By Kelcie McKenney
For Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we teamed up with The Pitch to highlight the AAPI team members who make Kansas City’s first Vietnamese coffee shop Cafe Cà Phê possible. Stick around this month to hear their stories.
Cafe Cà Phê makes a damn good cup of coffee. But mixed in with the Vietnamese drip and sweetened condensed milk is the recipe for representation.
If you’re tapped into the Kansas City coffee scene, chances are you’ve heard Jackie Nguyen’s story. But we’ll give you a quick refresher. Nguyen, a first-generation Vietnamese American, left Broadway at the start of the pandemic, moved to Kansas City, and opened Cafe Cà Phê—Kansas City’s first Vietnamese mobile coffee shop. And since then, Nguyen and her coffee shop have positioned themselves as advocates for KC’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
“When I grew up, I felt so ashamed to be Asian. I thought it was so uncool, and I felt like we were always teased and looked down upon,” Nguyen said. “I do not ever want any Asian kid to feel that way because it’s so far from the truth. I hope to combat that.”
May is AAPI Heritage Month, and last year, Ngyuen worked with other AAPI organizers—including Missouri state Rep. Emily Weber—and Mayor Quinton Lucas for Kansas City to officially recognize the holiday. The national month acknowledges the history, culture, and contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.
“There need to be way more resources available to the community, and Cafe Cà Phê just scratches the surface,” Nguyen said. “This advocacy that I do is also selfish in a way, it’s like I’m trying to heal wounds that I’ve had for a long time as a kid. I don’t ever want to feel those things about my identity anymore. Advocating for my community reminds ME of how to be proud of who I am.”
It doesn’t stop at the Vietnamese coffee. In March of last year, Cafe Cà Phê hosted the Stop Asain Hate KC Vigil in recognition of the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings—bringing AAPI community members and allies together in a solidarity vigil. In February of this year, Cafe Cà Phê’s Lunar New Year festival was an expressive celebration of Asain culture that highlighted over 15 Asian-owned businesses and showcased traditional Lion Dances.
“You know, I wasn’t trying to be an activist. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate. I was just kind of trying to show people that I’m Asian American and this is my perspective, and there should be more of us telling our stories,” Nguyen said.
And Cafe Cà Phê doesn’t stop at advocating for Kansas City’s AAPI community. From Pride celebrations to Black maker pop-ups, women-owned business features to nonprofit fundraisers, owner Nguyen and her team are relentless about uplifting communities within our city.
That team is the key. While Nguyen is loud in her advocacy, it’s the folks behind the counter that help make it all happen. Of Cafe Cà Phê’s 12 staff members, eight of them are part of the AAPI community—and each of their stories is represented within Cafe Cà Phê.
“I want not just my shop to reflect the message, but I also want to create better work environments and opportunities for Asians. I want to create a space where they can not only interact with people and help be leaders within the space, but feel free and safe to practice their own art, use their own voices within the space, and live their authenticity without feeling like it’s tokenism,” Nguyen said. “Here, they ARE the normal. They ARE the standard. And even for me, every day I still feel so grateful for this space to feel like I am setting the standard.”
So while Nguyen’s story is worth hearing, you can hear it here at The Pitch, here at Northeast News, here at KMBC News 9, here at Feast Magazine, and here at KCUR. But Cafe Cà Phê has more stories to tell. So this month we’re celebrating the AAPI staff behind KC’s first Vietnamese coffee shop. Throughout the month, you’ll hear from Manager Madoka Koguchi; Director of Community Outreach Bety Le Shackelford; Design Team Jessica Nguyen and Maddy Best; Baristas Saranya Tosriprasert and Chad Barnes, and Photographers Phon Wills and Travis Young (he took the photos for this story too!).
Stick around as we celebrate Cafe Cà Phê—a space where you can experience AAPI culture, learn about a vibrant part of our community, engage with and hear the experiences of others, and feel seen in this pocket of Kansas City.
Cafe Cà Phê’s brick and mortar is scheduled to open in mid-June. Learn more about their fundraising here.
Kelcie McKenney (she/her) is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism, local activism, queer representation, and strengthening community. You can find Kelcie on Instagram with #kcdaddy, where she talks about her three-legged cat Luna, thrift finds, and ways to overthrow the patriarchy.
Travis Young (he/him) is a Kansas City based photographer with roots in photojournalism and visual storytelling. He enjoys using film cameras to help him process, celebrate, and challenge his understanding in topics of race, gender, status, and mental health. When not behind a camera, you can find him creating things in 3D, obsessing over your grandmother’s dope Volvo Wagon from the 80’s, or getting lost in some tedious cleaning activity because he is a relentless Virgo.
Studio courtesy of Travis Carroll