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PILLARS OF OUR COMMUNITY

Learn about the businesses in our community, their stories, and everything they have to offer!

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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!

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILES

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Introducing

LA MARTINE

Beauty Supply

 

La Martine is a beauty supply store founded in 2009 by Martine Megellus, and  located at 1530 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02122.  

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Interview with Martine

Johnny: So Martine, I’m here with you and can you tell me a little bit about of who
you are.

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. 

 

Martine: Yes.

 

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.

 

Introducing

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—

Read More


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. Johnny: oh he’s the longest employee! Martine: haha yes, he’s here, all the time! Johnny: So he’s 11 now - and I think that’s really cool. He was born, you opened the store. It’s like the whole journey is together. So when you opened the store, what made you design on a hair supply store? Martine: I was looking at the marketing, the top type of stores is food related or a hair store. We’re women so we like to be beautiful, that’s how I was thinking about it - Beauty is a big business - it’s a big business and people will do everything to to keep themselves beautiful and thats what made me decide to open a beauty supply store. Johnny: And I think it’s also you’re providing a really important thing for the community - This is so important and key to provide something for the people in the community. What made you guys decide to open in Dorchester? Martine: In the city, in the community of Dorchester, we have a lot of friends around and before I opened, a friend used to have a bridal shower and she was here for 30 years. I asked her, I talked to people for advice, and people said this is a good place to open a beauty store and would have good business. Basically, the people of this neighborhood are like me - Black. We like to do our hair and that's why I chose Dorchester. Johnny: And that’s really cool because Dorchester is a really diverse community - there’s a large Hatian Community, a large Dominican community, African American community, Asian community, it’s a melting pot. I think what’s really cool about doing this project so far is that the majority of the business owners that I have talked to are all people of color. Which I think is really nice and important to see. I know you said there has been up and down and with COVID19, it’s been one of the tougher times. How has that been going? Martine: When we hit February and I was listening to the situation, I didn’t take it too seriously. I was watching the news but we still had customers coming in, buying. When we hit March, that’s when I realize this is something different, this is going to be tough. Business began going down, I wasn’t selling, I had 2 to 3 customers per day, I was thinking of what I was going to do, then on the 21st they announced that it was going to close down the businesses, I will never forget this. I said “wow” and by noon time on the 24th we had to shut down, I was thinking the mayor announced that we are going to shut down for 7 days, then after listen to the news, it became longer. THey said they were going to extend it to more time, I was like wow. It has been 2 months since we shut down. I didn’t even know what we were going to do. I said maybe I’ll be out of businesses, I was thinking of what to do. The owner (of building), Alan, he helped me too. He called me “there’s a lot of applications out there that you can get help”. He was great, he was on top of it, he was calling me, sending me emails, and helping me apply for grants with the City of Boston to help me pay for the rent because the rent is expensive. And I applied because I really appreciate the City of Boston because they help us, it helped me pay one month, I was two months behind. So Thank god I paid him, so we open back up, and we’re moving forward. Johnny: And I think that’s really special to hear because no matter how hard it was, you never gave up. It speaks volumes to who you are and what you want for your family, this is not just YOUR business, it’s your family business. It’s a scary time too, not just as a business owner but also as a mother. I know for your son, school was closed, there was a lot of changes happening at once for everyone. I think it’s really good to see how you continued to fight and to move forward. So what are you hoping for the future now? I know COVID19 is still here and you have to adapt. Martine: We have to adapt, to keep the social distancing, to protect ourselves, and taking the precautions that best can - wearing a mask, wearing goggles, because I don’t think it’ll end anytime soon. I think we will to keep following the guidelines to keep the community, the people, to keep them safe and ourselves safe also. Johnny: Do you have anything else you would like to share? Martine: I just got the re-opening fund and I’m really happy about it. Now I can do everything to keep social distancing, buy what we need to keep ourselves and our community safe. We are really thankful to the City of Boston, to the Governor, the Mayor, and everything - FCMS! Jackey came to help me with the application because when I did the application, I could not submit. There was question, whatever you put, I couldn’t submit it. Thank god Jackey passing by to check in, I explained to her that I filled out the application and I couldn’t submit it. Jackey said “okay, I’ll be back!”, she came back with her laptop, helped me submit it. Now I have the funds and I really appreciate it. Johnny: And that’s the thing, these applications are there but they make it really difficult to understand. Martine: We’re really appreciate it and we are thankful!





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Introducing

REIGN

Drink Lab

 

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.  

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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. 

 

Johnny: Right. 


