luna new year - cafe ca phe - vietnamese celebration - kansas city missouri
Cafe Cà Phê Owner Jackie Nguyen, who started Kansas City’s first Vietnamese coffee cart amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted a Lunar New Year Party in the Crossroads this weekend ahead of the February 1 celebration. Photo by Abby Hoover

By Abby Hoover

Chúc mung nam moi! Happy Vietnamese New Year!

As the first authentic Vietnamese coffee truck in Kansas City – soon to be a brick-and-mortar business – Cafe Cà Phê has held space for Asian Americans and other marginalized communities since owner Jackie Nguyen burst onto the local coffee scene in 2020.

This week, they’re celebrating the beginning of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Tet Nguyên Đán (Tet). Although both Vietnam and China, and other Asian cultures, use the Lunar Calendar, Vietnamese people have unique Lunar New Year customs, celebrations, and traditions.

Cafe Cà Phê’s Vietnamese Lunar New Year Celebration was held at The Nelle, 1818 McGee, on Sunday, Jan. 30 ahead of the February 1 holiday. Booths from more than a dozen local Asian-owned businesses were present. Cafe Cà Phê’s Director of Community Outreach Bety hosted story time, followed by a variety of performances and dances from Indonesia, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

“It feels amazing, I feel very honored that the Kansas City community is coming out to celebrate one of the most beautiful celebrations,” Nguyen said. “I know that there’s a big population of Asian people here in Kansas City, and also Vietnamese people that are probably extremely excited just to have something to gather and celebrate.”

Many were dressed in áo dài, which translates to “long shirt” in English, a custom tailored  traditional silk formalwear with a high neck.

Lunar New Year is one of the most important celebrations of the year among East and Southeast Asian cultures, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities. The New Year celebration is usually celebrated for multiple days.

Tied to the Lunar Calendar, the holiday began as a time for feasting and to honor household and heavenly deities, as well as ancestors. The New Year typically begins with the first new moon that occurs between the end of January and spans the first 15 days of the first month of the Lunar Calendar – until the full moon arrives.

Nguyen, her vendors and staff welcomed everyone to the celebration. For those who were unfamiliar with the celebration, there were plenty of ways to get involved.

“They’re going to be learning a lot about our culture,” Nguyen said. “They’re going to be learning about the animal zodiacs and how that came about. They’re going to be trying a bunch of different new foods, new cuisines, new desserts. We have Vietnamese food, we have Thai food, we have desserts from Japan, and also different flavors from different Asian cultures.”

Each year in the Lunar Calendar is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals included in the cycle of 12 stations or “signs” along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. In addition, five elements of earth, water, fire, wood and metal are also mapped onto the traditional Lunar calendar. Each year is associated with an animal that corresponds to an element.

The year 2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger, which occurs every 60 years. The Water Tiger is action-oriented and represents strength, clearing away evil and bravery. 

MADE MOBB Co-Owner Vu Radley proudly displayed Year of the Tiger products, his newest release. 

Radley, a Vietnamese American, was born in the Year of the Tiger, but he’s been creating Lunar New Year gear for a few years.

“So last year we did the year of the ox shirt,” Radley said. “And then this year, this is actually my year, I’m a tiger, and so I had to do one for this one.”

Radley was impressed by Cafe Cà Phê’s first Lunar New Year celebration.

“It kind of showcases the traditions that we as Vietnamese people go through every year  when it turns January into February,” Radley said. “So it’s been crazy to be able to just pop up, drop this shirt, just had to do it for the culture.”

MADE MOBB has been producing Midwest streetwear since 2013, making each piece with midwest values in mind – hard work, craftsmanship, culture and community – at their store at 221 Southwest Boulevard.

“We haven’t done anything too crazy before, I mean, I’ve done it with my family and things like that, but not a pop up like this,” Radley said. “I think Cafe Cà Phê came to the city and they did a really good job at bringing that to the forefront, you know, her background and culture which is Vietnamese.”

Like the Cafe Cà Phê, Radley hopes this event continues to grow each year.

“I’m glad that she’s doing this, I’m hoping every year it gets bigger and bigger and crazier and crazier for them,” Radley said. “We will always love to be a part of it. Lunar New Year is all about having fun, about being happy, about good love and pushing that onto other people.”

Radley said Lunar New Year is a time to set yourself up for the new year, and jumping into the new year as happy as you can be, the most prosperous, and the most healthy.

“It’s a great event just to do with family and friends, and I love that Jackie’s bringing that to the forefront and to the public too, so other people of other cultures can enjoy what we do,” Radley said. 

Cafe Cà Phê is raising funds to open a brick-and-mortar coffee shop in Columbus Park on Fifth Street. Many of the small businesses involved in Sunday’s event donated a portion of their earnings to the cause. Cafe Cà Phê’s GoFundMe can be found here: