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Episode #102

Jenny Nguyễn - Sports Bra

with Jenny Nguyen

18 Jan, 2023

Today we are speaking with The Sports Bra Founder, chef and basketball player Jenny Nguyen. Through the Sports Bra, Jenny is reinventing the typical American Sports Bar to promote women sports. 

Voice In Sport
Episode 102. Jenny Nguyen
00:00 | 00:00

Transcript

Stef

[00:00] Welcome to our founder series on the Voice in Sport podcast, where we're bringing more visibility to incredible women entrepreneurs in the sports industry. In this series, we highlight women athletes who started their own companies in sport and beyond. We will share their biggest tips for succeeding in the industry, their founder story, and just how these women built their incredible companies.

[00:21] We hope this inspires you to build your own company or tap into your potential as a leader and build better products and services for women in sport. If you have any ideas on potential guests, we'd love to hear them. Please email us @infovoiceinsport.com. Today we are speaking with The Sports Bra, founder, chef, and basketball player, Jenny, through The Sports Bra.

[00:44] Jenny is reinventing the typical American sports bar, and she's doing it to promote women's. She features women athletes inspired drinks like our favorite specialty cocktail called Title ix. Jenny is clear though that spa is not just for women. This bar is for women's sports, and at this bar all are welcome to come and watch exclusively women's sports on the tv.

[01:10] Jenny's Bar has been featured in prominent magazines like Vogue, and we're so excited to chat with her today about the incredible vision that she has  . In this episode, Jenny speaks about the mission of The Sports Bra, how she funded her own business, what makes The Sports Bra different from other restaurants and bars. Her commitment to supporting locally owned and operated women run businesses. and finally, the role The Sports Bra plays in raising awareness of the lack of coverage for women athletes.

[01:42] Before we get started, if you love this podcast, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast and Spotify, and check out our extended version of this episode on the Voice in Sport platform. 

[01:53] Welcome to the Voice in Sport podcast, Jenny. I'm so excited to have you.

Jenny 

[01:57] Thanks for having me.

Stef

[01:58] Well, I've admired what you have created from afar, and it's only fitting that I think we're coming here together today to talk about how we bring more visibility to so many things that are unfortunately unjust or not included today within the sports industry. And we also have something in common, we've both created safe spaces as one of like the core pillars of what we, what we did in creating our companies. 

(background music starts)

[02:22] Mine is a virtual community full of women athletes from around around the world. And yours is a bar. So although, we have some similarities, we have some differences. And I would love to kind of go back to just your initial, the initial moment that you had when you first thought of the concept of The Sports Bra. Bring us back to that moment.

Jenny

[02:46] Yeah. I mean, so it kind of goes back to my friends and I, we met playing pickup basketball. I was part of this pickup league where we would rent out public school gyms around town. And we were all playing basketball together probably 12, 13 years. And almost everyone I know to this day is from that basketball pickup group.

[03:08] Anyway, before and after our pickup games, we would sometimes want to go out and watch women's sports and so we would pick a different sports bar around town and meet up there. And it was always a challenge to find the games on tv. And so it was constantly like asking to change a channel. Sometimes there was other big games, men's sports games on and they were like, no and then we'd be stuck there with like beers and nothing to watch. But in particular, there was one moment that was kind of the aha moment, and that was during the championship game for the NCAA finals women's basketball in 2018. And my friends and I, we got together and we were just like, oh, it's the final game, like biggest game of the year.

[03:46] This is definitely gonna be on tv. And we go into the sports bar and there's probably 30 plus TVs in there and none of 'em have the game on. So we asked the server, you know, to change the channel and she was like, Oh, absolutely no problem. And so we put some tables together cuz it was kind of a larger group of us and we proceeded to watch this game and it was Notre Dame versus Mississippi State and it was like a 23 point deficit come back from behind and a last second three pointer to win the, the win to win the thing.

[04:15] And we lost it. Like, I remember standing up and like throwing my hat across the restaurant and like high fiving everybody. And then realizing that no one else in the bar was watching the same game as us. So everyone was kind of looking at us like we were nuts, right. But it was fine. We had a good time.

[04:33] And as we were leaving, we were all in the parking lot, and I was just like, Oh my God, what a great game. And one of my friends was like, Yeah, it would've been better if the sound had been on. And I think it was at that moment where, because I hadn't realized that the sound wasn't on, it was at that moment where I, it was like an epiphany where it was just like, I have gotten so used to watching women's sports in public, not in its full glory.

[04:54] Right. It was the, one of the smallest TVs in the restaurant, it was the biggest game. And right then I said, the only way we're ever gonna watch a women's game, with everything is if we opened our own place.

