite Vietnamese woman nearing 40 but looking no older than 26, she tends to her guests with aplomb, effortlessly greeting VIPs with a smile and a light touch on the arm.

"Back in the day, when I first started working, Café Lu was on Newhope and First [in Santa Ana]. It was very small, a tiny shop," Nguyen says. "The Vietnamese community back then was so small; now, we get a lot of visitors from everywhere.

"The first two weeks in America, I stayed home, and I was so bored," she continues. "I told my brother that I wanted to go to work, so I asked him what easy job I could do with my limited English. My uncle was kidding around and said I could work at a coffee shop."

She ended up working in coffeehouses on and off for 10 years.

But about four years after leaving Café Lu, she got a call from a former co-worker. Their old boss had decided to retire, and she was wondering if Nguyen wanted to help her buy the shop 50-50.

"She told me she thought I could do it," Nguyen says. "So we borrowed some money from family, took out some loans and did it."

Her partner would eventually leave the business for personal reasons. Today, Nguyen has one silent partner, and she's on a mission to do more than just sell coffee to Vietnamese men; she wants to build a brand.

"[Soon], I'm going to sell 49 percent equity," she says. "I want to sell merchandise and open some more cafés in LA and San Diego."

The work is already paying off. Lu used to sell calendars to help promote their girls, but the coming of social media convinced Nguyen to take a different angle. Café Lu has more than 80,000 fans on Facebook, and the coffee shop's Instagram boasts more than 40,000 followers—far more than any of her competitors. It's also one of the few shops with a website, where fans can go to see pictures of the girls and find links to their Instagrams, favorite websites and Facebook fan pages. Photos posted to the Facebook page routinely garner hundreds of likes. Travelers from Australia, the U.K. and glamorous Fresno have stopped by the shop during visits to Orange County. A picture of Nguyen and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson features prominently on the website.

"We get a lot of tourists," Michelle says. "I always ask them the same thing: This place isn't what you were expecting, was it?"

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My Voice Nation Help
24 comments
Noe.
Noe.

If you look below the neck, you can forget you're in Little Saigon.

thaithai
thaithai

I  like  the  Girls  but  I  dont  like  the  smell  of those cigarettes  ...

neaato
neaato

story was okay, wish went a little deeper. not bad job by writer. only critique was natalie story seemed to start too late and ended too quickly. also ending is kinda meh quote about tourists 'didn't expect this' which is probably exactly what tourists expect, a viet hooters that sells coffee lol. what did they really 'expect'? lol. i find these things novelties, i've gone w/ friends, even family/cousins once in blue moon manly as joke. i really am surprised how crazy it got from bikini to also naked and i just keep thinking, that doesn't seem too sanitary lol. like if people really wanted to see nudity, just go to a strip club lol. viets are classy and sometimes if too little or 'body paint' makes it double as tacky. hooters is tacky but family tacky, if viet coffee shops want to upgrade, they should add food and basically be like a hooters, there's enough money for everyone. coffee i guess is good idea because you can come and go and chill but until they have food and family, it will always be like an older viet man club which is fine because that's like a nice retirement home like how chinese play majong on thursdays at some chinese cultural center. if anything an outlet for older asian men w/ nothing to do. maybe the story could have been a bit more about that. the woman stories seemed kinda meh. would be interesting to see how much they made too.

JBinOC
JBinOC topcommenter

Very well-written feature by Mr. Charles Lam, who I'm sure felt like he got a kick in the head when he drew this assignment.  



Btw, Cafe M. Cutie is less smoky, but still smoky.....so I've heard 


JBinOC
JBinOC topcommenter

"...Euclid Street, the Champs-Élysées of this scene." 



LOL


dbo90275
dbo90275

I love these V girls, but they don't love me!  ;  )

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

Womens "Sexuality" is given all positive backing



from cougars to teachers who molest middle schoolers to 50 shades of grey


but anything for the males is seen as wrong trashy etc



f the left


and thank you to ALL THE FEMALES who like men and show it 

impacfunder
impacfunder

Totally opposite as what this "pay article" say cafe lu is dead boring & empty thanks to the waitresses with no services . Most of viet cafes in OC open at 7 am-11pm. Lu is open at 11 am & sometime closed around 10 pm because the place is empty. Kinda waste times.

TheRefriedMexican
TheRefriedMexican

These skanks have zero personality. I walked in with 3 buddies and these hoes acted like they didn't want to be bothered. At least at Hooters they pretend they're interested in what we have to say, take a compliment well and laugh along. Yeah I know, you go for the visuals, I get that. Still these Cafe Lu bitches need to learn to crack at least a fake smile. No doubt pretty chinitas but terrible demeanor. Hence the $2 tip on the $50+ tab.

RAPman
RAPman

@neaatoYou should familiarize yourself with the shift key, you know -- the one that allows you to make capital letters.

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@sweetliberty17761776 

Interesting comment considering some folks are still incredulous about the fact that women actually enjoy sex at all. And, no, I don't think it's ever ok for a teacher (male or female) to have a sexual relationship with a student...but cougars and the "50 Shades of Grey" crowd are consenting adults so that's a different animal, no?

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@neaato @sweetliberty17761776 


mizzzunderstood your ?


please read my response to fish orrrrr


ok what the heck:


@FishWithoutBicycle @sweetliberty17761776  



If we/ I were talking about underage then we'd have a problem


So of course we're only talking about consenting 


so my statement stands as uncontested and correct as is



AS far as "enemies" of female enjoyment


who??



boyfriends ? girlfriends? husbands?


no, they would all enjoy females enjoying themselves



IF you are talking about some religious people then why would you do that


that has little to do with it 


except in a Cosmopolitan run world meant to act like women are victims when that is not even close to the truth

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@FishWithoutBicycle @sweetliberty17761776 



If we/ I were talking about underage then we'd have a problem


So of course we're only talking about consenting 


so my statement stands as uncontested and correct as is



AS far as "enemies" of female enjoyment


who??



boyfriends ? girlfriends? husbands?


no, they would all enjoy females enjoying themselves



IF you are talking about some religious people then why would you do that


that has little to do with it 


except in a Cosmopolitan run world meant to act like women are victims when that is not even close to the truth

neaato
neaato

@CharlesLam@impacfundermy friends and cousins say its too packed at cafe lu since so popular and lots of mixed yellow fever crowd so they stay away. also they check on instagram and see how full it is so yea, guess you can check in real time proof or not lol

impacfunder
impacfunder

@ Charles lam, see for yrself, dude, have u check out cafe 168 yet? In case for yr lack of researches or just don't want to list new popular Cafes, cafe 168 harbor /.Westminster

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@sweetliberty17761776@FishWithoutBicycle  

This is a complex issue...hard to sum up in a few sentences. I can only glean from my own personal experience as a woman...and it seems to me the vilification of female sexuality comes from many sources. Even now in the 21st century there are people who would consider a man who likes sex as "normal" and a woman who enjoys sex as a "nympho" or a "slut". There are still other people who cling to the ridiculous belief that no woman actually likes sex and that we all do it just to please our male partners...and, therefore, are only using our sexuality as a tool of manipulation...

neaato
neaato

@CharlesLam@impacfunder also y would anyone pay for story like this? lol they mentioned a lot of cafes not just one, if anything complaint i had was story on natalie at end seemed to late and kinda short. if she did 'pay' she got ripped off lolllll. kidding

 
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