At last, three sisters get their chance at ‘our American Dream’
The Nguyen sisters stick together, always have. Van is 36, Loan is 34, and Trinh, 32. Two years ago, when their oldest sister’s baby in Vietnam needed a new liver, the three sisters in Quincy rallied support and the girl underwent a successful transplant at Mass. General.
The 3-year-old, Nghi, is doing fine now, and the sisters thanked everyone who helped, from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office to the Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation in Braintree. Just as important was their dream team of loyal customers, who made calls, assisted with paperwork, and helped set up a charitable fund.
“The baby wouldn’t be here without the foundation, the hospital, and our customers,” said Trinh. “We wouldn’t be here, either.”
“Here” is Milton Nails & Spa, www.miltonnailsandspa.com, a lovely space in East Milton that the sisters opened two weeks ago. “It’s our American dream,” said Trinh, whose father “escaped” from Vietnam in 1989 and was able to get his wife and three of his daughters here in 2000.
Days after they arrived, the girls signed up for manicurist school in Dorchester, and went to work at a Milton spa, doing manicures and pedicures. They worked there 14 years, six days a week, often 10 hours a day, with no benefits. They paid the laundry service for whatever towels were used. When the spa was closed for Christmas and other holidays, they weren’t paid. Nor did they get any paid sick days.
“This was always our dream, to work together in our own shop,” said Van. “We began to put a little money away.” Joining them in the endeavor are her husband, Chau Phung, and Loan’s husband, David Huynh. The two couples share a Quincy home with the women’s parents. Trinh and her husband also live in Quincy.
Last year, David left his job as an assistant program director at Vinfen Corp., a nonprofit health and human services organization, to help with the new family business. His father was a South Vietnamese army officer, imprisoned for six years after the war. Upon his release, he brought his family to the United States.
These days, David is handling the phones and appointments, while Chau, a longtime manicurist, tends to customers’ feet and hands.
Gizella Crawford of Milton met the Nguyen sisters 14 years ago at the spa where they worked. Crawford’s daughter, Lucy, then 3, would tag along, her head barely reaching the manicure table. “The sisters would paint little flowers on her nails,” Crawford recalled. Lucy, nearly 17, is now 5 feet 11 and plays basketball at Milton High School but still drops in to say hi to the sisters.
Crawford and other Milton women who were at the new spa recently told me about the dozens of customers who helped with the sisters’ sick niece. And about how they have followed the sisters to their new business.
“With the baby, it was this network of women helping other women,” says Crawford, who is a manager at Tufts Health Plan. “The reason the sisters have such a following is because they’re amazingly hard-working, gracious, and professional, even with difficult customers. People just genuinely like them and want to follow them here for who they are.”
Though they themselves never got paid vacations or holidays, the sisters say they intend to give their six staffers paid time off and bonuses. “If you want people to work nice you have to treat them nice,” Trinh said.
There’s another set of sisters who figure into the shop, too: the Falconis. Jeanne, Deb, Dianne — and brother Bob — run Falconi Cos., a Milton-based real estate management and development firm that began as a construction company founded by their father more than 50 years ago.
They’d owned the building at 450 Granite Ave. since 2004, and made it handicapped-accessible, putting in an elevator and a second set of stairs. Most recently, Sprint was the tenant.
About the time Sprint moved next door to a smaller space, the Nguyen sisters came knocking. The Falconi sisters, who also work hard at their own business, had been looking for a good tenant. Among them, they’ve created an oasis for other women.
The Nguyen sisters are working seven days a week to get their business off the ground. When asked about giving themselves vacation time, Trinh said: “Maybe when things settle down.” But she hopes that won’t be for a while, if business is good.