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—

Read More


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. Tam: Let me build upon that part. Yeah. In your traditional like Vietnamese Vietnamese business, it's very top down economy. And so they just go back a generation. You think about it. I mean, maybe your parents, your parents, parents that like it's very authoritative. So it's very like "I'm the elder, you listen to what I say". And then that's it, I had the experience and the knowledge. So I think with Reign, our goal is to make collaborative. And so a lot of organization will talk about being collaborative, but then they don't practice what they preach. So I think the fact that we share a lot of the same ideas and thoughts about Reign shows that it is a collaborative. Johnny: Because I think like and I totally agree with that, you know, because if you let your teams' voice be really a part of the DNA of that place, then the genuine and like authenticity of the place will shine through yet right in the product, in that environment and divides go through everything, right. And if anything, it's very you got to be able to do that. Can you speak a little bit more like what the values are that you see for Reign? Tam: We have five. One is always learning even. One is be real. One is work hard, play hard. So that's three. One is like (........) Positvity! Yeah. We're back to power of positivity. Work hard. Play hard. All right. So, yeah. So those are the values that because. Johnny: And again, it's almost that we're all sitting at the same time. But a lot of those same values like shine through. Yeah. Right. And I think one of the really awesome things that occurred. I mean, Kathy said is how like one of the most important things that you guys are trying to do at Reign is building relationships with anybody and everybody that walks through it. Right. And I think during that time, like COVID situation. It's been more difficult because the interaction is that you guys have like carefully built, has now been cut so short, right? Not because you guys wanted to, but because of, like, for safety and health reasons but also because of like regulations, like how has. How do you feel like you're still kind of built those like human connections in such like every single day, changing like environment? Yeah. Tam: So virtually through social media engagement. But I think the fact that that we're still open. Right. You know, that like. We can still at least connect in some way. Versus it's not no connection at all. I think. I think people appreciate how we've made adjustments and how we're trying to find solutions to here to stay open and then also to serve our products. So I don't know if that helps us build the relationship. But, you know. Right. So for Reign when we thought about possibly closing. We thought about our customers, and then we thought about the fact that we have a responsibility to serve our customers. Right. And so because we recognize a responsibility and we made exhaustive efforts to stay open and figure out a safe way to serve our customers. I'm thinking the customers see and feel that. And I think that strengthens relationships. Right, because there's a lot of other businesses have closed down. And so it's like "I used to get my stuff here every day and now I can't". Right. So I think we've definitely, um, not only have we strengthened relationships with our existing customers, but we've made a bunch more.. Johnny: No, definitely, and because I think like I think one really awesome thing this heard from you is that, like, fight, you guys stay open. You guys are serving the community like the one that always comes. Right, because it is such strange time. Every single day is something new, something different. It's like by having a place that before we go to be open to providing those drinks or food or whatever. You always love it provides a level of comfort that you can't really get elsewhere. Tam: Yeah, we've got that. What? It's about life. It's like that sense of normalcy. Yeah. Why are these all kind of messed up right now? But like, I can count on Reign. And this is like my routine. So at least this is this is the same. Right. So, yeah, definitely no. Johnny: And like to connect it from like Pho Hoa, like what your dad said, you know Pho Hoa was always open, And it seemed to me like you're taking those very same values. Tam: Close, we still close for holidays! There's a balance. Yeah. Yes. Yes. It comes back to the correlation I'll make there. It's about purpose. Right. And if if the business is self-serving, which is like I'm just going to make money, then then you operate it when it's convenient for you. Johnny: Yeah. Tam: So if things go you close or whatever. Right. But if your purpose is to serve the people then that shifts how you run the business. Obstacles happen, and then, you know, you you stay centered on what your goal is, which is to serve the people. And then so that puts you in that mindset to do whatever it takes to get to stay the same. Johnny: Which is awesome, because I think that. I personally feel like the community sees all the effort that you all has put in to still provide quality products. Still trying to be open, trying to adapt to the change. Yeah, because I can imagine, you know, like there it's much more limited spaces, places are open right now. And because you guys are offering something that you can't really get elsewhere, it's it's much easier to cut down on quality or whatever to make things easier for you guys. But at the end of the day, quality simply is one of the few like one of the main things in your place. Tam: Well, our stuff isn't cheap. You know, we're not trying to sell cheap products and we're trying to sell quality products. And so quality, you can't cut corners with your quality. you can't cut corners with your beans, get cut corners on how you produce your product. You can't cut cut corners on how you staff it. Right. We could run to Slim. We could run a slim crew right there, just like, you know, that that would save the business money if we ran a slim crew and then people would have to wait longer. And then drinks will be made rushed and stuff like that. But no, we we make sure that we maintain a level of quality. I'll move from this a little bit, but through Reign, It's like 400 SQ Foot, which I'll say it's his 400 sq foot shop. You know, I say that because that's small. Like Pho Hoa, like three thousand square feet, Pho Linh like twenty four hundred square feet. We're talking like 10 times the size. Right. But regardless of the size that you can so make an impact and so it's with who we hire and our position in the community of just like being in Dorchester Fields Corner, you know, we feel like, you know, we can we can show something, you know. Right. We can show something and just it doesn't matter does matter how big this one this is. You can you can show how you want to do things. Right. And I would say be exampl or show example, whatever, but, you know, if if we want to, like, spread positivity, create community and whatever it is like through our shop, we can do that. Johnny: And they like to kind of go back a little bit to like the way that you describe, like how you guys maintain quality and how you guys don't cut corners. And it seems like that has. By not cutting corners and by maintaining the quality, I feel like