Home away from Home: Nail shop chronicles

Pho Ga (Chicken Pho)

Pho Bac | Chamblee, GA


“I am Vietnamese….not Chinese….not Korean…and NOT Japanese!!!!!,” this is the response I got from “Tom” who is a nail tech at Model Nails not far from my mom’s house. See what I was trying to do was ask him if he was from Vietnam because I had this new found love for “chicken water” as my dad calls it, and I thought it may be a great conversation starter. I mean hey, we sit across from nail techs for hours at a time, heck we see some of them more than we see our relatives. We know them by their American name only, and 90% of the people who are patrons at the nail shop have no idea that they are in fact NOT CHINESE!!!

Well once Tom walked outside to smoke a cig (which is done every 15 mins on the dot) he came back a little less irritated….and this is where things get interesting…Tom, who has a very deep accent has been in America for 25 years…yea I know 25 years; longer than I have been alive but yet has this very deep accent…so of course I question this. “If you’ve been here longer than I have been alive, why do you still have a heavy accent?” After looking at the ceiling for answers he says, ” I don’t speak English unless I’m here” I tell him “no way!!!” Tom then explains to me that when he leaves the nail shop, he is surrounded only by Vietnamese, makes sense right. But then my next wonder is, why come to America at all….

“In Vietnam they take everything, I cannot have my own because the police come and take…we are not free there…it was a bad place when I was there…they killed my father….he was a good man, and they just kill him….you see these tattoos…i got them in Vietnam to symbolize struggle and to never forget…here in America I can have my people, my food, my language, but most my pride and dignity.”

Today, Tom has been my nail tech a few years and whenever I walk into the nail shop his face lights up with the most welcoming smile, I guess he was happy to tell someone his story and appreciated me asking…I’m glad I did, I would have never guessed he would be full of so many stories and wisdom…which brings me to Pho…things that seldom look interesting are usually the most interesting.

Pho is Vietnamese “comfort food” it’s a noodle soup, with varying meats and takes about 8-10 hours to prepare. Enter into the many Pho joints around Atlanta where you can dine shoulder to shoulder with Vietnamese and many other cultures. You will be in for a pleasant surprise with one taste of this delicious dish…so simple…yet so satisfying…


  1. This is awesome. Keep up the good work. I would’ve never thought to do this and for you to, it shows a lot of ambition and passion for the food and people.
    Good luck and I wish you much success. I will have my friends and other chefs read this.

    Instagram: chef_giovanni.


  2. I think it’s actually wonderful what you’re doing and I’m amazed that the man came back and explained his struggle to you. Seems like an awesome experience. Let me know if you do any recruiting for people to come along with you 🙂


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