💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
Noodle Nguyen has seen clients come into his nail salon during the worst days of their life.
Sometimes their stories aren’t easy to hear, and there isn’t anything he can say to remedy their pain. He can, however, change their day by giving them the most banging set of nails they’ve ever had. Which is the best part of the job, Nguyen said.
“People cry to us all the time,” he said in unison with his wife, Loan Nguyen, who helps him run Nu Bella Nails in Kensington.
“We listen to their stories,” Loan Nguyen added. “We’re basically their therapists, and we try to lift them up and make them feel good.”
A neighborhood staple for the past decade, the shop at Front and Jasper Streets has always taken the trade seriously. But 3 years ago the couple decided to take a nail class in Cherry Hill, and the Nguyens learned how to create more intricate designs with the advanced techniques. Now, well — the results speak for themselves.
Nu Bella Nails is one of the organizations featured for celebrating diversity through art on the latest episode of Movers & Makers, airing Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on WHYY-TV, and available online.
The work can take up to six hours, so the Nguyen’s prefer to talk to clients directly to book appointments so they can work through the design process together.
That’s a lesson learned from experience. When Nu Bella first introduced the intricate nail art, some clients pushed for the design to be done in half the time. Now, most clients know what they’re getting into when they ask for lavish sets, and they give the couple total artistic freedom.
“Whenever they let us just do what we want, I love it,” Loan said. “I know my clients’ tastes, know what colors they’re into, but I still do what I want and they love it.”
Many customers have become like family.
“When I’m sick they’ll bring us medicine, when we’re working they bring us food, they take care of us,” Noodle said.
Nu Bella Nails promotes their designs on Instagram, which has 24k followers and growing. Posts are typically flooded with fire emojis, and people asking how to book.
An autumn-inspired set of nails had people flocking to Nu Bella’s comment section. “Noodle DID THAT,” posted one person emphatically. And the reach goes way beyond Philly. One commenter said they’re “def flying in soon for an appointment.”
Inspired by the class they took, the Nguyens decided they wanted to help other nail artists throughout the city perfect their technique. Two years ago, they began hosting classes for aspiring nail techs.
“We didn’t get that proper education until we took that class so why don’t we create that for other people,” Noodle added.
Smaller classes are offered at the Nu Bella salon, but sometimes when they collaborate with a well known nail tech — like Jenni Bui, who does Cardi B’s nails — they’ll rent out a venue and accept up to 40 students at a time.
Noodle Nguyen says their success exemplifies the “American Dream,” although it’s been far from easy. The couple often has to work six days a week, with some sleepless nights. But they do it so that they can give their kids a better life, something their parents did for them, he said.
“I have two kids now and I really want them to have the support we didn’t have as far as choosing careers,” Loan Nguyen added. “We want to fully support them in what they want to do because you gotta do what you love.”