Henrico County VA

Growing opportunities

Asian-American-owned businesses thriving

Minny South was born nearly 9,000 miles away from Henrico County, where she opened an optometrist office in 2008.

Her family moved from Laos to California when she was five years old. She attended college in California and optometry school in Florida before moving to Virginia.

South, whose given name is Khammany Southammavong, said she feels at home doing business in eastern Henrico.

“I love the people who come in here. I’ve found the clientele that I like,” she said.

The office in White Oak Village sees lots of foot traffic and the area offers a large pool of potential patients. That’s one reason South said she chose the location.

“I felt like the opportunity was great here. There are not a lot of doctors in the area.”

South launched her business just as the economy was taking a hit. Owning a business during a recession hasn’t been easy. In fact, South said getting started presented one of her biggest challenges.

“It is hard being a woman starting a business. I started this place without capital,” she said. “I couldn’t get a business loan because I had just gotten out of school. It was really hard getting a loan. So I bugged a lot of family members.”

After three and half years, South said she has learned a great deal about running a business and she’s learning more each year.

Even during the recession thousands of Asian-Americans ventured into business ownership in Virginia. Last month, the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce (VACC) celebrated entrepreneurship among Asians.

The chamber reports that Virginia had about 30,450 Asian-American owned firms in Virginia in 2002. Now there are more than 44,500. Hundreds are located in Henrico County.

Zain Afzal and his parents, Rizwan Afzal and Sadia Rizwan, owned a restaurant for about five years in Midlothian. In January 2012 they relocated to Short Pump, where the family lives.

“We always planned on moving the business to the West End,” they wrote in an e-mail. “We wanted to open a location in Short Pump because the area is booming especially for ethnic cuisine.”

Kabab Grille, their small restaurant in Towne Center West, specializes in Zabiha halal Punjabi/Pakistani cuisine.

Malik Khan of the Asian American Society of Central Virginia said he expects the number of Asian-American owned businesses in the county, especially restaurants, to continue growing as the population changes.

“The primary reason, I think, is because of the growing Asian-American population in Henrico County and these restaurants do provide a much needed service. More importantly they provide jobs,” Khan said.

Andy and Eunice Zhang have just started new jobs and created a few new jobs for others. The couple, originally from China, opened Red Nails 2 salon in Willow Lawn Shopping Center this month.
Eunice Zhang gives a pedicure while her
husband, Andy, talks with an employee
in the background at their Red Nails 2
salon in Willow Lawn.

On a recent Saturday morning, Andy Zhang put out trays of cookies and cupcakes for the salon’s grand opening while his wife gave a client a manicure.

The Zhangs are two of Henrico County’s newest entrepreneurs, after working for years at his family’s restaurants from Baltimore to Richmond.

Andy Zhang said his wife didn’t like the long working hours in restaurants so she trained to become a nail technician. After getting her certificate, she worked in salons.

“She had a dream. Her dream [was] to own a nail salon,” Andy Zhang said during an interview in one of the salon’s waxing rooms. “I’m her husband so I wanted to make her dream come true.”

The couple worked and saved money for about five years toward their dream.

Meanwhile, the owner of the original Red Nails (also in Willow Lawn) offered to help the Zhangs get started. Red Nails 2 opened once the shopping center expanded this spring.

Andy Zhang said getting everything ready for opening day was difficult. He described how they had to find all of the equipment and furniture and oversee building the salon from scratch.

“We spent a lot of time but it’s worth it. It’s worth it,” he said. Then he headed out of the side room to greet two new customers.
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