- Jackie Nguyen, 35, used to live in New York but moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 2020.
- Nguyen, who was on Broadway, chose to stay after the COVID lockdowns ended and opened a coffee shop.
- Nguyen said she loves how far her money goes and the more relaxed pace of life in Kansas City.
I actually stayed in Kansas City because of the pandemic. I wasn’t planning to come.
I was born and raised in San Diego, lived in LA for a year, and then lived in New York for 10 years. I always thought I would be in one of the big coastal cities.
I was on tour with Miss Saigon at the time and the pandemic shut down my show. My partner, who was also in the show, was from Kansas City. So we came here temporarily to prevent the pandemic.
I came here in July 2020 and I knew I would stay in July 2021.
It took a while for the theater to come back. When New York started to open up, I had to make a decision: Do I want to go back to New York? Do I want to go back to LA? But I really felt that Kansas City was spinning.
I’m 35 now, so I was just coming out of my late 20s. I started readjusting my expectations of what I needed from a city. There are more opportunities for people who don’t want to be small fish anymore.
Now I feel like a big fish in a small pond. I have never experienced this before. It’s cheaper here and my quality of life is better.
Here’s what I want millennials to know. There are great opportunities in these small mid-sized cities that I didn’t know about until I happened to be here because of the pandemic.
I run my own business and my rent is cheaper
Living in Kansas City is twice as expensive.
I paid $2,100 for a small one-bedroom apartment in Astoria, New York. Another time I paid $1,000 for a railroad flat – but my bedroom was the living room. I paid $2,300 for a one bedroom in Long Island City. I paid $1,100 for a three-bedroom in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Right now, I’m paying $900 for a two bedroom apartment in Kansas City. I have a parking space, an entire basement, a front patio, a back porch, and a washer and dryer. And I’m in a great neighborhood. It’s called Columbus Park and I’m right by the river and 10 minutes from downtown.
In New York, I worked like five jobs. I was a barista in the morning. I went to auditions and classes. Then at night I gave food and looked after children. My life is a little slower now, but I can still apply the hustle.
I started a coffee shop truck in 2020and we opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2022—the first Vietnamese coffee shop here in Kansas City. That’s why we’ve become a hub for the AAPI community in Kansas City. We do all the Heritage Month activities; we do all Lunar New Year activities and Autumn Moon Festival activities for the city.
There is more support for small businesses. It has a more general feel. You don’t feel like you’re lost in a big crowd. Because people have a slower lifestyle, they can focus more on making friends and socializing with friends. Community is a big part of why my business is successful.
LA and New York felt like being on a hamster wheel for me. Obviously, I had to be in New York for the theater. People go to big cities for opportunity, right? But they do not understand that there are opportunities in other cities.
I want to say to other millennials: Don’t live in fear of the unknown. If you feel lost in the hamster wheel, you may fall off. Take a chance on these other little places – you might be really surprised in the end.