Eric Kuhn was battling with a yawn the first few times he met Sahra Nguyen in the fall of 2016. It wasn’t a reflection on her. Having stayed up all night at his bartending job, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see her for his early morning coffee.
“I would get off my shift at six in the morning, and Sahra would text me at seven or eight to say, ‘Do you want to go get coffee? Before I put my head down to rest, I’ll go see her. The caffeine he relied on to stay sober on those mornings, at Little Skips in Bushwick, Brooklyn, would become a running theme in their relationship.
Ms. Nguyen, whose family is from Vietnam, is the founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, which combines an appreciation for a bold cup of coffee with her culture. Coffee shops in cities like New York and San Francisco use the company’s beans to brew Vietnamese iced coffee. Home brewers buy it at Whole Foods and other stores.
Inspiration for the brand, which began taking shape in 2016 before becoming official in 2018, arrived thanks to Brooklyn coffee shops for which Ms. Nguyen is a freelance documentary producer, writer, and director.
The realization that Mr. Kun might become more than a friend begins to creep into those coffee shops as well.
Ms. Nguyen, 36, and Mr. Kun, 35, first met in the summer of 2016, when Mr. Kun was serving drinks at the now-closed Trophy Bar in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She introduced them to Jane Nguyen, Nguyen’s cousin and roommate in Bushwick.
Mr. Kun knew Jin from his frequent visits to Dotory, the now closed Korean restaurant next door where she used to work as a maid. One night, Jane brings a group of friends, including Mrs. Nguyen, to Trophy Bar for a drink. “They sat at the bar,” he said, “and I was mesmerized by the girl who happened to be a desert.” “I was struck by its beauty.” Jane Nguyen said Mr Kun had asked before to be with one of Jane’s “hot friends”. But this time it was different. “When he saw Sahira, it was just her,” said Jane Nguyen. “It was special.”
Romance will take some time. Although he asked about Mrs. Nguyen, he would not see her again until weeks later, when he met Nguyen’s cousins at Little Skips Café. “That’s when I made my move,” he said. “You asked for her number.”
Although it wasn’t the smoothest question, he said, “from that moment on, we started meeting for coffee in the morning.” After months of friendly encounters, he begins to wonder if she wants to kiss him.
Ms. Nguyen was born in Boston, where she and her sisters, one older and one younger, were raised by her mother, Ni Phu, and father, Anh Nguyen, Vietnamese refugees who fled the country after the war ended in 1975. By the early 1990s, Mrs. Vu had bought a laundry and dry cleaning company, and Mr. Nguyen had started a home-painting business. Her parents now own Lee Cleaners in Brookline, Mass. , and Floor Sanding of Mass in Boston.
In high school, Ms. Nguyen became an advocate for underrepresented communities through Alliance of Young Americans from Asia and the Pacific. She said the group “gave me the tools to understand what I’ve been feeling for so long.” She said she had long been embarrassed by her parents’ accents and the Vietnamese food her mother packed her for lunch.
In college at UCLA, she double majored in Asian American Studies and World Arts and Cultures, graduating with a BA in each in 2009. After that, she moved back to Boston for a year to work with Artists for Humanity, a youth arts organization. She later returned to Los Angeles to serve as director of the Success Writing Program at UCLA. Her move to Manhattan in 2013 was an escape from the traditional work week and an exploration of her creative side. “Nine to five wasn’t for me,” she said. “I wanted to be free.”
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Mr. Kun knew the feeling. Like Mrs. Nguyen, his parents are refugees. They immigrated to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide. When he was seven years old, his parents divorced. His mother, San Sen, worked several minimum wage jobs to make ends meet in San Diego, where she raised him and his older brother, sister, and younger brother.
The student loans he’s still paying off allowed him to attend the San Diego Institute of Art, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in video game art and design in 2010. The following year, he moved to Manhattan with just a few possessions and $500 in his pocket. He stayed with friends and worked in clothing stores to earn wages while looking for work in the video game industry.
Financially, he said “retail was not sustainable”. Bartending at the Trophy Bar – dubbed “a wonderfully exotic pub” – was different. “It was sustainable. It allowed me to live.” to thrive, even. For years, he put his 3D art ambitions on the back burner.
