Nailing It

Tacoma couple’s success fuels their generosity

Tacoma couple Tuan and Cici Ngo seem to do it all. They own popular La Bella Nail Spa, where they see 500 or more clients a week. They are raising three kids. And they are actively involved in volunteering and supporting several causes that are close to their hearts. Both are from Vietnam — and they continue to not only give back to their birthplace, but also to share their stories about why giving back is so important. Their enthusiasm is proving contagious. “My wife and I grew up in a poor neighborhood,” Tuan Ngo said. “We want to give back to the communities that have helped us.” Tuan and Cici hail from the same city in Vietnam — Vung Tau — but didn’t know each other when they lived there. But some things are just destined to be.

An American family adopted Tuan when he was 6, and he moved to the United States. He met Cici when he traveled back to Vietnam. He was a plucky junior at Kansas State University at the time, studying to become an architect.20161102_labella-nails_12_3

He spotted the “incredibly beautiful” Cici, who was working at the salon where he went to get his hair cut. He asked her out; she said no.

So he came back the same day to get his hair cut again, so he could ask her out a second time. She still said no.

Hoping the third time would be the charm, he went back to the salon for another haircut, and asked one more time. She told him to pick her up at 7 p.m.

He carefully mapped their route for dinner and coffee so that the two of them would go over as many speed bumps as possible on his motorcycle — that way, she would have to hang on to him.

“By the time we went over the last bump, she never let go again,” Tuan said.

Cici returned to the U.S. with him and they lived together in Kansas briefly before moving to Tacoma. “We love Tacoma,” he said. “I’m very happy now. I’m lucky.”

Starting La Bella

When they moved to Tacoma, Cici worked at several local nail salons before she realized she could do better running her own. The couple opened La Bella in 2006. When mega-pop star Taylor Swift was in town, she got her nails done there. But perhaps even cooler than that, the business allowed Cici to bring her three sisters from Vietnam to America to work with her.

“I love nails,” she said. “It’s not stressful to go to work.” The couple strives to run their salon with kindness and cleanliness.

Success is necessary to fuel their real passion — philanthropy. “We work hard to be successful. We love giving back to our communities,” Cici said. And their customers and friends like helping, too.20161102_labella-nails_099

“It really is like everyone and all of the clients are like a family; we all know and support each other,” said Leah Knoll, marketing and web director at La Bella.

Giving Back

Several projects are in the works, and they’ve already been able to complete some major goals, including a total reconstruction of a dock in Vietnam.

The dock project cost about $14,000. They raised about $9,000 from client donations, paid for the rest themselves, and funded a trip in 2014 with some of their clients to see the dock completed.

The dock, which was in terrible condition, is essential to many people in the community and is used for fishing and transportation. There’s a plaque on the new dock that lists the names of everyone who contributed. “The people there know Tacoma is looking out for them,” Tuan said.

“I really am getting to live the American dream. And we have this opportunity now to help out, and I am so, so thankful.”

Next on their agenda is helping build a new dining hall and bathroom for one of the Vung Tau orphanages. The goal is to build the dining hall, and also set up a network of volunteers from wealthier nearby areas. They hope to get 30 families to sign up to buy and prepare food for the children once a month. “We just hope we can make a small difference and help these kids go to sleep with a warm meal,” Tuan said.

Another trip to Vietnam is being planned for this year with more clients, and the group aims to celebrate the completion of the much-needed dining hall at the orphanage.

The couple also give on the local front. Among others, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Festival of Trees is one of their favorites.

“I really am getting to live the American dream. And we have this opportunity now to help out, and I am so, so thankful,” said Cici, tears of gratitude shining in her eyes. 

La Bella Nail Spa is located at 7 Tacoma Ave. N. in Tacoma’s Stadium District. They are open seven days a week. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are encouraged. nailsalontacoma.com
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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine.
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