When Supporting a Family Means Running Two Businesses

When her parents became ill, Ericka Trinh took over her mom’s St. Paul beauty salon and started a bakery business on the side. She doesn’t sleep.

Ericka Tranh and her mother, whose St. Paul hair salon she took over at a time of family crisis. Tranh also started a bakery catering business to keep her family afloat.
National Journal
Sophie Quinton
July 31, 2014, 6:39 a.m.

This pro­file is part of a Next Amer­ica series on the ex­per­i­ences of minor­ity small-busi­ness own­ers in the United States.

From 9:00 in the morn­ing un­til 6:00 at night most days, Er­icka Trinh can be found cut­ting hair, set­ting perms, man­i­cur­ing nails, and wax­ing limbs at her beauty salon in St. Paul, Minn. In the even­ings, she heads to Min­neapol­is and starts work on her second busi­ness. “Sleep­ing is not a big thing that I do,” Trinh jokes. She might stay up all night bak­ing taro-flavored cup­cakes or drap­ing fond­ant over wed­ding cakes.

Trinh, 33, en­joys styl­ing hair. She also en­joys bak­ing. But she’s not run­ning two busi­nesses for fun; she’s do­ing it for fin­an­cial se­cur­ity. “I star­ted right after my mom got bet­ter from can­cer,” Trinh says of her bakery. “That was kind of a wake-up call: you can’t just ride on the money you make now, be­cause it’s just enough for you, and if something were to hap­pen to the fam­ily again, I don’t know how we’d sur­vive.”

Trinh’s par­ents were Vi­et­namese refugees. They met in St. Paul in the late 1970s. Her dad worked as a lab tech­ni­cian at a phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pany, and her mom, Anh, owned and op­er­ated a beauty salon, called Anh’s Hair­styl­ists. The Trinhs bought an old house in St. Paul’s Fro­g­town neigh­bor­hood, tore it down, and re­placed it with a two-story clap­board build­ing. The salon took up the ground floor, and the fam­ily lived up­stairs.

Fro­g­town has al­ways been a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood, with a large im­mig­rant pop­u­la­tion. Anh’s Hair­styl­ists looks out onto on Uni­versity Av­en­ue, the neigh­bor­hood’s main com­mer­cial street. Trinh and her two young­er sib­lings grew up do­ing chores in the salon, fold­ing tow­els, sweep­ing the floor, and tak­ing out perm rods. The salon stayed small, but grew a loy­al cli­en­tele.

Trinh learned to perm hair by the time she was 12, and to cut hair by the time she turned 16. She left home at 19 to earn a bach­el­or’s de­gree in com­puter an­im­a­tion from the Min­nesota School of Busi­ness, a for-profit in­sti­tu­tion. Shortly after she gradu­ated, her dad had a stroke. Trinh came home. Her mom had to care for her dad, and couldn’t spend as much time in the salon. Then her mom was dia­gnosed with can­cer. Then the glob­al eco­nomy col­lapsed.

“I find that whatever chal­lenge comes up, I just kind of deal with it. I don’t really think about how hard it was,” Trinh says. But still, for about three years, as her mom battled can­cer, Trinh was the only per­son work­ing at Anh’s Hair­styl­ists. She was also try­ing to look after her par­ents, as well as her young­er sis­ter, who has a men­tal dis­ab­il­ity.

For­tu­nately, Trinh’s mom re­covered, and the salon sur­vived the re­ces­sion, thanks in part to its low prices. “People who used to spend $50 to $60 on a hair­cut would start com­ing to me for a $15 hair­cut,” Trinh says. She took over as own­er of the salon about two years ago. Her mom works part time, her sis­ter helps out, and her cous­in plans to join the team after beauty school.

In 2011, Trinh star­ted Sil­hou­ette Bakery,a ca­ter­ing busi­ness, as an ex­tra source of in­come. She rents com­mer­cial kit­chen space in the Midtown Glob­al Mar­ket, a small-busi­ness in­cub­at­or in Min­neapol­is, and bakes desserts for birth­day parties, wed­dings, and oth­er cel­eb­ra­tions.

“I do fu­sion fla­vors,” Trinh says. Her elab­or­ate cre­ations — like a two-tiered cake shaped like a castle — look like they be­long on a cook­ing show. Her young­er broth­er, who has a culin­ary arts de­gree, is her busi­ness part­ner, and her boy­friend works with them. Re­cently, Trinh’s par­ents gave her an­oth­er prop­erty they owned, a du­plex next door to the salon, which Trinh plans to re­mod­el in­to a brick-and-mor­tar bakery store­front.

Fro­g­town has be­come one of the most di­verse neigh­bor­hoods in the Twin Cit­ies. It’s home to im­mig­rants from South­east Asia, Africa, and Lat­in Amer­ica, and is dot­ted with small busi­nesses from noodle shops to med­ic­al prac­tices. It’s also be­nefited from pub­lic in­vest­ment: earli­er this sum­mer, a gleam­ing new light-rail line star­ted glid­ing past the front door of Trinh’s salon.

To cap­it­al­ize on the new trans­it, a neigh­bor­hood non­profit is try­ing to brand the area around Trinh’s busi­ness as ‘Little Mekong,’ a des­tin­a­tion dis­trict where vis­it­ors can get a taste of Asi­an cul­ture. The Asi­an Eco­nom­ic De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter now or­gan­izes sum­mer night mar­kets, out­door events fea­tur­ing dan­cers, Lao drum­mers, and lots of food. Trinh learned to make Ja­pan­ese-style cus­tard buns to sell at the mar­ket.

It’s nev­er easy to run a small busi­ness — let alone two — but this is a good time to be a busi­ness own­er in Fro­g­town. “I’m hop­ing the salon will grow a little more. I don’t want it to be just a one-man busi­ness. As much as I love be­ing here, I’d like a little bit of backup,” says Trinh. “I’d hope to bring in maybe a couple more chairs, a few more em­ploy­ees, just to make it a little big­ger, a little bit bet­ter.”

“And then once the bakery’s up and built, I’m hop­ing it will draw in a crowd, and people [will] like what I do. And then maybe I can take a break!” she says, with a laugh. “It would be nice to have a break.”

What We're Following See More »
‘PULLING A TRUMP’
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
20 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Source:
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
15 hours ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
×