Cafe Cà Phê is creating space for the AAPI community—both behind the counter and in front of it

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Photos by Travis Young. Studio courtesy of Travis Carroll.

For Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we teamed up with Catcall Magazine to highlight the AAPI team members who make Kansas City’s first Vietnamese coffee shop Cafe Cà Phê possible. 

The run of this week’s profiles include:
Bety Le Shackelford
Chad Barnes
Jessica Nguyen
Madoka Koguchi
Maddy Best
Travis Young
Phon Wills
Saranya Tosriprasert

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. 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. 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 says. “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 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 needs to be way more resources available to the community, and Cafe Cà Phê just scratches the surface,” Nguyen says. “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 Asian 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 Asian culture that highlighted over 15 Asian-owned businesses and showcased traditional Lion Dances.

Aapi Heritage

Photos by Travis Young. Studio courtesy of Travis Carroll.

“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 says.

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 businesses, and 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 says. “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.”

Nguyen’s story is worth hearing and can be found at The Pitch, Northeast News, KMBC News 9, Feast Magazine, and KCUR. But Cafe Cà Phê has more stories to tell.

So, this week we’re celebrating the AAPI staff behind KC’s first Vietnamese coffee shop. You’ll hear from Manager Madoka Koguchi Day, 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 location is scheduled to open in mid-June. Learn more about their fundraising here.

Categories: Culture, Editors’ Choice