[05:05] And that I said it, but I didn't mean anything by it. And I think later on that day I was driving around and I was just like, Hmm, if we had our own spot, what would we call it? And immediately I thought of The Sports Bra. Like it was the very first thing that I thought of, and it just made a lot of sense.

[05:19] You know, to me it was like, all it, it would just be a sports bar, and all we're doing is changing the channel.  And so all you're doing is switching a couple letters. So, then it became a running joke. So between my girlfriend and I, and like our friends, our close friends, whenever we went out, we would be frustrated with something, you know, and we'd be like, Oh, at The Sports Bra this game would be on or at The Sports Bra the women's bathroom would always be clean or, you know, just on and on and on.

[05:45] A lot of, you know, I have a couple dietary restrictions and those kinds of things aren't really met at a lot of sports bars. And so that was another thing I'd be like, at The Sports Bra, we'd have vegan nachos, we'd have gluten-free buns, you know, that kind of thing.  So that's how it was. It was just this running joke. Until it wasn't. 

Stef

[06:03] Okay, so that brings me to my next question. I guess at what point, you know, did you, did you actually sit there and say to yourself, alright, you know, these are great ideas, but an entrepreneur is one who takes an idea and actually creates action. So at what point did you take action and, you know, how did you get yourself there as a first time entrepreneur.

Jenny

[06:25] Yeah. So it was never really in my mind to do it at all. It was always just a joke.  In fact, so prior to this, I was a chef and I'd been cooking for about 15 years and people constantly asked me when I was gonna open my own place, like, You're really good at this. When are you gonna open your own place? And I was like, Never. Like there's like, I love. My free time. There's nothing I love enough to work that hard for, you know what I mean?  So it, it was never an idea for me.  I mean, most people in my life know this about me already, but I'm like really efficient because I will try to find the fastest way to get something done.

[07:02] But what happened was I had quit chefing about six years ago for a multitude of reasons, but I didn't have a game plan for what I was gonna do next. So I kind of just took a sabbatical. And so I had been unemployed for a while and then 2020 happened and it really flipped everything on its head, you know, for the entire world.

[07:27] And with all the social justice movements on top of that. It forced me to reevaluate my life, what I was doing  what my priorities really were. And I started to feel like helpless and like, like I wanted, I felt like I had something to offer, but I wasn't sure what that was, you know?

[07:47] And my only career had ever been cooking, so I was just like thinking, okay I wanna help what can I do? And I just was thinking about food things and I was like, Oh, maybe I can join, like, you know, World Kitchen and travel around to disaster areas and help cook and stuff like that. But I, you know, I love being at home too, so it was that at that point that my girlfriend at the time was just like, Hey, you know how you always joke about The Sports Bra? And I was like, Yeah. And she goes, Why don't you do that ? And when she said it, I laughed because I didn't understand. Because again, it, it was just this like joke and I didn't understand how that had any impact on anything, especially with the world being on fire, basically.

[08:28] And the more we talked about it, the more it was like, Oh, you know, like maybe it can help just our little pocket here in Portland.  Another thing is I was born and raised here in Portland, and so this is my hometown. And to kind of see it get run through the ringer during the pandemic was really hard for me because I was here the whole time and it's beautiful still.

[08:52] I mean, it's hard everywhere. And we went through some stuff here for sure, but there was still beautiful people doing beautiful things here and nobody was talking about that. And so the idea of bringing something like a little bit of good news back to Portland felt really good to me. And then, you know, two things that I would consider, like my first loves, basketball and cooking, kind of made a lot of sense. And I was like, Hmm. So it really became that kind of with her mentioning it and the more we talked about it, it was kind of like, Okay, maybe this could be something good. And this was August of 2021. So very recent that I started to consider it as a real thing. 

Stef

[09:32] What is the mission of The Sports Bra?

Jenny

[09:36] The mission of The Sports Bra is pretty simple. It's to support, empower, and promote women and girls in sports. And when it came down to opening the Bra and, you know, discovering, you know, we gotta write a menu and we gotta have drinks to serve, we started to fold in supporting local women owned businesses as part of that.

[09:56] And then little things started to crop up. Like I needed some furniture built and so I found a non-profit that teaches young girls to do carpentry work and so they built some furniture for us. So it's always about supporting, promoting, and empowering girls and women on and off the field.

Stef

[10:15] I love that. And what was your vision when you started The Sports Bra?

