From refugee camp to her own luxury salon

SANDUSKY For a luxury spa experience, North Coast residents need not travel to Paris -- but they sho
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010



For a luxury spa experience, North Coast residents need not travel to Paris -- but they should look for the Eiffel Tower.

French Nails & Spa Owner Brandie Pham Cain seeks to provide her customers with manicures, pedicures and facials that have the quality of a high-end salon without the high-end price tag.

After working in metropolitan areas across the coast, Pham Cain settled here, at the spa with the iconic tower as its logo along U.S. 250.

"I've moved all over the United States, but this is my favorite spot because it's the best place for raising children," the Huron resident said.

As she buffs a client's fingernails and pushes back the cuticles, Pham Cain, 36, said her loyal customers are what have kept her in the business for 17 years.

A native of Vietnam, she fled to the United States with her family at the age of 7 to escape Communist soldiers in 1980.

"In Vietnam, they would let you survive, but not live," she said. "My mom knew we wouldn't have an education if we stayed."

Before moving to Sacramento, Calif., she and her parents and five siblings spent three years in a refugee camp -- an experience she said she did not fully grasp until years later.

As a child, she said, it simply meant there was always someone to play with and something to do, but every activity was monitored.

Each person was issued two outfits to wear during their stay, and waiting for food was part of the daily routine. There were also occasional bombings adding to the fear and uncertainty.

In California, Pham Cain began working at a salon while in high school and became a licensed manicurist at 18. She went on to college to pursue a degree in accounting at California State University but decided she preferred working with people to crunching numbers.

Walking in open-toed heels that showcase fluorescent pink toenails, Pham Cain points out a section of the salon she is converting to a facial room.

Her husband, Shawn Cain, is a full-time student earning a degree in manufacturing engineering, so she works 10 hours a day, six days a week to make ends meet.

With two sons who are 13 and 4, she's up by 5:30 a.m. every day. After simultaneously cooking breakfast and dinner and driving the boys to school, she manages to squeeze in a few loads of laundry before arriving at the salon at 10 a.m.

Most nights, she doesn't make it home until after 8 p.m., giving her a few short hours to spend with her family before they head off to bed.

"Things are very tight right now," she said. "Family time is very important to me, and my husband is great -- he works around their schedule."

At the salon, she emphasizes the use of natural products and formulas which are free of methyl methacrylate, or MMA -- a cheap adhesive that can be destructive to nail enamel and hazardous to one's health. There are no hidden costs for services, such as trimming extra-long nails -- just one upfront price, she said.

In addition to the traditional acrylic nail sets, she offers silk, solar and airbrushed nails and provides a full array of spa services, including paraffin wax dips or sea salt scrubs. She welcomes walk-ins or appointments and willingly accepts groups, from bridal parties to birthdays.

"I like my customers to relax," she said. "I want to do something affordable that's a high-end experience."