A life in chapters

Librarian, entrepreneur lives out her American dream

Posted on May 1, 2018 :: Side Hustle
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

When Yee Vue was 4 years old, her parents came to the United States, fleeing a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand. Times were tough, and Vue’s parents saw the United States as “the land of opportunities.”

That was 1991. Today, Vue has done her parents proud — succeeding at not just one, but several careers. The 31-year-old mother of four is a full-time librarian at the Appleton Public Library while on the side helping her husband, Thong Vue, manage the Appleton restaurants they own — City Café and the new Bowl 91, which opened earlier this year.

“We’re really living that dream that my parents planted for us,” says Vue. “For me, it’s really about living my dream; my library job is my career … being an entrepreneur is about building dreams and creating opportunities for others; it’s about giving people chances.”

Vue’s grandmother had already settled in Appleton, so she sponsored Vue and her family coming to the United States, where Vue’s family settled in Kaukauna. Her parents started selling produce at the Downtown Appleton Farm Market and later opened Mai’s Deli in Appleton.

“When I was still going to school, I was helping my mom (who didn’t speak English),” says Vue. “That kind of inspired me to start my own business. I was their translator and did everything from marketing to filing paperwork.”

That role primed Vue for launching her own restaurants: City Café, which features a mix of Western and Eastern cuisine, and Bowl 91, which presents the flavors of Asia.

“We have learned so much from her business,” says Vue. “We didn’t have a lawyer, we didn’t have an accountant; we had to learn a lot of things.”

With four kids and multiple responsibilities to juggle, Vue credits her supportive family with helping her balance it all. Family helps watch her children, and her husband manages both restaurants. She continues to get motivation from her mother, who worked at a factory and saved her money to pay for her children’s college funds.

“If she didn’t save and she didn’t invest, we wouldn’t have this,” Vue says. “All of that kind of plays into who I am. I feel like I always had to be this mature individual … (I had) so much responsibility; I’m really used to this fast-paced environment.”

That environment extends to the library, where Vue, an adult services/engagement librarian, loves doing adult programming. She also leads the Refugee and Immigrant Services in Education program, which helps refugees integrate into the community.

Adriana McCleer, community partnerships supervisor at Appleton Public Library, calls RISE a “perfect example of a program that equips and empowers individuals for their future.”

“Yee’s flexible approach to planning allows the program to respond to specific language and literacy, employment development and social needs and interests that build on the assets that refugees and immigrants already possess from their previous experiences,” McCleer says. “Yee’s compassion and warmth breaks down language barriers and cultural barriers and fosters genuine connections with RISE participants.”

McCleer credits Vue and her colleagues for building partnerships with other community agencies such as Fox Valley Literacy Council, The Building for Kids Children’s Museum and St. Joseph Food Program, to enrich the RISE experience. 

“For me, it’s a passion,” Vue says.

Side hustle: Bowl 91
On the web: www.bowl91.com