Jenny 

[10:21] I think I grossly underestimated what the impact of something like this would be.  Originally I had just thought it was a place for people like me, people who love sports, women's sports, and a place to watch it. And I like to party a little bit, so I like to go out and drink and eat food. I think that that's part of an experience in building a community. And so I just wanted a space that felt safe to do so.  That was my initial vision. And then once I started to like actually get things in line, you know, when people say having a seat at the table, it's not just making a seat, but making a table for people to come to. And that's kind of what it's starting to feel like.

Stef

[11:00] I love that. And compared to your competition out there what is your positioning and what makes someone choose investing in you?

Jenny

[11:09] Well, I guess the cool thing is there's not really much competition. I was able to kind of write it the way I wanted to. So I feel like because nothing like this has ever been done before, it's an easy investment, or it's an easy yes for people who are into the mission. And what's interesting that I found is that what I thought was  women in sports as being who we would be attracting, it's actually resonating with all kinds of people for all different reasons.

[11:40] You know people of color, queer folks, feminists,  even just bar people are really into it. They reach out and they ask me how to create a safe space. So that's what they want, but they don't know how to go about it. And so it becomes a intersectional place. That's why I feel  the Bra almost becoming  a table in itself where people can gather and exchange ideas, and right now it feels like The Sports Bra is kind of like, I feel like a lot of people are talking about it and everybody wants a piece, right? And so I get a lot of people reaching out with all of these great ideas and stuff, but again, we're like the size of a tavern. Like we're tiny. We fit 40 people in here. You know, with all the media and stuff, I feel like The Bra's become like this larger than life thing. It just feels a conduit in a lot of ways for a bunch of different things to meet up I mean, there hasn't been something like this where all of these intersections can come together.

Stef

[12:23] Amazing.  If you had 30 seconds to convince a customer to come to your bar instead of another bar, what would you say?

Jenny

[12:40] I would say, have you ever felt like you didn't belong at a sports bar? And why? Because I feel those reasons are why I opened The Sports Bra.

Stef

[12:52] I love the founder's story and behind, you know, the concept because sometimes some of the most amazing things are built in different ways, right? And how you arrive at that moment to turn it into a business or take that first step is like different for everybody.

[13:08] And I think that's also what's so powerful about this series that we're doing right now, is everybody's story is a little different, different experiences. You didn't even think you were gonna be an entrepreneur, right? And now here you are,

Jenny

[13:19] Never.

Stef

[13:21] So I love it. Well, I wanna dive a little bit more into the name: The Sports Bra. I wanna know if you've ever, you know, received any backlash from like maybe more old school or traditional sports friends that maybe didn't understand the name.

Jenny

[13:35] Mm-hmm. I was really in love with the name and I decided, you know, no matter what anybody said, I was gonna go with it. I think multiple reasons. Kind of like I said before, at the beginning, it was just like, to me, you know, with the pandemic and with everything going on, there seemed to be a lot of really gigantic shifts.  Social justice shifts and global shifts that everybody needed to make. And when you look at a big picture, it seems impossible to make those changes.  And so for me, it felt like with The Sports Bra, it's the tiny changes that make a big difference. And so when I thought about just changing the channel and just changing those two letters, I wanted that to kind of play throughout the entire theme of The Sports Bra.

[14:20] And so we did that with the menu. We did that with what we serve cocktails and beverages and stuff like that. It's, you know, I wanted to feel familiar and everything and all we're doing is just making a small tweak. 

[14:31] Most people loved it. Most people were into it. I think my dad was probably one person who was like  you know, I know that you want men to be there too. Guys won't feel comfortable going into a place called The Sports Bra. And I was just like, Well, if a guy's not comfortable going into a place called The Sports Bra, he was probably a guy that we don't want in there anyway.

[14:52] And then there was a, a local soccer team that's some older lesbians that wrote to me, and they said that they just felt like it was kind of offensive and that those are like private, like it's a private clothing. And I can, I mean, I can understand that, but I also feel like, you know, when you, when you delve deep into the way media has portrayed girls and women in sports in the past they're hypersexualized.

[15:17] And so this idea of The Sports Bra being like up front and center. I mean, it's our logo, it's our name, it's on everything. it's LLCs. So like tax papers come as, as The Sports Bra. It's like the best thing ever. But basically you're kind of taking the taboo out of it, right? And it's an article of clothing that helps women compete, right? And that's, that's all it is. And so when people came up to me and were kind of like, prudish about it, I was like, I understand that, but you know, this is the other side of that. And  now, like nobody bats an eye about, about it at all. And like, and it was few and far between. Most people thought it was hilarious.

