We had the good fortune of connecting with Jacqueline Ngo and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jacqueline, as a parent, what have you done for you children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
Creating this business, being my own boss, and having a means to provide a positive service to others is probably the biggest achievement that I’ve done that would have a great impact on my children. I wanted to create a legacy to leave my children. My son, Leo, has a super rare chromosome disorder called Tetrasomy 18p, so his life will be more challenging and this cafe will allow me to continue to take care of him way after I’m gone. I hope to bring more awareness to Chromosome 18 disorders and also give back to the community and spread joy, kindness, and happiness through this business! I also want to show my children that you can do anything is possible as long as you work hard and don’t give up. 

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I came from immigrant parents who always wanted me to grow up and go into the medical field. However, I became an animator and artist instead, and after 11 years in the industry, I got laid off due to budget cuts, and it was a huge struggle to find a job that would fit my schedule that my kids required from me. So I switched gears and I bought a café in Fullerton and decided to be my own boss, so I can control my own hours and schedule. I named the café after my amazing kids, Lily and Leo’s Boutique Café. It was a turn key purchase so it was already an existing café, but I just made it my own by remodeling, tweaking the menu by taking unpopular things off and added new, trendy and different items. I also added my own handmade art to the store and added afternoon tea service and allowed private event space rentals as well. After a month being in business, the café doubled its revenue and business was doing so well that I had to hire two more employees to keep up with the flow. My dad even said to me in translation “When you first said you were going to buy a store, I was worried, but now seeing it, it’s not too bad.” That’s actually quite a compliment, so maybe this was finally the approval and acceptance that they were willing to give to me? I got my store on February of this year, 2020. After 6 weeks of being open, I had to close due to the worldwide pandemic covid-19. I was back to being unemployed, and I wasn’t able to collect any unemployment since that already ran out from last year’s unemployment funds. I tried to get an extension but I couldn’t online because my account kept saying I claimed all my benefits for the year. I applied for all the small business loans and got denied every time, all for different reasons. My parents lectured me and asked me why I have no savings to support myself and the kids and then said that all I do is “cause trouble.” All my employees were able to collect unemployment due to reduction of work hours, so I did not have to let any of them go. I’m so lucky to have such a strong, kind and supportive team at my café. They were all just on standby waiting for me to reopen the café 2 months later. They aren’t just employees to me, they are my work family, and I care about their well being as they care for mine. What sets this business apart from others is our love and care we have for each other as human beings and not just employees and boss. The chemistry and vibe we all have with each other is a very strong and positive and anyone who joins our team must be a good fit so that we have very happy, fun, efficient, and successful working environment. This made it extra important for me to make sure my employees are safe during this pandemic. The first couple weeks of being open was super brutal and most of those days came out to be losses for me. I told myself to not get too discouraged no matter how discouraged I got, and knew that it just takes time for things to pick up because our regulars who were our main customers don’t know we are open and so it’s just a matter of getting the word out. Eventually business slowly picked up again and even though it’s not as busy as the prime days before quarantine, it’s still pretty good. We are getting a good amount of customers to cover payroll and inventory, although rent is a whole other story. So overall I would consider this to be a successful business in this year of 2020. My café is located in the St. Jude Medical Plaza and so it’s a great location for customers and to be seen from nearby. Of course each week has its own momentum and has its ups and downs but overall, I feel very grateful to have a surviving business right now, and I was able to hire one new team member as well. In this time of Covid, hiring is a great opportunity and reward, compared to all the lost jobs out there. Since we are still in quarantine we aren’t able to offer our afternoon tea services, so now customers and lovers of tea and pastries can bring home an assortment of pastries, teas, and their very own teapot for one that they can decorated with vinyl stickers that I designed! They can then enjoy it with their loved ones at home while staying comfortable and safe. Creating this business, being my own boss, and having a means to provide a positive service to others is probably the biggest achievement that I’ve done that would have a great impact on my children. I wanted to create a legacy to leave my children. My son, Leo, has a super rare chromosome disorder called Tetrasomy 18p, so his life will be more challenging and this café will allow me to continue to take care of him way after I’m gone. I hope to bring more awareness to Chromosome 18 disorders and also give back to the community and spread joy, kindness, and happiness through this business! I also want to show my children that you can do anything is possible as long as you work hard and don’t give up.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Being in Orange County gives you a lot of access to a lot of fun and interesting places to visit and yummy foods to eat. If the pandemic wasn’t going on, I would definitely recommend going to Disneyland, it literally is the most magical place in Orange County at least! I would take my friends to experience an escape room and then go eat at local eateries like at Rodeo 39, or some authentic Vietnamese food in Westminster. The beach is always relaxing and and beautiful and fun to go to, and the Fullerton Arboretum is always fun to explore as well.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to Shoutout to my loved ones and friends who supported me during the whole process of developing my business. I am very grateful and appreciative to my parents Tong and Chau Nguyen, my in-laws Lan and Gary Ngo, my aunt Lan Tran, and my siblings Jennifer and Andrew Chan for keeping me humbled and grounded by their generosity and love. Without their encouragement and emotional support, this journey would have been much more challenging and difficult to go through alone. My children had a huge impact on motivating me and encouraging me to not give up and to keep trying, keep learning, and keep persevering because they are the reasons why I do what I do. I want to be their role model but also be able to provide for them. I want to show them that mommy can do anything, even if it seems impossible, mommy will try and find a way! Having them be proud of their mommy is also a perk as well. Also, my friend and life coach Loretta Chak was with me in every step of this journey and I would not be where I am today without her guidance, love, and support. I appreciate her being just a text or call away for whenever I had any doubts, hardships, challenges, or victories. She made the challenging times less lonely and the good times more happy. Loretta helped motivate me when I was feeling low, and helped me get that second wind of confidence when I felt like I cannot achieve the impossible. My sister Jennifer also allowed me to have a safe outlet to express my stresses and worries, and her encouragement helped push me along and reach harder for my goals. Her understanding and simply just being there to let me vent, was super comforting and I am so grateful. Lastly, my life partner Alex, he is my best friend and biggest fan and always believed in me and my abilities.  He encourages me and supports me through all the ups and downs and helped give me confidence when I had none.  His comfort and support, especially during this pandemic, helped keep me from falling into deep depression.  So super special shout-out to my loving amazing partner Alex for being everything I needed and ever wanted during this crazy journey of being an creative entrepreneur and business owner. My loving support group of my friends and family really makes my story more fulfilled because they taught me so much on how to grow my business and be a valuable human being. They help influence my philosophies as a business owner and molded me into the person I am today. I learned so much from them and I strive to give back as much as I can, to provide and return the love that they have given me.

Website: www.lilynleos.com
Instagram: lilynleoscafe
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lilynleos
Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/lily-and-leo-s-boutique-caf%C3%A9-fullerton

Image Credits
Alex Mo Photography

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.