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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

While other coffee shops still cater largely toward Vietnamese immigrant men, Nguyen—who served those traditional patrons for so long—now eschews them. She doesn't let guests smoke indoors, and there's very rarely any hint of Vietnamese music. Only 40 percent of her customers are Vietnamese. Many are white, Middle Eastern or Latino. A plurality of her coffee girls, whom Nguyen picks herself, are Vietnamese, but there are also other Asian girls, white girls, Latinas and hapa girls.

"If you want to grow your business, you can't just deal with one clientele," Nguyen says. "The older Vietnamese crowd, they like to smoke. I worked so long in that environment that I couldn't deal with it anymore."

She revels in her self-appointed role as a madame of cà phê mát me, ensuring that her workers are treated well. While girls at other shops are shorted shifts or have their pay docked, at Café Lu, they have flexible schedules.

Model: Charlene Barnum. H/MUA: Christine Barnum
Riley Kern/Photo Assistant: Genevieve Davis
Model: Charlene Barnum. H/MUA: Christine Barnum
Natalie Nguyen: The madame of Café Lu
Austen Risolvato
Natalie Nguyen: The madame of Café Lu

"If you want to build a nice clientele, you have to have nice girls," Nguyen says. "A lot of people, they come in here with the wrong idea.

"I don't want that kind of people."

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