Editor’s note: Startland News is showcasing five Kansas City changemakers from five local organizations through its third annual Community Builders to Watch series. The following highlights one of the 2023 honorees, selected from more than 100 initial nominees. Click here to view the full list of Community Builders to Watch — presented by Cyderes.
Check out these Community Builders and their organizations in person, Friday, June 9 at Startland News’ Startup Crawl. Click here for free tickets to the one-night showcase.
Home is not a place, nor a person, said Jackie Nguyen. Home is a feeling.
“Home, to me, is nostalgic. It is emotional. It is personal. It’s a feeling of comfort and belonging and safety; and if you feel those things when you walk into a space, you can let your guard down. I’ve traveled a lot and had many homes — sometimes home was a hotel room or a coffee shop, but the thread was always safety, comfort, nostalgia, a sense of security and love. So I would hope that we can provide that for people when they walk into Cafe Cà Phê,” said Nguyen, the founder of Kansas City’s only Vietnamese coffee Shop.
Click here to check out Cafe Cà Phê.
Cafe Cà Phê got its start from humble beginnings with Nguyen serving coffee from a table outside of a nail salon in 2020. In just three years since Cafe Cà Phê’s inception, Nguyen has opened her first storefront in Columbus Park, hosted city-wide events, formed friendships with other small businesses, secured partnerships with major organizations and built a community of thousands.
In May — which is recognized as Asian, Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month — Nguyen hosted an event playfully called APPIconic. The heritage showcase brought together more than 3,000 people to celebrate various cultures and highlight AAPI vendors, performers and artists.
“AAPIconic was a big moment for me personally,” Nguyen shared. “To see all of my work and effort over the past few years culminate into one event, it was a very overwhelming experience. I feel very grateful that we are building something for the community and with the community.”
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Moving to Kansas City during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nguyen longed for community. She first recognized that Cafe Cà Phê was much more than a coffee shop when she held a “Stop Asian Hate” vigil to honor the lives lost from a mass shooting and hate crime in Atlanta in 2021.
“People of all different backgrounds showed up. It was the first time I was able to physically see the community all together, and I realized we were building something really important,” Nguyen recalled. “A lot of Asian people brought their flags. A lot of people came up to me that day and said that they’d never felt anything like that before. … I taught everyone how to light incense and we spoke in Vietnamese. I was like, wow, we’re doing more than coffee.”
As Cafe Cà Phê has grown over the years, Nguyen has shared her success with other small businesses. Whether it is posting other small business owners on Cafe Cà Phê’s Instagram page or inviting them to take part in pop-up events, Nguyen sees that it is crucial to flourish alongside others, she said.
“I do it because those are my friends, and I’ve had so many friends help me along my journey,” Nguyen noted. “My friends haven’t helped me for any recognition and praise — they do it because they genuinely love me. That’s exactly how I feel about all of my friends and all of my community. And I started [doing these pop-ups] because, selfishly, I wanted friends and to feel connected to my community. I sometimes forget the importance of what we’re doing because I get wrapped up in the day-to-day logistics, so it warms my heart to have people shout out Cafe Cà Phê.”
Click here to read more about Cafe Cà Phê’s long-awaited storefront.
With Kansas City steadily growing and bringing on more major events like the NFL Draft and World Cup 2026, Nguyen hopes the city grows with intention and focus on the individuals who make up the region, she said.
“Growth makes no sense if you are not including the people who should grow with it,” Nguyen said. “My hope for Kansas City’s tomorrow is that we really take our time and pour mindfulness and purpose into the things we do. I also think that there’s still such a big hole in Kansas City as far as representation for the AAPI community, so I would hope we can continue to push that narrative and share our stories.”
When Nguyen envisions her legacy, she thinks about her nieces and nephews, she said.
“I would love for them to be proud that the Nguyen name created something for their culture,” she shared. “I’d love for them to look back, specifically at my coffee shop, and say that their aunt did something for their generation to feel more comfortable in their skin. … But truly, I want everyone in my shop and my community to feel like they have the opportunity to build their own legacies. I think that’s what my legacy should be about — opening the doors for other people.”
The Broadway performer-turned-entrepreneur knows how to keep her days everchanging and busy, she said. But when she makes space for downtime, she enjoys exploring areas as comforting as a shopping mall or as adventurous as a new country.
“I could walk around the mall for hours without even buying a thing — I think it’s the teenage nostalgia,” Nguyen said, laughing. “… I love to travel, and my next bucket list destination is probably Australia. I’ve never been, but it has a huge Vietnamese community and Vietnamese coffee community. I would love to visit as many coffee shops as possible and learn how the Vietnamese Australian perspective compares to the Vietnamese American perspective.”
If Nguyen could learn anything in an instant, she would love to pick up another language or explore artificial intelligence and ChatGPT, she said.
“I’ve heard [ChatGPT] is the new thing for marketing, but I have no clue what it is so I’d love to learn more about that,” Nguyen noted. “But also I would love to learn French or be more fluent in ASL. I’ve taken courses in college, and we are all required to take a basic ASL for baristas class so that we can communicate with our deaf and hard of hearing community. Languages and skill sets that would improve my business are what I’m most eager to learn.”
As Nguyen stood outside of her coffee shop for a photograph, two individuals came up to introduce themselves. They shared that they were moving to Florida and wanted to stop by the coffee shop one last time. It was a space that had become one of their favorite places in Kansas City, and they thanked her for cultivating the community.
“That is exactly why I do this,” Nguyen said.
Community Builders to Watch is possible thanks to support from Cyderes, an innovative cybersecurity company that acts as custodians of our clients’ information security so that they can focus on growing their business. Cyderes was founded in 2021 through the merger of Fishtech Group and Herjavec Group of Toronto, Ontario. Our global footprint includes six security operations centers and offices in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and India.