“It was about time.”
“This changes everything.”
These are just some of the comments that have surfaced for Chef Jenny Nguyen, Founder Sports bra bar in Portland, Oregon. In a little more than a year, Nguyen and Bra bar have created a vibrant community of women supporting women, and one that extends far beyond places to watch women’s sports. And, even if the ‘question’ isn’t open, her endeavor has asked everyone to take notice and perhaps follow suit.
See what happens when you support people.
Basketball and cooking were two constants for Nguyen, even in the most uncertain times. However, the former professional chef found herself at a crossroads after bouncing from one commercial kitchen job to another. Then, after a five-year hiatus from professional kitchens all together, and in the midst of a pandemic when it seemed like everyone had it who am I reckoning period, and she found herself in the same predicament. With pressure from her partner, Nguyen eventually tapped into the kernel of an idea that kept popping up.
As a huge fan of women’s sports, she recalls countless occasions when she and her friends would go to traditional sports bars in hopes of catching their favorite team’s game. Each visit would reveal one disappointment after another. In many cases, women’s games would be nowhere in sight; in other cases, the bartender may switch one television to the game; furthermore, if the game was on at all, it would be in a far corner or in the smallest set.
During the 2018 NCAA Championship Game, the biggest game of the year, Notre Dame vs. Mississippi State, fans were on the edge of their seats. It was an exciting game, and after a wide margin and then a three-point shot at the end of the game, Notre Dame got up and won the game. It was a remarkable triumph. As expected, there was cheering, there was celebration.
But guess what? Nguyen and her group watched the game in silence because the sound wasn’t even on. As she said Radio Cherry Bomb host and founder, Kerry Diamond, in a recent podcast, “I realized that the only way we’re going to watch women’s sports is if we have our own place.” Even the name Sports Bra came to Nguyen very quickly in the days following that pivotal experience, she says. “As soon as I thought that, I couldn’t change my mind.”
Until Nguyen hadn’t what more can i do at the moment of the pandemic, that the seeds that were planted three years before were discovered. “I thought, I was just sitting there hunched over. Along with millions of other people, everyone was given the opportunity to reassess their place in the world and their priorities.” After researching and planning, and finding a location in her hometown, Nguyen was encouraged to launch a Kickstarter to see if the idea could become a reality.
There was a great risk. She set out on a new path, one that had never been done before, and in a realm beyond her own previous experiences. She knew she was taking a risk, and yet, even if she couldn’t say it at the time, she knew it wasn’t just about opening a bar; it was about creating community. She was creating a community of women who would feel seen, respected and welcomed.
“Jenny is such an example of change and action,” says Diamond in the introduction to the podcast. Nguyen says it was important to her to create a space that not only supports women, but young girls as well. That’s why the Sports Bra is open for all ages until 10 p.m. Thinking about herself as a 13-year-old athlete, as a 13-year-old queer girl, as a 13-year-old black person, and as a 13-year-old first-generation Vietnamese American, she wonders how things would be different if the intersections of her world were better represented. Well, luckily, now they are.
And women and girls are paying attention. In addition to collaborating with numerous organizations in her community, people are reaching out from all over to connect, thank and acknowledge the literal and figurative space Sports Bra has established. Last fall, together with Amanda J. Cain, who made some historic firsts as an African-American sports photographer, now for the NHL, she and Nguyen hosted a sports photography exhibit, turning the bar into a gallery.
Recently, an 8th grader from Beaverton approached Nguyen to tell her about a year-long action project she was leading at school that revolved around a topic that matters. The young girl wrote and said: “My issue is the inequality in men’s and women’s sports. I chose this topic because I am a competitive softball player and I have always wanted to raise awareness of inequalities and try to help. To help that, I make bracelets out of old baseballs and softballs and sell them to later donate money to an organization that supports the empowerment of women in sports.” Nguyen not only spread the word about the young athlete’s efforts on her social channels, but also personally came out to support her on the day the teenager sold bracelets in her city park.
Nguyen and the Sports Bra not only created a physical space, but opened up a forum for young girls to take action and feel great pride in doing so. Even heavyweights like ESPN have reached out to acknowledge what Sports Bra is doing for sports as a whole, a step closer in an industry that recognizes the importance of leveling the playing field in terms of exposure.
And the food in Sports Bra?
Let’s not forget that Nguyen is a chef after all. The menu at The Sports Bra includes plenty of delicious bar nosh, from burgers and wings to everything in between, but also caters to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free or dairy-free consumers. It was something else, says Nguyen, that traditional sports bars lacked. Although she’s more of an overseer these days, she’s hired a team of seasoned chefs to keep the menu fresh and creative, and one that includes some of her childhood favorites like her mom’s Vietnamese-style baby back ribs and her aunt Tina’s “Vietnamese-wings.” .
The year the Sports Bra opened, enthusiasts across the country expressed their desire to have a Sports Bra around their necks. And now that there is one in the world, most of us respond, ghost. It just makes sense, and yet, as much as Nguyen could see it happening and hope to one day be able to make it a reality, it has to be carefully executed and managed. At the end of the day, it’s about authenticity and creating not only a place, but also a culture.
“I have to keep reminding myself, everything that’s happening is very, very positive. It feels like a lot at once. It’s so much more than I imagined for myself, [and] a bra. The ripple effect of the motion was dramatic and very, very fast. I thought it would end up being a big deal, but I thought it would take a lot longer.”
Jenny, that’s definitely a big deal.
Forbes – Lifestyle