By the fall of 2016, when an angry-eyed Mr. Kun was trying to identify Ms. Nguyen over cups of coffee in Bushwick, she was in the incubation phase of her business. In coffee shops all over New York, “I’m starting to notice that Vietnamese coffee is becoming trendy, but they never use Vietnamese coffee beans,” she says. “They were using their house mix.” Getting coffee from the country her parents fled from was never a role she saw herself filling. But on a trip to Cambodia to shoot a documentary that year, she visited Vietnam and asked her aunts in Hanoi if they knew someone with a coffee plantation. They did.
Bringing the company together while she was still deep in the hustle and bustle of her freelance business left her little time to think about getting to know Mr. Kuhn in a barista-free environment. She also said, “I was like, He’s cute and he’s a bartender.” “He probably catches crazy girls.”
But he was only interested in her. However, “after a while I was like, ‘Am I a dedicated boyfriend now?'” He said. Mrs. Nguyen wasn’t quite sure of herself. “I was the one who created the coffee, so I obviously wanted to be around it,” she said. But becoming his girlfriend wasn’t much of a priority until he planned a trip to Cambodia to see the family in March 2017.
Around the same time, “I felt like he was tired of trying, that he was pulling away,” she said. When he came back from Cambodia, “We had this deep conversation about, Hey, where do we go from here?” They had kissed for the first time just a few months ago, during the 2016 vacation. But after that talk, they were a couple.
They have been partners in life and work ever since. In 2018, when Mrs. Nguyen was learning how to roast the Robusta beans she got from Vietnam, he lugged boxes of beans to a rented roasting place in Red Hook, and later to the ones in Bushwick that they still use. “Whatever Sahira needed, I wanted to help,” he said. “The work sparked a great passion for her. It was great to see her light up.”
In the fall of 2017, Mr. Kuhn moved into his cousins’ apartment in Bushwick. At the onset of covid, he quit bartending to work with Ms. Nguyen full time. He is now the brand’s chief designer. More than a year before he proposed a vacation to Paris, on October 29, 2021, he asked her father’s permission. He said, “I wanted to be frank with him, and show him respect.” Both father and daughter did not hesitate to give him the answers he wanted to hear.
Ms. Nguyen and Mr. Kun, who moved into an apartment of their own in Bushwick last year, They celebrated merging their lives by getting married three times this spring. On May 20, at Mrs. Nguyen’s parents’ house in Boston, they celebrated their Asian culture with 40 friends and family members, including Mr. Kun’s mother, in a traditional ceremony. le an hoi, or the Vietnamese engagement ceremony.
On May 26, they were legally married to Madeline Plasencia, an employee of the New York City Clerk’s Office, at the Marriage Bureau in Manhattan. A newly married couple and a small group of family and friends celebrated by having lunch at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. And on June 17, they hosted a wedding for 80 guests at a private venue in Villefranche-sur-Mer, overlooking the French Riviera. Jason Talbot, Ms. Nguyen’s longtime mentor at Artists for Humanity, led the ceremony. The bride and groom exchange what he calls “freedom vows,” passing the mic back and forth to musing candidly about falling in love and their commitment to each other.
When it was over, they danced in the clouds. “We watched the clouds roll in until we were literally dancing in them,” said Nguyen, after a sunny outdoor ceremony. “That moment was magical and unexpected, like we were in our own little world. It was amazing.”
On this day
when May 26, 2023
where Manhattan Marriage Bureau
Decorated For the speedy ceremony in Manhattan, Mrs. Nguyen wore an ivory bodysuit with heels and Mr. Kun wore a black suit and loafers. At France’s largest wedding, he wore an ivory dinner jacket and tuxedo pants by Black Lapel, and Mrs. Nguyen wore Jane dress by Catherine TashLong silk and satin dress with spaghetti straps. The couple exchanged wedding bands from Holden, an Asian-owned jewelry company made sustainably.
from heart Mr. Kuhn couldn’t resist the nerves before the Brooklyn gala. But in France, “I was very nervous going to the party,” he said. When he went over his phone to release his vows, they subsided. “I had the words I wanted to say in my heart. I focused on my wife, and I thought my love was evident.”
gratitude “Eric and I talk a lot about our parents’ journey and how much they sacrificed for us to grow up in the States,” said Ms. Nguyen. “We are here because of our parents’ resilience, hard work and love. They were so happy and proud at the wedding.”