Immigration

She started painting nails in a salon. Now this Vietnam War refugee has a franchise

Making it in America: Vietnam War refugee nails success

Mary Chau started off painting nails in an Orlando salon, but soon quit to launch her own. At one point, she owned more than 25 nail salons and managed more than 250 employees around the southeastern United States. Now she has a growing franchise.
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Mary Chau started off painting nails in an Orlando salon, but soon quit to launch her own. At one point, she owned more than 25 nail salons and managed more than 250 employees around the southeastern United States. Now she has a growing franchise.

Mary Chau grew up as a war refugee in Vietnam. The middle daughter in a family of nine siblings, her father and brothers fought in the army alongside the Americans against the communist north.

When the war ended, her family, along with tens of thousands of others, was stripped of most of their possessions and persecuted. Her father and brother were forced into labor camps, leaving the children alone with their overwhelmed mother.

When she was in her early 20s, Chau was smuggled onto a fishing boat in the middle of the night along with two of her siblings, and spent 27 nights at sea, a perilous journey that she often recalls. She spent six months in Hong Kong, and six months in the Philippines in refugee camps before finally coming to the United States, or “the freedom country” as she calls it.

She started off painting nails in an Orlando salon, but soon quit to launch her own. At one point, she owned more than 25 nail salons and managed more than 250 employees around the southeastern United States. She now owns her own growing franchise, and has partnered with Quy “Charlie” Ton, who owns more than 900 Regal Nail salons that operate out of Walmart stores. She has created hundreds of jobs over her career, which has expanded into television shows and wholesale manufacturing.

“I pray to God and thank him for the life I have,” said Chau, a practicing Catholic. “I want to help people have better lives.”

In this fifth installment of Making it in America, a video series highlighting the impacts of immigrant entrepreneurs in Florida, viewers will see what Chau has accomplished as a Vietnamese entrepreneur.

If Chau has her way, there will soon be an MC Spa near you.

Oscar Corral, a former newspaper reporter and Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, is founder and CEO of Explica Media. He can be reached at ocorral@explicamedia.com

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