It was a pedicure customer of Thao Nguyen’s who suggested that she might not be fully utilizing her nimble hands.
“She said I’ve got good hands, ‘You need to do massage,’” Nguyen said. “I've got healing hands, good pressure.”
Nguyen, not one to waste her talents or time, soon enrolled in massage therapy school. Today she offers a variety of massages in addition to manicures, pedicures and other services at Luxury Nails & Spa Pedicure, at 119th and Maple.
Nguyen grew up in Vietnam, following family members to the United States in 1993. She spent most of the next decade working for Aramark Uniform Services, making alterations and keeping the stockroom in order.
Following the lead of a sister who owns a salon in Texas, she trained as a nail technician. She worked at Luxury for several years and also made house calls for customers, sometimes bringing along homemade Vietnamese noodle soup.
Nguyen said she bought Luxury “so I could treat people my own way.”
She has six nail technicians working as independent contractors. She recently purchased four new chairs for pedicures, bringing the total to eight. In addition to artificial nails and a variety of manicure, pedicure and face-waxing services, Luxury offers Swedish, deep tissue, hot stone and reflexology massages in 30-, 60- and 90-minute sessions.
Nguyen said the big trend now is shellac for nails, which costs more but lasts longer than traditional polish. As for colors and designs, many customers show her photos they've found on Pinterest.
“Whatever a customer wants, I do it,” she said.
She does, however, occasionally suggest doing just one nail first, to see how it looks.
“If you like it, we’ll do the rest.”
Summers are the busiest season for manicures and pedicures, although Fridays and Saturdays are busy year-round. To keep a soothing atmosphere for massages, Nguyen schedules them Monday through Thursday.
Nguyen said she’s not sure why so many of her countrywomen – and men – have become nail technicians. “Maybe because we do a lot of work by hand in our (native) country,” she said.
For herself, salon work has allowed her flexibility to raise two sons. Her husband works in the aviation industry. Running her own business came naturally to her, Nguyen said. Her family owned a sugar business in South Vietnam before that country’s war, which claimed her father’s life.
With so many salons around, Nguyen said she competes by offering good service rather than deep discounts. She’s also a big believer in community service, giving massages to hospice patients and regularly preparing food for church fundraisers.
“I love to help,” she said. “When I see people, I see my daddy.”