that feeds everything else that you guys are striving for. I think especially like for not having like a slimmed down crew that shows that you're taking care of your team and therefore, like there's like more self care there. And that positive positivity, which is one of your values, extends upon to the community, to the people that comes into people that look like the people that engages with the audience with Reign on a daily basis. Tam: If we're going to talk about quality. That's like one of your hallmarks is being a high quality, whatever it it has to be everywhere. Yeah. Right. It can't just be in this one spot. It's guiding the whole thing. So whether it's. Your game for who you hire, your standards for, how hard you work, how clean we are like. And then it's that it trickles down to how we pay. Right. Like how we take care of our employees financially, emotionally, whatever it is. Right. Problems come up and stuff like that. It's. Like, if the goal. I'm not saying the goals be perfect. Perfection or but if the goal is for excellence. Right. Then you can't turn it on and turn it off. You have to be excellent everywhere. No. Johnny: And then they like one of the things I hear from you is like who you hire is so important and investing in your employees. I think the one with one of the really cool things hearing from Amanda and Kathy is like they're both have like different journeys with with Reign. I know like one started as like a manager, one started as consumer, and then, you know, like doing the mural here. And then both having been from this community. Right. Which I think is so important. I feel like because of their perspective, it gives Reign even more like real perspective on a community and the people that you guys are serving. Tam: That's super important, super important, I sent text out to James yesterday, right? I haven't shared it with you guys, but I think James. Thank you, James and Amanda, whoever you need to just like, keep us out of nonsense. You know, it's just it's having a pulse. It's having a pulse and understanding and you don't have having empathy, right? Yeah, so like I only have my perspective, that's it. So I'll perspective. I only have my experiences right. And that's not shared by everybody. And so I don't share my own experiences. So that's why, like I say, we, we talk, we talk, we have conversations. We get perspective. Right. And so we take like we've had two major events in the past couple months, two major ones. Right. And it's the response to that. In a careful response, because, like it or not, like we are business, therefore we have a platform. It is very point how we use that platform, you know, and so we can't be like knee jerk reaction and just spout off because of whatever, because what's trending? You know, we have to be thoughtful in how we use our platform. And so I was thinking of James and then Amanda then like that basically every day, the whole crew for like because I'm like 40, you know, I'm not young and I don't live in Dorchester. I don't you know, I don't know what's going on, like a hundred percent. And so, like. We depend on everyone to give us that perspective, right? And like we've we've had heavy conversations about things like I'm not going to bring it up, but we've had a heavy conversation about things in which it's like but the things were also open minded that we come with our views and we express it. But then we listen. Right. And so, I don't even know what the question was haha. But it's just it's a great thing. It's a great thing. Johnny: Because like I know, like both Amanda and Kathy see you as like their boss, but more as a mentor. Right. Yeah. And when they learn a lot from you. But it seems like it's it's like a circle. Right. Because like it's a circle. Because, like, they're not only just learning from you, but like you're also learning from them. Tam: What I can say is that when I started Reign, this was three, four or five years ago, I was like, I'm gonna come in and I hope to inspire young people. To do better and what kind of whatever his way. But it's like the opposite. So when I go into my shop, I'm inspired by the staff, like they get the energy. I recognize energy. Cause that was my energy level, like when I was 20. Right. It's like this. It's like this. You got the rest of your life ahead of you. And you're so hungry to get after it, you know, type of energy. Right. It's not only that. So that's only one part of it. But it's like doing it the right way. You know, so it's like having positive vibes can do attitude, like things are coming up. But it's just like with COVID and everything we had to do. We're talking about like changes every day and the way we do business. Right. Changes in like oh we're not going do customers coming in anymore. We're gonna shut the door. Oh, we gotta do this and do that. And honestly, I didn't hear one complaints. I hear what one "that sucks". Right. I didn't hear any of that. You know, maybe kept in among themselves, but it never got back to me. Right. And so just like. All right, we're getting after it. And we've got busy. I mean, we got really busy, like, crazy busy. Right, though, in the way staff works, it lags. So this is how we stack and you get really busy in it. Oh, shoot. We have to we have to get more people to shop. Right. But everyone's just, down for the cause. You know, and so open the shop, create these jobs, you know, show the youth of Dorchester that things can be pretty cool. Right. You work hard and have a good time doing it. And so that was that. But then now it's like now go into my shop. Wow. We got something pretty good going on here. Like, it energizes me to want to, like, do more to better yourself. That's pretty cool. Circle. Johnny: Yeah. No. That's the thing. It's because I seem like what you guys have created is really special. Right. I think on the surface it's like calling these guys so like you guys sell Drinks. All right. Well, that's the most like basic respect. But as soon as, like, you look like a simple it's like, oh, like, what's the menu? Yeah. That's when everything starts shining through. And then that gets people in the door. You're like, oh, what were these people like? Well, like, what is the environment they're creating? And then you start seeing like the full on life experience of Reign. Wow. All right. It's not just the quality drinks guys you guys are serving. It's also a quality service and the quality people and the team behind the entire business. Yeah, and I think that's one special thing that I think a lot of businesses wants to emulate. Like to have that sense of feeling when you walk to the door or when or even now. It's as simple as ordering online pickup. Yeah, right. But somehow, some way you guys are able to transfer what you guys are doing before something that's. But you have to adapt to and you're still able to offer that same very same approach. But I think like as I was walking in the parking lot, I think a guy was had to wait a little bit longer for his drink because it's his ticket. Didn't like printed out. That's what I overheard. Yeah. But it didn't make him upset. Yeah. Right. Like, he's actually like very happy. He's like, oh no, it's fine. Like I put in the note and like so the staff said that I'm so sorry. He's like, no, it's fine. I'll be back tomorrow. Yeah. You know, like like. And I think just shows like how much