Vietnamese family finds success in Monroeville, passes it on to Seneca Place residents
Behind her desk at First Nails and Spa in Monroeville, Diane Phan sparked conversation in Vietnamese with her brother, Kenny, sitting two chairs away as he finished off a customer’s manicure.
The phone rang, and Phan’s niece, Linda Tran, picked it up to scheduled someone’s appointment for the next day. Just minutes later, Phan’s daughter ,Sophia, trotted through the door with her father behind her after school.
It is an understatement to say the business is a family affair. There are 23 of Phan’s nieces, nephews, cousins and siblings working — all who she helped bring from Vietnam to America throughout the past 20 years.
“Gradually, they all came, and now we all learn from each other,” Phan said. “It never gets tough for me working with my family, because we work so well together.”
Phan, 37, splits her time managing the Monroeville nail salon for her father-in-law and running the store that she and her husband, John Nguyen, opened in Murrysville last year. The team of family members— ages 18 to 28— work at both locations.
“Its good connecting with family while at work,” Kenny Phan said. “It’s much better going somewhere where you know everybody, and we’re always happily helping each other out.”
Before Tran, 27, and others came to Monroeville, Phan sent them to cosmetology school in Vietnam. And now as they continue to learn the quirks of the English language, Phan said she has learned and acquired techniques for the business from them as well.
“My niece learned to do permanent makeup, eyelashes and everything over in Vietnam,” Phan said. “They learn and get their experience there and then come her to get their cosmetology license in Pennsylvania.”
And since working together isn’t enough for the Phan clan, each of the family members is living in Monroeville, which makes it an easy commute to work.
Moving to America
With her parents and brother in 1997, 17-year-old Phan moved to Houston, Texas, from Vietnam after her father, a member of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, acquired citizenship.
“Texas had a large Vietnamese community at the time, so it was easy for us to learn there,” Phan said.
After three years of high school and two years of community college, Phan decided to enroll in cosmetology school. Although originally studying to become a nurse, learning English and its medical jargon made that goal too difficult to reach.
Because she had a love for all four seasons and a niche for making people happy, she moved to Pittsburgh to carry out her degree. It was in Monroeville where she met her husband, eventually managing First Nails for his family and opening their own store.
Phan has longed to find a way to use her family’s success as a way to give back to the community.
She found a way this month when she and 15 family members hosted a holiday party at Seneca Village in Penn Hills, bringing complimentary manicures, massages, caroling, cookies and a visit from Santa to the residents of the senior housing complex.
“I’m thankful to America and having the opportunity to be here,” Phan said. “We wanted to do this for a long time, but I only have two hands. Now, my nieces, nephews and family are all able to help.”
Holding her freshly polished red nails in the air for the room to see, Willie Porter, 73, couldn’t wipe the grin off her face during the event.
“I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘Willie, you really deserve to have your nails done today,” Porter said. “I think just sitting and talking with the person doing my nails and hearing their story, that was my favorite part.”
While waiting for her nails to dry, Mary Turner looked to fellow resident Phyllis Burkhart, asking if the sparkles were too much.
“Not at all,” Burkhart said. “Its something different for the holidays.”
Vicky Merryman, of UPMC Home Health in Pittsburgh, which operates Seneca Village, has been a client of First Nails for five years, getting to know the Phan family very well. It was her connection with UPMC that linked First Nails with the independent living facility, an event that left Merryman in tears.
“I was very emotional walking in today seeing the residents’ joy,” Merriman said. “Them coming here to do this was a match made in heaven.”
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.