Person Behind The Place:
Van Pham Choe
For as long as she could remember, Van Pham Choe has always had a knack for the beauty industry. She started out doing hair and makeup for friends in high school then worked in the bridal business doing lashes in California salons. Once she moved to Washington, Choe opened her first salon and eventually upgraded to a bigger space, measuring up to 250 square feet.
Believing she finally settled into a place, Choe started interviewing stylists for her shop when she heard of another great salon nearby that had planned to go out of business. Out of curiosity, she drove by the place and fell in love with it, so much so she bought it. What was once 850 square feet of empty space has turned into Vanity Pham Salon, a beautifully designed space specializing in lash extensions, permanent makeup, hair removal, natural nail care and makeup artistry. Learn more about Choe's salon space, how the pandemic affected her business and her favorite places in Downtown Bellevue.
How did you come up with the design for the space?
The idea for the design came from one of my clients who ended up being an interior designer. I told her my vision and the color scheme I wanted and she just ran with it, choosing out the furniture and wallpaper. My idea was to keep the space feminine but not cliché. We wanted to utilize the space to fit as many rooms as possible but make sure it didn’t feel claustrophobic. Our space is designed to allow people to immerse themselves in the salon atmosphere or if they want privacy, we have small, enclosed rooms for them too. When our clients come here, we want them to enjoy the music we’re playing, relax and chat about their lives with us.
How have things changed since the pandemic started?
We shut down for three months in the beginning. When we reopened, it was a new world. To stop the spread as much as possible, we started to provide comfortable robes for our clients and scrubs for our employees. The one thing that stayed the same was the fact we already used gloves and masks before the pandemic since we worked in a place that often required close contact with people. The thing that worried me the most was the fact that I was pregnant through the pandemic. My doctor required me to be extra cautious, wearing extra items like goggles. It was a hard time, but our salon and I made it through it.
What type of services do you offer at Vanity Pham Salon?
Our main bread-and-butter service is lashes. We do all kinds of lash services, customizing them for every client. On the side, we do waxing and a natural nail service that uses vegan polish to ensure no unwanted dust and chemicals. What really makes us stand our from other salons is our permanent makeup service like eyebrow tattooing. We even rent the room out to plastic surgeons so clients can get botox done here too. We’re incredibly versatile in what we offer and I think that’s important when it comes to meeting our clients' needs.
Why did you choose Bellevue for your salon?
When I was looking for a place for my first salon, I originally looked at Seattle but gave Bellevue a chance because of the free parking. When I finally had a tour, it was more than just free parking that kept me here. The city has a great environment and Main Street itself has such a cute little ‘boutiquey’ vibe. It’s very similar to what I was used to in California, a bustling city but not too crazy. You have a small number of tourists, but you also have the locals that live and work here. I live in Downtown Bellevue and I feel like everything I need is here.
What is your favorite part about working in Downtown?
My favorite part about working here is how well Bellevue has done to make it a place that people want to come to. The way Downtown is built, all the businesses here feel connected and it becomes a great conversation with our clients. For example, we can suggest dining options and it’s just another great way to find commonality. We want to be a part of the reason why Bellevue is becoming so successful, it’s nice to not feel isolated.
Any favorite places to dine?
There are so many options. I’m a huge fan of The Cheesecake Factory just because they have a variety of dishes. If I’m looking for something closer to work, I tend to go to Monsoon. Their imperial rolls with their pho broth is delicious. Our salon staff loves Pagliacci Pizza. I’d go there but I couldn’t get a slice just for myself, so I end up getting a box for all of us.
Any hidden gems you'd like to share?
There’s this restaurant I love, Black Bottle, that I don’t hear about much from others. When our kids are in bed my husband and I love to go there for a quick bite to eat and great drinks.
Now that the new year has arrived, what are you looking forward to?
I think one of my personal goals for the salon is to be more involved in local charities. Last year with the pandemic, we were in survival mode just trying to claw our way through 2020. But as I said before, we made it through COVID-19 and have seen huge growth, bigger than years prior. We’ve done a lot of internal changes in 2021 to accommodate more clients and our staff has grown in numbers. We’re in a really good position right now to figure out ways to do more for the community. We used to cook dinners and deliver them to The Sophia Place, and did toy drives during the holidays ... we want to be able to do that again. We’ve grown and we finally have the energy and time to focus on the people outside of our salon.
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Person Behind the Place is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.
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Vanity Pham Salon
136 102nd Ave SE
Bellevue, WA 98004