Listen: Origin Story – Bich Kieu Jewelry
Bich Kieu Jewelry is a family-owned custom jewelry retailer and repair shop that has been doing business in Seattle for over 25 years—though the business is much older than that. “This is fourth generation—my great grandparents were in the jewelry business in Vietnam,” says owner Pham Lang. “When we came over here as refugees, we wanted to continue the tradition. So my parents reopened the business under the same name we had back in Saigon, Vietnam.”
Lang has a passion for jewelry design, and the business’s high-quality custom work and fast, friendly customer service have earned them a dedicated customer base both in the Vietnamese community and in the broader Seattle community as well. The business counts Macklemore as one of its loyal customers, in fact: Lang tells us that the rapper has been buying custom pieces and gifts for his family from Bich Kieu for years.
Lang first came to the U.S. in 1980 and lived in Portland, Oregon until he was able to sponsor the rest of his family, who were living as refugees in Germany at the time, to join him in the States. After settling in Seattle, Lang’s parents opened Bich Kieu’s original location at 1228 South Jackson Street in 1991 while Lang worked as an engineer at Boeing. “Then, back in 1995, they decided to pass the legacy to me, to carry on. So ever since then, I run the store,” he says.
Running the family business with his wife, Quyen, was very different from his career at Boeing. “It’s harder to be your own boss—you have a lot of responsibility as well as working seven days a week,” Lang says. “But I love it. That’s the only reason why we still carry on.” Quyen works at the store alongside Lang and is a great business partner. “She is a good QA, you know. I have to pass quality control,” he says. “You always want a second opinion.”
Several years ago, the business ran into a familiar problem for many small business owners: frustration with their landlord. When the owner of the South Jackson Street location was unwilling to sell the space to Bich Kieu, Lang ultimately found and bought their current space at 423 Rainier Ave South in Little Saigon, where they’ve been ever since.
People dreaming of starting their own small business should focus on doing things right the first time, Lang advises, and work on finding their niche in the face of competition from retail giants. Bich Kieu, for example, has found its niche in custom jewelry and repair and through its connection to the local Vietnamese community.
Small business owners should also be prepared to work hard: “Lot of people, they just want five days a week, 9-5 and go home,” he says. “But I guess I love the jewelry business. The only thing I ever worry is if my wife will ever fire me!”
You can visit Bich Kieu Jewelry at 423 Rainier Ave South in Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood. Drop by to check out their selection, commission a custom gift, or just get your watch battery replaced, seven days a week.