Two years after her Vietnamese coffee cart’s opening act — popping up in local businesses and parking lots across the city — Jackie Nguyen has found her audience, formed a community and will soon, finally, take center stage with her own standalone Cafe Cà Phê in Columbus Park.
“When I moved to Kansas City, I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere. I was a female artist, Asian, transplant who didn’t have a place to call my own,” said Nguyen, who opened Kansas City’s first Vietnamese coffee shop, Cafe Cà Phê, in fall 2020 after the pandemic halted her decade-long Broadway career.
“When I first started this journey, I didn’t have a shop. I just had a table, and then I had a cart. I watched as more and more of Kansas City started showing up and wanting to be a part of it. I feel like the community has been the most vital part of our growth.”
Click here to read more about Jackie Nguyen’s early days with Cafe Cà Phê.
Celebration in Columbus Park
Cafe Cà Phê is planning a grand opening and ribbon cutting celebration for its brick-and-mortar shop 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13 at 916 E. 5th St. in Columbus Park with various vendors, musicians and dragon dancing.
“I couldn’t imagine doing it without a big event,” said Nguyen, who previously organized a “Stop Asian Hate” vigil, Moon Festival, 12 Hours of Christmas Cabernet, Lunar New Year event and AAPI Heritage Month Celebration over the past two years.
“We will have food trucks and vendors — an Asian DJ,” she continued. “It’s going to be a culmination of our journey and really celebrating the community.”
All aspects of the coffee shop’s look and feel are a reflection of who Nguyen is as a person, she said, noting she’s excited to share that intimacy with her customers.
“I wanted every part of our shop to be artistic, for the shop itself to be a piece of art,” she said. “I love being intentional with everything that I do — whether it’s intending to send a message, or if it’s intentional to be cool and fun. … We collaborated with a lot of local and minority artists to make it really come to life.”
Click here to read about the artist behind the lettering and designs on Cafe Cà Phê’s exterior windows.
Small business neighbors such as Swoon Cookies, Happy Gillis, Vietnam Cafe and Garazzos, in Columbus Park will also be open for business, and Nguyen is encouraging folks to spend the day exploring the neighborhood, she said.
“Columbus Park is such a hidden gem,” Nguyen said. “People don’t frequent here a lot, but we’re hoping to show people that there’s a lot of really awesome, local businesses you can support here. … The other business owners have been a huge support system; whether it’s letting us borrow a ladder or surprising us with free cookies — they’ve been so supportive and so lovely. We’ve had a taste of being a part of a neighborhood through our residencies, but this is the first time it’s here to stay.”
Asking for help
The process leading up to opening Cafe Cà Phê’s doors wasn’t an easy one, Nguyen admitted. Nguyen secured her Columbus Park building in August 2021 and pushed back the opening date several times because of permit delays and miscommunications, she noted.
“Point blank: This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I am involved in the city as a commissioner on the Parks and Rec board,” Nguyen said, emphasizing most business owners are even less connected and potentially face the same or worse odds. “I intentionally took that job because I wanted to learn more about the city and be more involved in the community. … Opening my shop — despite my commissioner status, despite knowing the local news outlets, despite having a big Instagram following — was still very, very difficult.
“There is a log of miscommunication within the various departments within the city that I think needs to be streamlined,” she continued. “If I didn’t go door knocking on that City Hall door all the time — or emailing the health and fire department, begging them to give me steps — it would have probably taken another six or seven months.”
During the buildout, Nguyen spoke with several other small business owners who shared their frustrations with opening their businesses, she recalled. With Kansas City steadily growing and recently being named a host city for the 2026 World Cup, Nguyen hopes to see the city make small, local businesses a focus, she said.
“Why prioritize big out of town developers that really have no intention other than to make a few bucks off Kansas City’s upcoming reputation?” she questioned. “They should be focusing on the people who live in these neighborhoods, go to these grocery stores and vote in local elections. We are the ones who make up this city.”
Check out a gallery below from the new Cafe Cà Phê before it opens, then keep reading.
A resource that Nguyen found beneficial was the KC BizCare Office within the City of Kansas City, Missouri, she shared.
“Sam Morris and Nia Richardson [at KC BizCare] have both been advocating for me nonstop,” Nguyen said. “They’ve truly opened my eyes to the fact that the City does care and want to make things better for small businesses.”
Click here to read more about KC BizCare.
For other small business owners wanting to open a brick and mortar, Nguyen’s top advice: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Have a really amazing support system,” she said. “Lean on your family or chosen family. I have a chosen family here, and they’ve truly been the foundation for everything I do here.”
When Nguyen decided on opening a coffee shop, she organized a GoFundMe to crowdfund for the building expenses, she said — noting that individuals should not go thousands of dollars in debt to pursue their businesses. As of Aug. 11, nearly $78,000 has been raised on GoFundMe.
“I didn’t feel good about starting the GoFundMe; I didn’t feel good about asking people to donate. It’s not a good overall feeling to admit that I can’t do this alone,” Nguyen said. “But then people started donating and helping out in other ways, and it made me ask myself, ‘Why is it so bad to ask for help?’ This can be a communal effort because I want Cafe Cà Phê to be for the community.”
From employing local folks and artists to hosting events and free coffee days, Nguyen is set on supporting others as they’ve supported her, she shared.
Click here to read more about why Jackie Nguyen decided to open her storefront on her terms.
Taste of culture
With a full coffee bar and ample seating, Nguyen is excited to introduce traditionally-served Saigons to Cafe Cà Phê’s menu, she said.
“For those who order the Saigon for-here, they can experience a traditional Vietnamese iced coffee at their table,” Nguyen said. “You get a glass of condensed milk, and then we pour hot water over our coffee so that you can see it slowly dripping. It takes about three minutes, and then you mix and pour it over ice yourself. If you were at a coffee shop in Vietnam, this is how they would serve their coffee.”
Cafe Cà Phê has several other new additions and upgrades to its offerings, including a Robusta cold brew, Thai tea and Big Heart Tea — St. Louis-based, Vietnamese-owned, woman-owned, tea brand.
“There are other shops that sell [Big Heart Tea] for retail, but we will be the only coffee shop in Kansas City that actually serves it,” Nguyen said. “And then we’ve tweaked a few of our recipes. Our ‘Paris by Night’ used to have rose syrup in it, but now it has cayenne. So it’s spicy! We wanted to add a spicy flavor food profile because a lot of Asian food is very spicy. Plus, we already have floral flavors in other teas and drinks.”
Celebrating Asian culture and flavors is a major part of Cafe Cà Phê’s narrative, Nguyen said, but she also wants her business to uplift all those who desire a safe and welcoming space.
“Come work here for a few hours, spend time with us in the shop,” Nguyen said. “This is a great place to study, meet with friends, go on a first date. I really want people to come in and be a part of our Cafe Cà Phê family.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.