Oakland immigrant achieves American dream

OAKLAND TRIBUNE: June 24, 2011

Alice Ly lives to make people happy. In fact, it’s been her life’s dream since coming to America from Vietnam at the age of 19. Last month, it all came together when she opened Natural Nails Plus on Grand Avenue in Oakland.

What makes this shop different from the dozens of other nail salons in Oakland is Ly’s story. She was 9 when her father left Vietnam on a small, crowded boat for America. He would carve out a new life on Oahu, then send for his wife and three daughters. Ly thought the day would never come, but her family was finally reunited a decade later.

She still remembers her father’s advice. He told her not to open a salon — and he spoke from experience.

“My father was a cosmetologist and a masseuse, and he said it was very hard work,” says Ly. “He told me to go into the health care profession.”

Her two sisters did go into the medical field. One is an RN, and one is a medical biller, but Ly is a healer of a different kind, which is what makes her salon different.

Oatmeal cookies, Korean green tea and a fragrant lavender essence infuse the air as you enter her shop. Like a gracious friend, she welcomes you into her world of soft jazz and soothing massage.

Yes, Natural Nails Plus is a nail salon, but it feels more like a spa. Ly, who’s a licensed cosmetologist with a degree in business administration knows how to pamper her customers and even has free parking outside her shop.

“I like her work so much,”says longtime customer Kay Kopit, “I have followed her to three different salons. She is caring, kind and does beautiful work.”

Even Ly’s landlord is a fan, which is a story in itself. When Ly first read in a Vietnamese newspaper that the space was available, she called to meet the building owner. He turned out to be an old customer who had lost track of Ly when she took time off to have a baby in 2003.

Now that she’s back in business, the 91-year-old landlord is getting his pedicures from her once again. “He has to support me,” she says, with a smile. “He wants me to do well.” As Ly tells the story, another customer walks through the door for a manicure and pedicure — and the warm hospitality that only someone who’s living her dream can give.



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