PILLARS OF OUR COMMUNITY
Learn about the businesses in our community, their stories, and everything they have to offer!
The Fields Corner Main Street organization is thrilled to have hired
Boston-based photojournalist Johnny Nguyen to capture our vibrant business district and entrepreneurs through interviews and photography.
Check back each week for new business owner profiles!
La Martine is a beauty supply store founded in 2009 by Martine Megellus, and located at 1530 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02122.
Interview with Martine
Johnny: So Martine, I’m here with you and can you tell me a little bit about of who
Martine: I’m from Haiti and I’ve been in this country for a very long time, here since I was 19-20 years old. I met my husband here, we have four kids. My husband is also from Haiti. I decided to open a business because we own a home and we have four children. I began thinking about kids going to college, kids growing up, and how we are going to need more resources like to make life better for them. And I was just thinking when I had my 4th child, I wanted to own my own business. I wanted to be a business owner and then we opened the business 11 years ago when the Mayor Menino was the mayor of Boston. He helped us, he paid for our sign, he helped us, he did the sign with us. He inaugurated the store and we got a lot of help with opening. The first time opening a business was not easy, but we tried to keep up, keep the business going, and with the help of my husband too, my kids are always here, and now we’ve been here for 11 years.
Johnny: And that’s really cool Martine because it sounds like the reason why you decided to open the store was for your family.
Johnny: And over time, your family has been very involved with the store. I know we have your son is here, and your husband is here. When I came in, he was helping you out. It sounds like the whole family is involved.
Martine: Yes! Family business.
Johnny: Before you opened your own business, what were you doing?
Martine: I was working as a RCA in a nursing home, and I was thinking, if I have my own business, I would stop working so hard. I used to work 2 jobs at that time and I decided to open the store, I was able to cut down my hours. I was still working but I cut down to 24 hours. The business was doing great, sometimes things happen, it goes up and down, but we are still here.
I met my husband here, we have four kids. My husband is also from Haiti. I decided to open a business because we own a home and we have four children.
Johnny: That’s cool because even though those are two different fields, working in a nursing home and opening a business, I’m thinking that those skills that you used at the nursing home, you still use it here. For you, when you’re working in the nursing home, you’re warm, caring, a lot of empathy, a lot of love and care. I feel in the business, you have to do the same for customers. How has that been for you? How has that been for you, for the transition of working 2 jobs, so many hours, sacrifices, to owning your own business, which comes with its own sacrifices?
Martine: It was very tough but I managed very well. Thank god gave me the strength to manage! It wasn’t easy because I live an hour away from here. So I used to work 35 minutes from my home. Sometimes I work night time, and after night shift, I have to be here in the morning. We open at 10, I work all day. It was tough but I manage.
Johnny: I know you said you cut back your hours, but having children, that’s more than a full time job!
See the rest of our interview with Martine—
Martine: I remember, all the customers know my son! After 3 months (of having him), that was when we opened the store. That’s Marvin right there.
Reign Drink Lab is located at 1370 Dorchester Ave, and was founded on the simple idea of using real, quality ingredients in great tasting drinks.
Interview with the Tam:
Johnny: Let's talks a little bit more about my Reign. And like what it means to you.
Tam: Reign, what it means to me. Reign is fun. Want to say that something that's more my style business, my style of just everything. It's a place where I feel like I have freedom to be creative with. With the Vietnamese restaurants, I feel like I have to stay within a certain kind of a box but with Reign. It's like we can kind of do whatever we want. Right. We can be authentic to ourselves and just cannot be afraid to be creative and innovative. And I think it's cool because we're kind of we're bridging generations. We're bridging cultures as well. And we're doing it in a way that feels feels real to ourselves, you know, and we put a lot of thought into everything that we do. We put a lot of thought into how we present ourselves. You know, we want to make sure that, you know, our values shine through. So, yeah. Reign is like our creative expression. You know, it's. I used to talk about as like an immersive experience. So if you talk about art, it's like this immersive experience where it's it's visual. You know, you can hear the music. You could hear stuff. It's also taste, obviously.