loyalty that you guys have created inthe community and the people that comes by because something like that to him was like, you know what, like I'm here for these guys. Like I want to continue supporting support them. Like, this is like a human experience. Yeah. Right. And then that's like. Really cool. Tam: So that's great. It's great to hear. So we often times, mistakes will happen. And it's funny, like Michaels is a big part of Reign. He has operations and. You know, we all have to navigate when there are problems arise. But it's funny that whenever something negative happens, it ends up being positive. So we'll make a mistake. But then like we go above and beyond. So to rectify it. To take care of it. So then now when we come out ahead. Right. It's like they they like us more. I don't know. Right. It's like holy. You know, it's I go in and I think it's it's it's genuine. Right. It's not. This is not a this is not a "I'm afraid to lose your business and I want your money" type of reaction. It's we care about you being happy. Right. And we know that we like didn't meet your expectations and we really appreciate you. So, you know, we're gonna take care of this. We going to take care of you. So that's where it comes from. And so and it's like, I can't stress enough. It starts with your mentality, perspective, regular mentality of. Is a customer, a person or is customer, a dollar sign? You know, and so. And from day one that's been our thing, which is like we're a small shop. When you come inside, you're already like in our space. Like literally in our space. Right. And so, like, we take you in like like we're friends or family, whatever it is, like we're neighbors or whatever, so that we can write names on the cups. Most of time. Right. It's about it. It's spelled correctly, you know. And so that's about like you knew this. You are a person, right? We see you and we appreciate you. Right. So, yeah, you know, we I think, like, you know, the way you treat people in general, that's how they're going to be treated like a neighbor. Right. Then they're going to feel like a neighbor to to act like a neighbor. Right. But if if they're just a transaction, then they're going to treat you like a transaction too, you know. And then there's not going to be forgiveness. There's not going to be any of that. Right. There's not going to be that that that empathy there, you know, because, you know, it's you're not a you're not a person to them anymore. You're just a business, you know. And so. So I think if we have any goodwill from our customers, it's because, like, it's how we treat them. Johnny: Like the one thing that's like I keep hearing from all you guys is like how small the spaces. Yeah. Right. But I think happening with that with that small space, it also creates like a level of intimacy with the customer. Right. And I think, like, one thing I hear you guys say a lot was like you're like welcome to like your family. And it's almost as if, like, Reign is like your guys like kitchen. Right. Which is heart of the house, the heart of anybody's home. Yeah. Right. By welcoming customers. And it's like, hey, come on in. You know, hang out for a bit. Yeah. Join the join the family. Yeah. It's. And when you leave that you are a part of it. Tam: It's a beautiful thing because we have customers like from every walk of life, you know. And the other day I saw something cool so I took a photo. It was like these two older Vietnamese women in masks like we're talking about, like the grandmas. Right. That they go like, you know, you know, like, you know. And I'm like, what do they come Reign? That's awesome, you know? And then but then we'll have like everybody else, you know. And so I love that we're able to create that. Right. Because with everything going on right now, like the stuff that's going on right now know, I think that. You know, everything starts with communication and dialog and just compassion and understanding and all that. And so through our shop, we're able to create a place where people from all sorts of different backgrounds come in and just let their guard down. And just like, you know, just just be cool right then that can foster can foster, like, just. A lot of times we'll have police officers as customers, right? And in a lot of times, at the same time, we'll have our other customers for the neighborhood. Sometimes people of color. Right. And so outside of our shop, when those two people meet. It could be something tense. It could be tense. Right. And I've heard it way back in the past was with people that we know. It's like I don't know why, but whenever whenever I'm next to a police officer, I just tense up a little bit. Right. And so but when when you're in this kind of like, neutral environment, like I shop, right. Then everyone can kind of like, you know, a cop out there trying to be like put on its face, stone face, whatever it is. Come inside our shop, it's cracking jokes and stuff like cracking jokes and stuff, you know? And so it's like if we can just see that we're all human, that we're all we're just all just trying to get by. Right. And then we work from that place, then maybe something can happen, you know? And so I just liked that we potentially are creating a space like that. Johnny: And it's very evident that you guys have created a very special place, not just for yourselves, but for the community. Yes. Is there anything else you want to add? Tam: Just in general. We did our timer go off. I think we had. So, like talking about Vietnamese, right? So just go back. Everything that I'll say I've experienced with our culture. All right. So I just like the way my father raised me. Right. Just like he never said that these people are perfect. 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. You know, and so there is there's a lot of great things about the Vietnamese culture, right. Work ethic, pride, sense of family, stuff like that. It's just like amazing that we had a hold on to. But there's areas where we can grow, right? Where we can grow. It's a lot. There's a lot of room for growth. And so Reign drink lab, what we do through that is kind of like it's not a Vietnamese place , Right? But I can't help but make my culture through our culture, through everything, you know. And so it's like our ability to, like, indulge. Let me show something about how we can grow. This is how we can do it. This is how we can assimilate in the community. Right. And be a part still. Be Vietnamese. Be a part of the community. Participate. Right. This is how we can show our positivity and put positive vibes out there. Right. This is how we can we react to negative situations. Right. This is how we can have a positive work environment. Right. And like promote growth through our youth. Right. This is how we can entrust responsibility to younger people. It's helped empower. Right. Through Reign to 400 square feet. Right. We can do all that. Yeah. You know, and so who knows how many people that will touch and how that will spread and how that will influence. Right. I don't know. I don't care. Right. Like we take care of ourselves. Right. But maybe we do you help outside of our shops, you stuff. Johnny: And like so many other things that you said, like Amanda and Kathy said too. You know, I think some of them were like the most like the biggest thing that I heard was a sort of like, you know, for Amanda and