Creating and maintaining one successful business is a fantastic feat. But for second-time founder Twee Nguyen, who has crossed seas and industries to chase dreams, two-time success tastes even sweeter than the sweet treats she serves in her ice cream and coffee shop.
That’s the position real-estate-mogul-turned-shop-owner Twee Nguyen found herself in when she decided to dabble in the retail service industry. The café has been a passion project that has brought Nguyen and her customers’ joy.
“You have this opportunity, and you have to do something with it,” said Twee, discussing her journey to becoming an entrepreneur. Twee, a first-generation Vietnamese refugee, understands this sentiment much more than most.
Twee Nguyen and her family migrated to the United States from a refugee camp in Malaysia. The day she arrived in Philadelphia was the first time she’d ever worn a coat. This social worker’s gift represented much more to Nguyen.
“In a way, it kind of represents what America is all about. Warmth and generosity and caring from the people around us,” said Twee, cozy in her ornate red shawl.
Twee, now a District resident, is making the most out of her opportunity to achieve the American dream as the founder of 727 Mass Ave, a property management and real estate development LLC. As a landlord and developer, she has made a tremendous impact in the DC metro area, turning “dumpsters into diamonds.”
“[As a real estate developer], we pride ourselves on the impact that we have on all levels of the community and the country,” said Twee.
This includes raising property values in neighborhoods through renovations and developments, bringing in more jobs and increasing revenue for cities, and bringing happiness to new homeowners.
Now, Twee aims to strike gold again. This time in the service industry as the owner of Calypso, an ice cream and coffee shop in Northeast Washington.
Twee wasn’t initially interested in retail. However, she owned a two-floor building with vacant retail space. She wanted to transform this space into something to serve the neighborhood better. There were many challenges that Twee didn’t predict in adjusting real estate to retail. Most notably, staffing and domestic issues.
In the professional world she was used to, Twee could hire and fire contractors. She had complete project management and oversight and rarely had to deal with the issues of hiring employees over contractors. That’s much different than dealing with the day-to-day emotions of seeing the same employees regularly.
Finances were also a huge hurdle. Nguyen confessed that staying in the green can be challenging, even taking a loan from her other business to keep Calypso afloat. However, she is hopeful, seeing this loan as a business expense rather than a setback.
“Ninety percent of small businesses go out of business in five years,” shared Twee. She now understands why.
Twee’s involvement with Wacif helped her overcome many initial challenges of launching into retail. Wacif helped her learn the ropes and gave Twee the support she needed to plan to fund, develop a launch roadmap, and even find a board of advisors. Twee has accredited her growth as a leader and a retail business owner to Wacif’s advisors and community.
“Wacif made me more cognizant of all the tools I have in my toolbox and sharpening those tools, really. Marketing, operations, finance, bankability, and all the other areas of being an entrepreneur.”
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