Johnny: Yeah, it's really cool because I feel like I heard a lot of the same things from like, Amanda and Kathy and right about how like the creative and—
Tam: Not scripted! haha
Johnny: Yeah. I think they could make a whole Reign of it, like the innovation thing is like is so key. When you say in like Pho Hoa. And everything like you have to stay within like a certain, like a box. It's like very traditional food. And there's like, it's like like previous generations like. Right. It's like authentic. Genuine like. Exactly. How would be like back home in Vietnam. Yeah. And I think with Reign it sounds like now you're using your Vietnamese American experience into this entire endeavor.
Tam: That's really accurate and so forth, like different businesses have different purposes.
Tam: And if if both, what is about preserving and promoting your culture. Reign is about: how do we take, how do we take where we where maybe our parents come from, where where our culture originates from, but then blended with where we come from. Right. So make it modern, make it applicable and also reach a different audience. You know, a lot of Reign's customers have never been to Pho Hoa. And so I like to oftenr mentioned that people don't drink our coffee because Vietnamese catering to the tastes great obscurities. Right. And so that's like what it's kind of back that back handed. But like Back-Door, it's introducing people to our culture. Oh you didn't know it's Vietnamese? yeah yeah it is. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it's. Yeah, Reign is just awesome.
See the rest of our interview with Tam Le—
Johnny: It's also, you know, anything like that, such a really important thing because, you know, it almost seems like we're all talking in the same room because so many of the same topic feels like you can hear from both conversation. Right. Especially with the whole like the whole education piece for me.
When I was 18 or 19, my father told me, like, just take the best of the Vietnamese culture, take the best American culture. And then, like, make it yours. And so I think Reign is like me doing that.
Interview with the Reign team:
Johnny: Yeah. You can start whenever. Oh, hey, so your name. Introduce. OK.
Amanda: My name's Amanda. I'm the manager of Reign Drink Lab. I've been working here for four years. I'm a local of Dorchester. I found out about Reign through my friend Thri, and I've been here for four years now.
Kathy: Hi, I'm Kathy. I've been here for two to three years. I am also a local Dorchester, little Beantown girl, and I've been introduced to Reign through a mural project that is now sitting outside of the building itself.
Johnny: Cool. So, like where you guys both here, like when Reign first started or or when it opened?
Amanda: Yes, I've been here since the grand opening of Reign. We've come a long way.
Kathy: I came in a little after more so that it was that kids from my high school also worked here, but then I worked on the project for the mural so I would come through Reign and then we would work elsewhere. So that's how I got here. I was there for grand opening, too. But it was more about being a customer then. But now it's more, I think, part of the best community.
And Tam wanted to create a space for the community where people could come together and have drinks that are of high quality. Yeah. Like we don't use powder, we use real, we don't use jam. We make a lot of the stuff in-house. Then whatever we outsource we make sure that it's real, that real stuff.
Johnny: Awesome, very cool. So I really think one of the things that like the similarity to both of what you guys said,that you guys are both from Boston. Yeah. Let's talk a little bit more about your upbringing in Boston, which neighborhood, etc etc.
Amanda: So, yeah, I've been growing up in Fields Corners since I immigrated to the States at one. So, yeah, I've been here for a while.
Kathy: Her whole life.
Amanda: My whole life. Yeah.
Kathy: So I was I was born in like Boston. I was born in Boston. I was part of Fields Corner, Dorchester for a while. Given given take for my whole life. Cause those times where we travel in and out, where I live in like Ashmont, but I'm still within the Viet community where I was at.
See the rest of our interview with the Reign team—
Martine: I remember, all the customers know my son! After 3 months (of having him), that was when we opened the store. That’s Marvin right there.
Pho Hoa Restaurant was founded in 1992, and is one of the oldest dining establishments in Fields Corner. It is located on 1370 Dorchester Ave.
Business Background and Entrepreneurial Story:
Thanh Le (Tam Le's, owner of Reign Drink Lab, father) first immigrated to Boston, MA from Vietnam in April 1981.
Thanh aspired to become a doctor but found that medical school was too expensive.
Thanh decided to go to college, obtained a bachelor's degree, and became a software specialist.
When Thanh was laid off as a program analyst, he used his savings and opened Pho Hoa in 1992 in Dorchester.
Today Pho Hoa is one of the oldest restaurants in Fields Corner.