Kathy, like, they are like the next generation. Right. They're young, they're from this community that they're like Vietnamese American. And they talk with the very same things about like how growing up, you know, like when you're younger, you know, like Vietnamese, food or culture may not be the most appealing thing because you just want to blend in. You know, everybody else. Yeah. But over time, they've been able to really help raise it and learn how to love their culture in that very same idea. Yeah. Well, I want I'm taking on certain aspects of Vietnamese culture and truly what we truly value and blending it into their own experience and our own experience. Yeah. Living in America. Yeah. Like this is like a byproduct. Yeah. And it seems like it's from,. Seem like the whole team that really truly believes that they're really trying to push that forward. Which I think is really special, and I think something that's been said a lot during these conversations, like real recognize real. Tam: And I haven't said it once yet haha. Johnny: But I think I think people do recognize. I think that's a very like one hundred percent. Tam: The number one rule of real recognize real is you don't say real recognize real. You just recognize you just... Amanda: Yeah but we gonna say it right now. Yeah. Tam: Yeah but we have to explain it so People get it . And that's part of being real. Is being humble. Exactly right. Like if you're doing it to be recognized, like talking about promoting yourself, then that's not being real. You know, you just do it right. And so. And so. Yeah. Like you recognize. Yeah. Right. Yeah. It's cool. Johnny: And I think it's only when those things like when something is like genuine. Really authentic. Yeah. People will feel that, you know, like you can't. And those are the things that you really can't buy. Yeah. You really can't teach in that sense. Like I think education real about what I mean by those. Like those are the things that you can't just go into store. Yeah. No matter how much money you have, you can't buy genuineness and authenticity. Tam: That's got. That's very real right now. That's very, very that's very relevant right now. That's very relevant right now. Because there's some because businesses are putting things out there. Right. Putting these out there that they have a certain position. And and the consumers are very intelligent and the consumers are very, very intelligent. They see it. They see they see through empty words. Right. And so people are not stupid, you know. And I think all businesses should be held to that higher standard of like, if you're going to see something better, back it up. Yeah. Right. And so I always say less. Let me let your actions talk. Yeah, I think it is a parallel. I mean, think of something, you know. I've not done that. What are we talking about? It's not like the genuine and being authentic. OK, yeah, yeah, I think we covered that. Yeah. All right. So one day I didn't talk about it, but opportunity. And so I know that, like, through my own life, I've had amazing opportunities. Those opportunity given to me think they were given to me through the high work, my parents or whatever, some of it a little bit of that I earned. But a lot was given. And so, like, I was given an opportunity for the opportunity, just like a job. Right. It's like you're given this. You gave it a chance. Right. And so Reign is it's really just that it's it's giving you an opportunity to see the point somehow. And that's it. That's all it's given. Right. Every one of our staff members, every one of our team, they have earned everything , you know. And so nothing like. I'm super it's super pointed. Right. Is that like everyone feels like accomplished because they already know. And so I always say, like, oh, I'll give most people a chance. Everyone's going to get a chance. An opportunity. I can give you that. Right. But everything else you're going to earn on your own, you know, and so on. So like through Rein drink lab in the drops and we create. It's a chance, it's an opportunity, no chance, it's an opportunity for someone that maybe hasn't has ever worked anywhere before or maybe whatever. Right. To come in and make their own. You know, it's because it's kind of like that paying forward thing that where a parent pass you get this opportunity and, you know, they they make themselves and they create for me and then give me an opportunity that I create a this office, I'll pass it on and so on. And like Kathy, I mean, like they're here for a reason. They're here talking to you today for a reason. Right. Because they kind of like they're the shining example of like super talented, hardworking, like just great at it. Like all these. All the tools. Right. But then when you apply it to something. Right. Where you go with that. Yeah. Right. So I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what it's like to grow up in Dorchester and or just not know what. Always like to grow up the school system. Something that I have no idea. I don't make any assumptions. Right. But I'm like I'm a visionary dreamer or whatever you want to call it. Ambitious. You know, I'm saying it's so. Like I talked to the staff one to one. From time to time, need to figure out what kind of what they're doing, what they're thinking and stuff, and it's just like I'm here to keep pushing them to, like they figure, you know, go bigger, right. Like, go higher, you know, or just keep going. Oh, I get that, you know, or just keep going. You know, and so I think that's like probably in terms of fulfillment, personal fulfillment. That's that's what's priceless for. Right. It's not. I take it. I care about the numbers a lot because a profitable business is sustainable. This is not making money , it's not going to last. Any lenght of time. Right. If the business doesn't last, then. You can't provide the employees. So having a good business model is so that the business can sustain itself over time and continue to provide opportunities for your employees. Right. So I'm always I'm taking the numbers. But where it gets that's a fulfillment is not profitability. I get it. Seeing the success of my staff, of our staff. You know, it's so good. Amanda and Kathy are shining examples like of that. Good job. Amanda: Thank you. Word of affirmations from like, your parents. Tam: I think that that puts a bow on it. Yeah. We we make mistakes all the time. I make mistakes all the time. We meet on it, we talk about it. We adjust, we make adjustments, take ownership most of time. Right. Just like. It's sometimes just like it is what it is, whatever, but like. Because we're so small, we're so nimble, right? We don't have like it because we're so young. We don't have the pressures of being established. Right. With Pho Hoa, I Feel the pressures of being established. I feel a responsibility to the customers who've been with us for 20 years. Right. Like, I feel that responsibility. With Reign, we kind of do whatever we want. Right. We do what we want because we know our heart's in the right place. You know, we we we know we know our core values, you know, we're about and we make sure we're always giving those marks and we don't have this other kind of baggage to deal with. You know, so maybe it makes us like it able to move quickly. Yeah. So. All right. That's as much as I can brag about, Reign. That's that's all I could say about Reign.





