By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
As a first generation immigrant from Vietnam, Taylor Hoang is an entrepreneur and restaurateur who started her own business at the age of 21.
With her own mortgage company, Hoang helped immigrants source funds for their loans before she even graduated from college.
Hoang was raised in Vietnam until she was 7 years old and grew up in Everett in a predominantly white community. She graduated with a degree in finance and marketing from the University of Washington Bothell.
A few years later, she started Pho Cyclo Café when she was 27 because she wanted to build a better restaurant network that catered to the general public and not just Asians.
Now, there are a total of five Pho Cyclo Cafes around Seattle.
“There are some things that we do with our own dishes with unique flavors that sets us apart from other restaurants. We try to keep an eye on quality, health benefits, and keeping everything really fresh,” she said.
At the time, Hoang explained that there weren’t a lot of Vietnamese restaurants that catered to the mainstream and American palette.
“Growing up with my mom as a restaurateur, I knew other people would enjoy that, so I wanted to bring that same experience to the folks who have never experienced it. I did it in a way that was appealing to the American palette, but tried to keep a lot of cultural significance that told the story of a Vietnamese restaurant and the people behind it,” she explained.
In addition, Hoang worked on consulting projects in Vietnam from 2004 to 2009.
Notably, she helped coffee farmers improve their business systems to help them grow better coffee and make more money.
After she moved back to the United States in 2009, she had her first child, which she credits as her proudest moment. Despite being a mother of two now, Hoang continued to work in the restaurant business, but not without challenges.
A new direction
When the 2007 financial crisis took a toll on Hoang’s business, she and her staff really had to do everything to keep the business together.
“Through that we grew stronger, we were able to innovate and do things that we wouldn’t have done in the past,” she explained.
Hoang said they found ways to be more efficient to streamline operations and labor.
For example, they branched out to local catering, participated at local festivals, and thought outside of the box.
“If I have an apple, how do I split this apple up in so many different ways and still be able to make money? That’s how we had to look at our business and make decisions,” she said.
Hoang has had many opportunities to meet amazing people in her life, including professors, mentors, and colleagues. They’ve all had an impact on shaping Hoang’s business outlook, how she treats employees, and how to be successful.
But if she had to pick someone who stands out, it would be Howard Schultz of Starbucks. “He’s an amazing business person and I met him when I was very young. He made a big impression on me and I looked up to him as a business leader. Seeing how he paved the path to building this coffee conglomerate has been amazing,” she explained.
Like any entrepreneur, Hoang has taken a lot of risks in her life. The biggest risk she’s taken was the executive director role of the Ethnic Business Coalition.
Hoang had never run a nonprofit before and there was a lot to take into consideration, including the different dynamics.
Along with other business owners in Seattle, they formed the Ethnic Business Coalition in 2013 to help grow and sustain ethnic and immigrant-owned businesses in the area.
Together, the coalition worked to address the $15 minimum wage policy.
“We recognized the need for a nonprofit organization to help provide resources and work that’s really relevant and effective for small ethnic businesses. The mission is to provide support, create visibility, and provide a voice for small ethnic-owned businesses in the city of Seattle,” she explained.
On average, the organization works with around 150 businesses each year, and provides various programs and services to business owners all over Seattle.
“Trying to balance everything is challenging. It’s a good thing, but at the same time, it could take a toll on you,” she explained.
Hoang will continue to stay busy because she has plans to open four more restaurants that are different from Pho Cyclo Café. She’s in the process of developing two that are slated for 2017 openings.
“It will be a different concept with some Southeast Asian flavors, concentrating on Vietnamese food, in an American family café type setting on the Eastside,” she said.
As a first generation immigrant to the United States, Hoang knows firsthand that nothing is handed to you. Hard work and dedication was instilled in Hoang at a young age.
“My mother was dedicated to her family and was head of the family. She took care of everyone, was very giving, and accepting of other people. She had a huge influence on who I am today in terms of work ethic and the way I treat people. If you put in the time and sweat, you will achieve your dreams, goals, and mission in life. It all depends on putting in a lot of hard work and dedication into what you do,” she said.
Taylor Hoang will be an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Technology and Innovation Awards. The event is on Oct. 7 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. To buy tickets, go to visionary.bpt.me.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.