[15:58] And like some of my favorite moments are when like, serious people have to say the name and I'm like, Yeah, you had to say it.  One of my favorite stories is  I was going to pick up some  produce that I had forgot to order, and I went to go pick it up at the warehouse and this, this gigantic warehouse with forklifts and like just hoards of stuff going on, pick up trucks, semis, everything.

[16:18] I come in and they're like, Hey Jenny, how's it going? I'm like, Good. And, and they get on the horn and they're just like  pick up for The Sports Bra. Pick up for The Sports Bra. And I can hear it echoing across like the PA system in this entire warehouse. And I was just like, That's right.

Stef

[16:33] Huh. I love it. I love it. Well, how, like, how do you deal with backlash in general? Because  you know, I think your bar is also a safe space that supports LGBTQ+ communities, and you are outspoken about Black Lives Matter and also just about protecting trans lives. So, which we love at VIS. So how do you, how do you deal with any of that backlash and, you know, from uninformed or non-inclusive people who may, might not understand what you stand for?

Jenny

[17:04] Sure. I'm pretty passive. I don't know if there's a better word for that.  So I, when it, when I first opened and there was like some haters out there, I took it personally and  I tried to like, figure out a way I could say something. But I just, I don't like conflict, so I was just like thinking about, thinking about it.

[17:24] And the first time it happened, it was on Instagram or Facebook or something, you know, and somebody got on there and was like running their mouth. And within probably 10 minutes there was like 60 people who like commented back about it from just whoever the community. And it was then that I realized that there are hordes and hoards , more people who support The Sports Bra than don't.

[17:46] And that they'll speak up and they'll say all the things that, you know, I don't have words for, or I'm not comfortable doing.  And I also think that with time I'll probably gain more confidence in that realm because I have said some things, but I, I typically am pretty diplomatic about how I communicate with haters. And I also feel like I don't take it personally at all anymore. It's kind of like a more like a giggle and then, you know, delete the comment.

Stef

[18:12] I mean, it's hard for sure when you, when you have  a lot of that negative comments coming in. And then it's how you represent those communities who often are marginalized and often whose voices are not heard. Which sounds like that is kind of one of the main things you're trying to do with your space.

[18:30] So I think just educating people along the way about like what you stand for is so important, right, to building a brand. So let's talk about how you built your brand and your company. I wanna go a little deeper on this like, entrepreneurial process, right? So it's one thing talking about a starting a bar, but another, when you actually have to execute. So how did you go from the idea and the mission to actually starting up the bar? Like what were the biggest challenges that you faced in that first year?

Jenny

[19:02] Oh my gosh. I mean, everything, like, I think the first thing that I had to do was check my ego and realize that I didn't know anything. I think having been a chef and like run like kitchens and stuff helped with like managerial things and like the food, menu, ordering, inventory, that kinda stuff. I know. But that's really probably ha like 0.5% of everything that I needed to know about. Launching this thing. So that means 99 and a half percent I needed help with. And so realizing I didn't know anything and then  reaching out and finding in people who did and the community stepped up big time.

[19:42] I found a couple mentors that really took me under their wing, really believed in the idea and really helped me to gain insight on a lot of things that I have no idea about. And then I like to call it like the lesbian network here in Portland is very, very large and tight. And so reached out that way and found, and like people came out of the woodworks, people I know and people I didn't know wanted to be a part of this cuz they wanted to see it happen and they wanted to do whatever it takes to, to help make it happen.

[20:11] So I absolutely did not do it alone. Like there's no way anyone does these kinds of things alone. And  I, I often tell people that if there was like a illustration for how it felt going into creating The Sports Bra, it would be like a picture of me from the front standing up. And then if, like you panned around my body, there would be like a thousand hands, like holding me up.

[20:41] Cuz that's really what it took. It was like an entire community to make this happen. I, I mean, my learning curve was like a vertical wall.  Everything was new. There were days where I didn't wanna get out of bed cuz it was just, it was like, this is too hard. Like I don't, like, I don't even know what the next thing is, but you really just take little steps.

[21:02] You know, every day is like, okay, there's 37,000 things to do. I'm gonna do these five and then see how it goes. And then these five, and then these five. And like, yeah, I mean, when I stopped to look at what The Sports Bra is now, just a little after a year after I wrote my business plan, which is crazy to me. Sometimes I don't remember how I got here, you know, like, what happened? How did this happen? I think the first month that we were open, I blacked out.  It was just bonkers. I just, I had to go into like some kind of a, like a mode where I didn't just like straight up pass out from being tired slash overwhelmed

Stef

[21:42] Yeah, I mean, I think it's like from the outside, like you said, sometimes it also can appear to be glorious, right? And like, so amazing to be an entrepreneur. And then like in the back, like those thousand hands that you talked about, it also can be like really lonely and really stressful and, you know, it's, it's not anything where there is consistency especially right at the beginning.

