Southern California

7 Leaves: Vietnamese American Entrepreneurs

NBC continues to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by highlighting what some call an "Asian Starbucks" with its roots in Southern California's Little Saigon.

The Nguyens have been called the "North Star of Little Saigon" because they are constantly lighting the way for the others.

Sonny Nguyen is one of seven "Leaves" who made a millennial coffee shop the equivalent of Asian Starbucks. The other six leaves are his brothers, a brother-in-law and a long-time family friend, and eight years ago, the group that launched the 7 Leaves Café were working in finance, law and technology.

Nguyen says, "There's that saying, 'It's lonely at the top,' and it was true for all of us, and I think 'Q' was the first one to say, 'I need a break.'"

"Q" is Sonny Nguyen's brother, Quan, who traveled the world and brought back uncommon tastes like Mung Bean from his time in Indian, Korea, Vietnam and beyond.

"The passion that drives us today is, no. 1, for the community we want to show them a different experience to connect the world because each one of our drinks comes from a different country," Sonny Nguyen says.

A meal at a Vietnamese restaurant introduced Sonny Nguyen and his brothers to the struggling owner, Viet Nguyen, who was only months away from closing the doors to his restaurant. Viet Nguyen's Vox Kitchen started with traditional pho and then decided to expand to shaking beef with French fires and a healthy helping of friendly service.

Building roots in the community, Sonny Nguyen offered Viet Nguyen advice, which Viet hunkered down and followed.

Today, Vox Kitchen can have an hour-long wait, and the Gordon Ramsay trained chef has three restaurants and two more under construction nearby.

Now, Viet Nguyen says he's the one dolling out advice.

"If I see them struggle, but I see something special I always give them that advice, 'You're very close, trust me. You have something special. Just hang on,'" Viet Nguyen says with a smile.

The Nguyen brothers believe in paying it forward, and Sonny recently spoke to other business owners for the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce.

"Every time I've ever seen him in a classroom setting or workshop, people gravitate towards him," Ed Hart from the Cal State Fullerton Center for Family Business says about Sonny Nguyen. "He has that magnetic personality."

Part of the secret to 7 Leaves Cafés' success according to Sonny Nguyen is keeping the business simple. They offer a dozen teas, a trio of coffees and you can't have it your way. It's served their way, quickly.

By the end of this year, the Nguyen brothers will have 16 cafes. Believing in the strength of the community they enrich, they expect even more locations in the future based on the connections they have made and will make in the future.

"You don't have to be from the same place, have the same skin or the same language," Sonny Nguyen speaks about his experience. "When you have abundance or success, I find people are willing to help."

Next up for the Nguyen brothers is a drive-through store with a long-term goal of 200 stores in the next decade.

This family-run business heeds the words of a single philosopher: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

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