Thanh and his family decided to buy the land and built the building that Pho Hoa stands in today in 2008
Pho Hoa relocated to new building in 2009
It was a difficult process because of the recession and it created a lot of uncertainty with the mortgage (risk)
When I first opened Pho Hoa in Fields Corner, a lot of people thought it was a bad idea because of Fields Corner’s reputation at the time. I didn’t care because I wanted to serve the Vietnamese community. We created a loyal customers and 27 years later, we’re still here!
Interview with Than Le, and Tam Le
“When I first opened Pho Hoa in Fields Corner, a lot of people thought it was a bad idea because of Fields Corner’s reputation at the time. I didn’t care because I wanted to serve the Vietnamese community. We created a loyal customers and 27 years later, we’re still here!”
“Pho Hoa is very important to me. It’s a family business. I believe it promotes and preserves Vietnamese culture through the celebration of food. It is my family’s legacy.”
“Pho Hoa is never closed and that is something that I am proud of. When there is a blizzard, we will still be open. When it is a holiday, we will still be open. We’ve been here for 27 years and we want people to know that we have their back”. - Thanh Le
“It wasn’t an ideal time for new construction with everything that was going on (recession, etc) but it was important for us to build this building. It was risky but we were confident in ourselves. We knew that we had to adapt and we had to continue working hard.”
Restaurant / Bar / Nightclub
Located at 1310 Dorchester Ave., Blend is a restaurant, bar, and nightclub, which offers weekly drag brunches, weekend dance parties amongst a variety of other amazing events.
Interview with James & Luis
Johnny: So we're here at Blend, I'm going to have you guys introduce yourself individually and then go from there.
James: My name is James, the event coordinator at Blend,
Luis: And I'm Luis, I'm the head bartender here.
Johnny: So James and Luis, can you guys talk a little bit more about, like, who you are and where you guys are from?
James: I'm from - so I grew up in Savin Hill. I've lived in Dorchester my whole life. I work at Boston Medical and Cardiology during the week, and then I kind of, you know, do this for like I'm like I was a deejay growing up, so I kind of always just, like, immersed in nightlife. And I kind of slowly transitioned from that into, like, running my own dance nights and hiring other deejays and performers and stuff to come in and Lou took over most of the bar and cocktail and craft beer side of it, and we kind of just joined forces and started Blend. You know, we always kind of wanted to do it, you know, a long time ago we were just trying to figure out which way to kind of go. Covid, kind of, you know, we always wanted to implement food, but COVID kind of forced us into that side of it. We didn't. We always did pub-style food like steak tips, burgers, things like that. But we never did dinner service. So now we're kind of, you know, doing that part, which has been going pretty good.
Luis: It's been great. And I'm originally from Puerto Rico. I came here when I was about five or six. I lived in Lowell most of my life until I met James. And then I moved to Dorchester, about eleven years ago. I've been bartending since I was 20 and I've been in the service industry since I was about 14. So this is pretty much like my life. And I just love to make cocktails. I love to be behind the kitchen figuring out dishes. And we've been like he said, we've been wanting to do dinner service for a long time. And it's always been my dream to turn this into what we're kind of moving into now, which is a little bit more dinner service with just a little laid-back feel. The food's amazing. And I just want everyone to come here, enjoy the food and have a good time while they're here.
Johnny: And they like what's really cool, too, is that, like, I feel like what you guys are offering hasn't really existed in, like, this particular neighborhood before like Dorchester
Luis: "It's rewarding to get to, like, serve the community that you're a part of in your own neighborhood."
Johnny: It sounds like, you know, COVID is such an unfortunate thing for everybody - Small business, our mental health, our physical health. There are so many things. But in a lot of ways for you guys, you guys had to adapt and really begin to do things that you guys have always wanted. Exactly. Which I think for all of us, it's like I think COVID it kind of makes us rethink about life.
Luis: Yeah, right - for a lot of small businesses.
