The view from the other side of the nail bar

The view from the other side of the nail bar

The view from the other side of the nail bar
July 28
13:23 2017

Nail technicians and manicurists often seem quiet and to themselves while pressing on acrylics, applying wax to eyebrows and painting layers on nails. With so many nail salons around Denton and such a wide variety of manicurists at each salon, learning nail technicians’ names and their stories are at the back of customers’ minds as they get their nails done.

But nail technicians have lives outside of the nail salon, just like their customers. They’re busy with families, stressed with bills and trying to make it in the growing city of Denton.

Many of them have struggles of their own beyond getting a chipped nail.

“This job is really hard,” said Henry Pham, a Happy Nail Spa technician. “[But] everything that we do, we try the best we can to make the customer happy. That’s all we do.”

Pham has been a nail technician in the United States for over 14 years. He came to America from Vietnam in 1991 with hopes of finding a better life.

“I was born during the war in Vietnam,” Pham said. “It’s not fun at all. It’s not fun when you grow up out there.”

The 46-year-old is a first-generation Vietnamese-American, as his mother was Vietnamese and his father was an American-born soldier.

Pham said being an American soldier’s son made growing up in Vietnam difficult, because it was frowned upon by others. Growing up during the war period also presented challenges and hardships that have made lasting impressions on Pham.

“They can do whatever they want to you,” Pham said. “Steal from you, hurt you – it’s horrible.”

While he has faced different challenges in America than he the ones he faced in Vietnam, standing up for himself is what has made him into the happy, perseverant nail technician many in Denton love — and are willing to be on a waiting list for.

In an industry created solely by customer service, nail technicians must provide excellent service or fail to receive tips for the time spent doing the service.

Many nail technicians and manicurists work multiple weeks in a row, as Pham does, just to put food on the table or gas in the car. He usually works seven days a week, painting nail after nail in a systematic fashion.

“That’s what I have to do,” Pham said. “I do everything I can to support my family.”

His family includes his 18-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. With his sister in Vietnam and his parents both deceased, Pham works to make his children’s lives better than his was.

“I don’t have much family around here, [so] everything I do, I do for them,” Pham said.

His ultimate goal is to put both his children through school so they can start doing what they love straight out of the gate.

Pham said since he thinks he is halfway through his lifetime, he works hard not for himself, but for those around him.

“If they don’t have any education, they cannot get better jobs,” Pham said. “It makes for a better life. In 15 to 20 years, college won’t do anything for me anymore. But for my children and the younger generations, [it will].”

While he strives to provide the opportunity of education to his children, it’s the people surrounding Pham on a daily basis who also keep him loving his job.

Although Pham has only been working at the Happy Nail Spa in Denton for a year and a half, he has already developed a large fan base with regulars who request his service by name.

“I have about three or four regulars a day,” Pham said. “I’m really happy to see my customers.”

For regular customer Vikki Summerall, Pham provides a sense of trust. Summerall moved to Texas from Arizona, and hasn’t stopped coming to Pham since she discovered the shop.

Summerall gets her nails done with Henry every month, and she said he is the nicest nail technician she’s ever had.

“This is the only nail salon I will go to,” Summerall said. “Ever since he’s been here, he’s been doing my nails.”

And even though not all customers are able to get their nails done by Pham, they take time to appreciate technicians’ willingness to help them fulfill their nail dreams.

Hair salon receptionist Haylee Hendricks is able to get her nails done whenever she has the time, and believes employees like Pham should be treated with respect and kindness.

For some people, getting their nails done can be a biweekly occurrence. For others, it’s a luxury. But whatever the reason is, Hendricks said people should take time to appreciate the technicians who spend their days scrubbing feet and getting acrylic dust in their face.

“Their job is to help you feel good and look good when you get your nails done,” Hendricks said.

Although blocking out his struggles can be challenging, Pham stays positive when looking at his hardships. He believes working to help others is better than standing around doing nothing.

While customers may just walk in and out of the salon, each client and opportunity plays a special part in Pham’s life.

“You have to always be looking forward, and never backwards, because the back has already happened and you don’t have to go back,” Pham said. “I don’t care what’s happened to me in the past. I know it’s hard, but if you do the best you can, you’ll have a happy life.”

Featured Image: Henry Pham, a nail technician, has been at Happy Nails on S. Loop 288 for a year and a half. Happy Nails is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Cameron Roe

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Nina Quatrino

Nina Quatrino

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