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. 

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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—

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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. Johnny: oh he’s the longest employee! Martine: haha yes, he’s here, all the time! Johnny: So he’s 11 now - and I think that’s really cool. He was born, you opened the store. It’s like the whole journey is together. So when you opened the store, what made you design on a hair supply store? Martine: I was looking at the marketing, the top type of stores is food related or a hair store. We’re women so we like to be beautiful, that’s how I was thinking about it - Beauty is a big business - it’s a big business and people will do everything to to keep themselves beautiful and thats what made me decide to open a beauty supply store. Johnny: And I think it’s also you’re providing a really important thing for the community - This is so important and key to provide something for the people in the community. What made you guys decide to open in Dorchester? Martine: In the city, in the community of Dorchester, we have a lot of friends around and before I opened, a friend used to have a bridal shower and she was here for 30 years. I asked her, I talked to people for advice, and people said this is a good place to open a beauty store and would have good business. Basically, the people of this neighborhood are like me - Black. We like to do our hair and that's why I chose Dorchester. Johnny: And that’s really cool because Dorchester is a really diverse community - there’s a large Hatian Community, a large Dominican community, African American community, Asian community, it’s a melting pot. I think what’s really cool about doing this project so far is that the majority of the business owners that I have talked to are all people of color. Which I think is really nice and important to see. I know you said there has been up and down and with COVID19, it’s been one of the tougher times. How has that been going? Martine: When we hit February and I was listening to the situation, I didn’t take it too seriously. I was watching the news but we still had customers coming in, buying. When we hit March, that’s when I realize this is something different, this is going to be tough. Business began going down, I wasn’t selling, I had 2 to 3 customers per day, I was thinking of what I was going to do, then on the 21st they announced that it was going to close down the businesses, I will never forget this. I said “wow” and by noon time on the 24th we had to shut down, I was thinking the mayor announced that we are going to shut down for 7 days, then after listen to the news, it became longer. THey said they were going to extend it to more time, I was like wow. It has been 2 months since we shut down. I didn’t even know what we were going to do. I said maybe I’ll be out of businesses, I was thinking of what to do. The owner (of building), Alan, he helped me too. He called me “there’s a lot of applications out there that you can get help”. He was great, he was on top of it, he was calling me, sending me emails, and helping me apply for grants with the City of Boston to help me pay for the rent because the rent is expensive. And I applied because I really appreciate the City of Boston because they help us, it helped me pay one month, I was two months behind. So Thank god I paid him, so we open back up, and we’re moving forward. Johnny: And I think that’s really special to hear because no matter how hard it was, you never gave up. It speaks volumes to who you are and what you want for your family, this is not just YOUR business, it’s your family business. It’s a scary time too, not just as a business owner but also as a mother. I know for your son, school was closed, there was a lot of changes happening at once for everyone. I think it’s really good to see how you continued to fight and to move forward. So what are you hoping for the future now? I know COVID19 is still here and you have to adapt. Martine: We have to adapt, to keep the social distancing, to protect ourselves, and taking the precautions that best can - wearing a mask, wearing goggles, because I don’t think it’ll end anytime soon. I think we will to keep following the guidelines to keep the community, the people, to keep them safe and ourselves safe also. Johnny: Do you have anything else you would like to share? Martine: I just got the re-opening fund and I’m really happy about it. Now I can do everything to keep social distancing, buy what we need to keep ourselves and our community safe. We are really thankful to the City of Boston, to the Governor, the Mayor, and everything - FCMS! Jackey came to help me with the application because when I did the application, I could not submit. There was question, whatever you put, I couldn’t submit it. Thank god Jackey passing by to check in, I explained to her that I filled out the application and I couldn’t submit it. Jackey said “okay, I’ll be back!”, she came back with her laptop, helped me submit it. Now I have the funds and I really appreciate it. Johnny: And that’s the thing, these applications are there but they make it really difficult to understand. Martine: We’re really appreciate it and we are thankful!





