Taylor Hoang is the recipient of Crosscut’s 2015 Courage Award for business. This year’s winners will be honored at the annual Courage Awards Breakfast on October 29 at Benaroya Hall. A limited number of tables and tickets are still available through Brown Paper Tickets.
In the heat of last year’s debate over raising Seattle’s minimum wage, it became clear to Taylor Hoang that minority and immigrant business owners were largely left out of the conversation.
“When Kshama Sawant talked about the $15 minimum wage, she [talked] about protecting the immigrant community,” says Hoang, owner of the Pho Cyclo Café restaurants. “But what people forget is that a lot of immigrants are also business owners, and they're not making any more money than their employees.”
To raise these entrepreneurs’ voices and give them better representation in the debate, Hoang founded the nonprofit Ethnic Business Coalition. The coalition is helping business owners modernize their image. Doing so can be as basic as making sure a grocery store or a struggling restaurant has a Facebook page or website. “A lot of businesses don't even have any type of digital footprint – not even a website or social media,” she says.
In August, Hoang launched Ethnic Seattle, a website that provides neighborhood guides to places such as Rainier Valley and West Seattle, promotes local events, and shares recipes. Ethnic Seattle writers present information in a unique way: by allowing readers to meet the people in the community through stories.
Hoang knows the struggle of ethnic business owners from personal experience. Her mother was a nurse during the Vietnam War and was later sent to a concentration camp. She fled to the United States with Taylor in 1982, but she couldn’t find work because of her limited English. She opened Huong Binh, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Little Saigon neighborhood in 1993. Today, Hoang says her mother still works 12-hour days to make ends meet.
Hoang hopes that the Ethnic Business Coalition will help immigrant business owners like her mother to thrive in the Seattle business landscape. “Media tends to stereotype our ethnic neighborhoods,” she says. “For example, when you hear the International District, you hear about 'cheap eats,' but not that it’s an experience or that it’s something to be valued and to enjoy as part of everyday [life] … I think that really does have a negative impact on businesses here, because they don't get to be part of the mainstream business community.”
“Ethnic and immigrant owned businesses are part of what makes Seattle unique and their vitality is essential to our city,” wrote Seattle Mayor Ed Murray in an e-mail. "In her work with the Ethnic Business Coalition, Taylor Hoang draws attention to this amazing diversity and propels it into the mainstream.”
The third annual Courage Awards will take place the morning of October 29. This year’s event will feature a keynote address from New York Times columnist Tim Egan, as well as a panel discussion with the Courage Awards winners and Crosscut’s own Knute Berger. A limited number of tables and tickets are still available through Brown Paper Tickets. Every dollar donated at the Crosscut Courage Awards supports Crosscut’s in-depth, quality coverage of critically underreported local and regional issues.