James: It's kind of a silver lining with everything we were you know, obviously everybody is struggling right now and businesses are struggling and we just kind of trying to you know, make a good, positive thing after all of it. I mean, we were staying busy. We were up here like painting and tweaking things and trying to move seating around and see what we could do to kind of make it, you know, have a more like, homey feel to it. We were just doing whatever we could, but there wasn't a lot of money either, because obviously, we shut down. You know, we had nothing coming. It's such a big place, I like to turn the lights on and here it's like it's expensive. So and you have to turn my gas on just everything that comes with, you know, a business. And we you know, we did pretty well with, you know, staying sane through all of it. And, you know, I think people are responding in a good way where they're enjoying the food and the cocktails. So they're like they're messaging me on Instagram and things like that. Like everything went really well. And, you know, kind of like my friends from the neighborhood that I grew up with. You know, they all come into a bunch of people last week and they were like, love the new quesadilla. Got it. Vegetarian style is delicious. Everyone loved, like, the steak tips from the old menu. And don't ever change those. And you're like, oh, I'll never change those. We know you guys love them. So it's been good and it's been a good balance, you know.
Everyone knows that we're taking that extra precaution and making sure that everyone stays safe. Like I had a table and they were like, "you have such a huge patio"... And I'm like I'm out here, like making sure that everything's seven feet apart, instead of just six. We want you to walk in and be like "oh, they're going that extra mile" to make sure that we all feel safe.
Located at 1459 Dorchester Ave., Dot Cafe is a beloved staple in the neighborhood offering a variety of breakfast & brunch options.
Interview with Kiet Tran
Johnny: Wow, so even though supplies and ingredients are more expensive for you, you’re still trying to keep the prices low for the customers.
Kiet: Yup, for the customers. I feel that a lot of businesses raise the prices for a reason. During COVID, the prices for everything is really expensive. But you know, we try our best to keep the prices as low as possible. We just take less profits, and for some months, we don’t get any profits. They support us so I want them to know that we support them too. We’re not trying to take advantage of them. Just like with your friends, you support them, they support you. I always treat my customers like my friends - if they’re supporting me, I’ll support them back.
Johnny: That’s awesome! I feel like it’s such a risk on your guys end - with how you guys are not benefiting from the prices not changing but the customers are - and I think in the end, what it creates is loyalty. No matter what happens, you will still have your customers coming in to support you. That’s something that a lot of businesses want and can’t buy. That is a relationship built on trust and built up over the time. The key thing that I’m hearing is that you treat your customers like they’re your friends and that is why they come back. I think a lot of business, if they hear that, they’ll get jealous because that takes time, and it takes time to build a relationship.
Kiet: It takes a lot of time. When I used to work here, what’s been lucky for me, is that the old owner treats the customers like they’re his friends. He taught me that and I learned that from him. When I worked here for two years, most of the customers, they know me. When I quit and they know that I’m back here, they come back to support me a lot. A lot of the customers when I worked at Dunkin Donuts, they know that I quit there and come here. They come here to support me, to buy food and coffee. That’s why I have the respect for them. That’s why I will always treat my customers like they’re friends. If you want other people to support you, you need to support them first. A good thing is that we’re a small business. When you go to a big restaurant, the owner may not be there. You may not know how your employees treat your customers. We’re a small business, so I’m always here, my family is always here, and we know that we’re always treat customers like how they treat us. We support them, they support us. That is why I think COVID19 has been going well.
Kiet: "I always treat my customers like my friends - if they’re supporting me, I’ll support them back."
Johnny: I think with COVID, everything is changing so much. People need to adapt to what’s going on. For customers, coming here, they know what to expect. Which is great customer service, great food, and you make things feels normal for them.
Kiet: Basically it doesn’t matter how old or young you are - if you love something, just go for it. Just do what your heart tells you. If you want to do this, keep trying. When you fail, don’t stop. Stand up and keep walking until you hit your goal. That’s why when we got this (restaurant), the first year, it was really hard time for me. I wanted to give up, I wanted to sell it. My parents, when we come home and we have a family dinner, they tell me, “if you want to be successful, don’t be scared to fail. That failure will help you succeed”. I just want to tell everyone, if you love something, try for it. Don’t scare yourself to not do it, don’t listen to other people, if they support you, they will support you. Do what your heart tells you.
See the rest of our interview with Kiet Tran
MORE TO COME
We'll be adding more, and more business profiles so stay tuned!