Left to right; Cafe Cà Phê Owner Jackie Nguyen, Mayor Quinton Lucas, Truc Hong Thi Le of Vietnam Café. Photos by Travis Young – @TravisLikesFilm.

By Abby Hoover

Vietnam Café in Columbus Park was one of a handful of businesses honored for Women’s History Month by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas on Wednesday, March 16.

Truc Hong Thi Le, whose sister Ngoc Le and brother-in-law Minh Hoang own Vietnam Café, accepted the resolution, which recognizes women who make a difference in the community.

“The Vietnam Café is a special place in Kansas City as it brings the Asian and KC communities together to enjoy good authentic food and tradition,” according to the Mayor’s Office. “Truc Le has a very unique story of how she and her family persevered to settle in Kansas City. Her hard work and diligence are part of what keeps the fabric of the Columbus Park community strong, and we are glad to honor her for her contributions.”

Lucas spent the afternoon recognizing five prestigious women in Kansas City: business owners, leaders, authors, artists and dedicated community members who share diversity, empowerment and innovation through their work.

“We are human beings and everyone wants to be happy,” Truc said. “It makes me happy knowing that others are happy. Giving is happiness. Being Catholic, God tells us to love and value each other. Anyone that I can help brings me joy and happiness.”

Truc’s daughter Micky shared a story about her mother’s journey to America and her life in Kansas City.

“Our mother, Truc Le, and father traveled on a boat to go to Malaysia from Vietnam,” Micky said. “They were held captive in their refugee camp for seven years in hopes to go to America for a better life. After seven years, they returned to Vietnam for another two years due to U.S. regulations of limiting people from outside the U.S. from entering the country.”

Finally, through a random raffle selection, the pair had the chance to go to the United States. They passed their interviews and moved to America in 1998 in search of a better life.

“When they first arrived to Kansas City, we lived in Columbus Park neighborhood,” Micky said. “Now, that same building is down the street where Cafe Cà Phê is currently located. At the time, our mother was working two to three jobs trying to support the family. From being a dishwasher at a casino, to nail tech, and her longest job of 25 plus years at Certified Safety Manufacturing Company.”

Truc Hong Thi Le at Vietnam Café.

Through hard work and perseverance, Truc and her family built a life for themselves in Columbus Park, like many immigrant families who came before them.

“She has always been a selfless person who took care of people before herself,” Micky said of her mother. “She treats everyone fairly no matter what the circumstance is.”

Their family is the third to own Vietnam Café, for nearly eight years. The restaurant has been a staple of Kansas City’s ethnic food scene, and has become a local favorite for both downtown professionals and residents of the historic neighborhood.

“She loves her family very much and wants them to succeed,” Micky said. “Our mom loves to cook and feed the community by making sure they are happy and full.”

Owner of Cafe Cà Phê Jackie Ngyuen said Truc is the heart of Vietnam Café in an Instagram post documenting the honor.

Nguyen, a San Diego native and Broadway performer who will soon open the brick-and-mortar Cafe Cà Phê on Fifth Street in Columbus Park, moved to Kansas City and started the city’s first Vietnamese coffee truck during the pandemic. She settled in Columbus Park, in part, because of the strong Asian community.

“Vietnam Cafe is one of the reasons I decided to stay in Kansas City,” Nguyen wrote. “I finally had a Vietnamese spot that reminded me of San Diego, where the staff treated me like one of their own. I even bussed a few tables here and there when they got hella busy.”

Swapping business advice and sharing the truth when it’s needed, Nguyen has found a family among them.

“What really touched me was how the gesture of the Mayor’s presence can truly impact a community like ours,” Nguyen said. “Recognition. Bro, it’s all we could ask for sometimes. Just see us. Hear us. Know we exist and know we make an impact.”

As Lucas ate egg rolls and drank coconut juice, Vietnamese youth got to meet their mayor. His staff was handed traditional Vietnamese coffee and chrysanthemum tea, and took some fresh sweet potato shrimp back to the mayor’s office.

“For the amount of people this restaurant feeds, the thousands of hours poured into crafting Vietnamese meals, the little spot in Columbus Park that makes me feel most at home,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen, who was appointed to the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners by Lucas, thanked the mayor for recognizing women of color, specifically an Asian business owner.

“Living in this Asian community gives me peace,” Truc said. “Knowing we can all help each other in some way and come together during both good and hard times is what life is about. I love the fact that the Asian community and KC community come together at Vietnam Café to enjoy good food, make memories, and experience that genuine human interactions with each other.”

Her family says Truc is very well known in the Asian community for her hard work and kind heart.

“We couldn’t be more proud to have her as our mother,” Micky said. “Her perseverance and sacrifices that she made have led our family to where we are at now. The love and kindness she gives to the world and the community is unforgettable and one of a kind.”