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Introducing

PHO HOA

Restaurant

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.

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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!”

Thanh Le

 

“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.”

Thanh Le

 

“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.”

Tam Le

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Introducing

BLEND

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. 

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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."

Interview continued:

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.

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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.

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Introducing

DOT CAFE

Restauraunt 

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Located at 1459 Dorchester Ave., Dot Cafe is a beloved staple in the neighborhood offering a variety of breakfast & brunch options. 

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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."

Interview continued:

 

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

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Kiet: My name is Kiet Tran and I came here (United States) in 2012, around 8 years ago. When I came here, I was in middle school. By the time I got here, it was a hard time for me to learn English. A long time ago, when I was 15 or 16, my mom began working here. The owner at that point, he kind of needed people on the weekend. So I would come here on the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, when I was first in High School. So I’ve been working here for a couple of years and when junior year came, I quit. I went to work for Dunkin Donuts. After I graduated from high school, my plan was to go to college. At that point, I didn’t know what topic to study or what subject to focus on. The owner at that time, he wanted to sell the business and go back to college and do what he wanted to do, so he wanted to sell the store. At that time, although it was hard for us, we decided to buy the business and focus on it. We’ve had the business for two years now and it’s been really good. It’s a good thing for us because it’s not a brand new business. This restaurant, it has a history from way back for 20 years now, and it only transferred to new owners. Most of the people already know about the restaurant so I feel lucky because I don’t need to build a customer base, we’ve already have the customers. With COVID, it has been kind of hard but the good thing is that the customers support us a lot. During the COVID, because there is no school, we lost a lot of student customers. But customers are still coming in to support us, buy food, and support us during COVID. Johnny: Wow, there’s so many awesome things that you said. I just want to take it back a bit - so you came from Vietnam and came to America in 2012? Kiet: Yeah. Johnny: How has that been? That was not a long time ago, that was only a bit ago. Kiet: It’s been hard for me - I feel it at every point. In Vietnam, we lived in the country side so I never had the chance to learn English well. So when I got here, it was a hard time for me to learn a new language. When I was in middle school, I had a few Vietnamese teachers and a couple of Vietnamese students. I used to just hang out with Vietnamese friends only because at that point I didn’t speak English well. They teached me a lot. When I came here, you know how you say “School”? I used to say “Schoon” so they would make fun of me, fix me, and just teach me a lot! Johnny: I’m hearing you say that your English is not good but I feel that its really good! I was born here, I speak Vietnamese too and I went to bilingual classes so I learned both English and Vietnamese from Kindergarten to 5th grade. It was hard for me then and I can only imagine how it is for you coming here 8 years ago and learning as a teenager. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you now? Kiet: I’m 20 years old and turning 21 years old. Johnny: Wow! That’s really young. What made your family decide to move from Vietnam and come to America? Kiet: First, at that point, I’m young so it was my parent who decided to move here. In Vietnam, we’re not rich. So my parent, my sister, and me, we came here because we wanted to change our lives. We wanted to get a better future, more chances to go to school, learn a new thing, and basically my dad is mixed - half American and half Vietnamese. My dad is basically “H-O”, so when we came here, the American government sponsored us because he is half American and Half Vietnamese. So we came here because we wanted a better life, more chance for me and my sister to go to school to learn, to get a better future, a better life. Johnny: So comparing Vietnam to Boston, how has that been for you? Kiet: It’s been really different. When you came to America and go to school, you don’t have to worry about anything. You don’t pay for your school, unless you go to private school, but if you go to Boston Public School like me - I came here for 7th grade and until senior year - I paid for nothing. Basically, I just paid for school materials and uniform. In Vietnam, you paid every half year. The money, it’s not a lot, but it’s a lot for our family. Johnny: When you guys came from Vietnam to America, did you guys move directly to Boston? Why Kiet: Yes. Johnny: Why Boston? Kiet: When we came here, they (The US Government), they asked us which state we wanted to go to, which city we wanted to go to. We came to Boston because on my mom side, my aunt and uncle, they live here. They’re responsible for us. They rented a place for us and that’s why we came here. Johnny: Do you live in Dorchester now? Kiet: Yes. Johnny: Which I think is really special, especially Fields Corner, because Dorchester is so well known for having such a large Vietnamese community. And your family moved here only 8 years ago, and since you’ve been here, you graduated school, you started working here to now your family owning the business. Kiet: Yeah, we do this but my plan is to not stay here for my whole life. I want the business for my family but I still want to do what I want to do. During the summer, my sister takes care of the business for me while I am an electrician on the side. I want to go to back to college and learn how to become an electrician. Johnny: It sounds like you’re learning so many different things - you’re running a business with your family, you’re managing it, and during the summer, you’re doing other things that you’re passionate about. You’re going back to school, you’re looking to become a trained electrician, how are you handling it? You’re turning 21 and you have so many responsibilities! Kiet: It’s kind of hard - for the summer I work for the electrician company from 7AM to 3PM. After I get out, I have to go to the market and get supplies for the restaurant to get ready for the next day. It’s been a hard time but you know I still try my best! Johnny: I respect you so much for being able to manage your time so well! Kiet: This business really helps me a lot - I see a lot of different kind of people, I learn how to treat people right, how to react. This business, we run into a lot of problems and it teaches me how to solve that problems, and treat other people. With customer service, it’s a good step for me. Johnny: And those are the skills that I’m hearing that you’re able to use anywhere in life, any job, and with personal relationships. To me, it sounds like you’re really taking this opportunity to take the most out of it, on both a personal and professional level. Kiet: You know, customer service - when you apply for any job, anywhere, the first thing they require is your customer service. When you interview, they’re going to look for how you react to the question they ask you, how you answer it, and based it on your knowledge and how you treat people. I can handle the business because my parents always have my back. They always push me, they always help me out, and they always support me. If my parents don’t support me, I don’t even know what to do! I’m so young - they guide me, they teach me. Sometimes, I react really bad with customer service and at the end of the day, they’ll come to talk to me. They’ll say “that’s not how you treat people”, “doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong, they’re still your customer. You still need to be nice”. They’ve been through a lot and they have always got my back, help me out, and you know. The customers, they know that I’m young and sometimes I react badly, but they still love us and they still come and support us. I remember one time, I was really bad to a customer and the customer got really mad. It wasn’t my fault and I was mad too. At the end of the day, my dad came to talk to me. He told me that I was really, really bad. He said “you can’t do this, they’re our customer, they support us”. In the next couple of days, the customer came back. I told him that I was sorry and he understood. He told me that it was okay, that he still supports us and still love us. We can go through COVID19 because the customers support us. If they don’t support us, we wouldn’t even know what to do! Johnny: I think the really nice thing that I’m hearing from you is that, this is a family’s business and you can tell. I think what’s really special is that you guys are truly a family - you have each other’s back, your parents love you, they support you, they guide you - and you support them too! I think that translates to your customer service. I’m hearing the story of you and your customer when you guys didn’t have a great interaction but he still came back. I think that says a lot about what you guys are doing. Kiet: Everybody is going to make a mistake but you need to know that you made a mistake and then fix it. That’s the point right there - everyone is going to make a mistake, they’re going to make a bad decision and you need to know that you made a mistake and fix it. I remember when I go to work, one guy said, when you fall down, it’s your destiny. But you can stand up, you keep working or you can lay down like that. It’s your options. When you make a mistake, you fix it, and you let other people know that “hey, I made a mistake and I’m going to fix it”. Some people may make mistakes, they don’t fix it, and they don’t want others to know about it. My parents taught me that when you make a mistake, you need to know it, and you need to fix it. You know, when you go out, something may happen, and if you say sorry, everything turns out better. But if you don’t say sorry, it may turn negative. I’m not sure how bad it would get but it’ll go bad. It doesn’t matter who’s fault it may be - mine or the other person - but when you say sorry, it’ll make other people say sorry. It’ll make people feel happy. Like if you accidentally hit someone, you don’t mean to and you say sorry. It’ll make the other person say “oh, it’s okay, it was my bad too”, that’s the good way to go. But if you don’t say sorry, you yell at them, they’ll yell back at you. It just depends on how treat people. If you treat people nicely, they’ll treat you nicely. If you treat people badly, they’ll treat you badly. It all depends on you. Johnny: Definitely! I think that’s such an important thing that you’re saying. I can hear from you that’s how you treat your customers and that’s how you treat people in general. When you’re not at work, you’re still treating your friends and family just like that. I can feel that from talking to you and that’s who you truly are. With COVID, you say that you have your core customers that still comes back. They buy from you and continue to come back. With COVID and what’s really tough is that people may have lost their job, and money may be really tight. People may be more selective with how they spend their money. With Dot Cafe, they are continuing to choose to come back to you guys, which I think shows that you guys are doing things right. Kiet: I think during the COVID, it’s hard to buy stuff (for the restaurant). We try our best to keep our prices the same as it used to be (before COVID). We don’t raise the price, we don’t take advantage of our customers, we just try to keep the price as the same as they used to be. I think thats why customers choose to come back. During COVID, we get a lot of calls asking us if our prices are going to change and if they’re going to increase. I tell them no, it’ll be the same price as they used to be. It’s not going to change and we try our best to keep it the same. We take less benefits (profits) and that way, the customers can feel that during COVID, we are supporting customers and they are supporting us too. 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. Johnny: I want to go back a little bit - when you worked at DD, people found out that you left there to come back here. They came here to support you. I think that showed that this is not just how you operate the family business, but this is how you operate day to day as a person. Even at DD, you’re building that loyalty, that trust, you’re treating people how they want to be treated and I believe that speaks volume to who you are. I know the previous owner sold the business to your family, when you guys bought the business, did you make any changes to the business to the food or anything? Kiet: No, we just kept everything the same with the menu. It basically looked like this but we just remodeled it a bit to make it look a little different. When you’re a customer and if you keep going to the same place, if it looks the same, it’s going to look boring. That’s why I tried to remodel a little bit, it’s not big changes but just little changes. When the customers walk in, they love it! Johnny: so it sounds like you did a little remodeling to add a bit of your style. With the food, did you change anything? Kiet: Basically no, we just kept everything the same. 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 (resteraunt), 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.





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