[22:05] So you know, one of the most important things, right, when you're, when you're thinking about starting a company is like your business plan and how you're gonna fund it. So what was your story with funding The Sports Bra, how did you go about that?

Jenny

{22:19] Oh man. So funding was a whole situation. So I started like everyone else. I went to traditional lenders. I went to three or four big banks. I applied for a couple different SBA loans and I got denied by everything. Basically this was back in November of 2021. And so like the Delta variant had just cropped up, and, you know, these big lenders were reading my business plan and they were just like, Jenny, we love this concept. We really do.  But there we can't. Loan you money for it. And bas it was kind of like three reasons. One is that there's a pandemic happening and it's a restaurant, so like, that's super risky.

[23:02] Two, you're a first time business owner, so  you have no experience . And three, it's literally a concept that has never been done before . So it, it does seem like a giant leap for somebody to just give me money for that. it was definitely a setback for me mentally, but I also was kind of like, Okay, well what, what now? Like what else? Because I obviously really wanted this to happen. So my next step was to beg friends and family for money. And so that's what I did and I was able to get some money and then I emptied out my savings account. And with those two things combined, I felt comfortable enough to start looking for a space.

[23:43] And then meanwhile, I reached out to a couple CDFIs that loan money to folks like me. You know when it comes to getting bank loans, women rarely get them for starting a small business. And then those numbers get chopped even more if you're a woman of color. So there are you know, community funding things that are meant for folks like myself.

[24:08] So I was reaching out to them, but it's a long process. They're not very fast about anything. There's all kinds of rigamarole. And so I had applied for those. Wasn't sure if I was ever gonna get those, but I felt like I had just enough to maybe get some equipment, maybe pay maybe the first month of staff and food and let's just do this, let's sign a lease or whatever. So I started looking for places and I thought that it would take me a lot longer to find a location. And so I thought I had more time. But I found a spot pretty quickly and everything happened really fast, a lot faster than I was anticipating. And so I signed a lease and decided to have a Kickstarter just in case the CDFIs didn't pan out and the Kickstarter I remember doing the calculations and I was like, Okay, I think that if I can pay for three months worth of everything with no income, that maybe a CDFI will come through. Maybe something else will come through. And so I, I found that, I found out what that number was, and it seemed really huge to me. I had looked on Kickstarter at other restaurants in Portland and what they were asking for, and the most anyone was asking for was like $15 to $17,000 to kind of get started.

[25:19] And my number was $ 49,000, and I was. , that's a ridiculous amount to ask for from strangers. So I, my girlfriend at the time, we were talking about it and I was just like, I'm gonna ask for 30, like, I think 30 is a much more reasonable number. And she was just like, What are you gonna do with the rest?

[25:40] And I was like, I'll find it. You know, I'll, I'll beg some other friends that you know, I haven't talked to yet, or whatever. And she goes, I think you should just ask for what you need. And I think that that piece of advice is something that I will, it will stay with me forever. Because oftentimes, you know, I think as women we don't ask for what we need because we see it as a, a point of weakness or or maybe we're just used to getting less, or we don't think we deserve it.

[26:07] So she talked, she convinced me into just asking for the full amount. And so that's what I did. And I think we were about two days into the Kickstarter and we'd just gotten like a couple thousand dollars from like, mostly from like friends and family doing like a hundred bucks, 25 bucks or whatever. And a local paper had gotten ahold of our idea and called and did a, like a quick phone interview. And then that afternoon released it on the internet . And my mom texts me and she goes, Have you looked at your Kickstarter today? And I go, no, Why? And she goes, Look at it. And the article was released at one o'clock in the afternoon, and right at one o'clock you could just see the that article had basically launched the Kickstarter, like, and it was like, no, looking back after that moment a bunch of other papers started to get on board. People were reaching out from all across the country,  and the Kickstarter just like went through the roof.

[26:55] We met our goal in nine days. And I had the Kickstarter up for 30 days, and at the end of the 30 days, we'd more than doubled what I'd asked for and so that was the moment where I went from God, because, you know, I, I think the idea idea's great. My friends and family think the idea is great.

[27:12] But like, you don't know when you really sit out into the world how people are gonna react, you know?  My friends and family are all sports people, so of course they're gonna think it's a great idea and they love me, so they're gonna be like, Yeah, we support you.  But when all of that started to happen, I was like, Oh my God, maybe this really can be something.

Stef

[27:31] So incredible. Well, and I wanna go back, Jenny, to what you said, because you got denied by everybody. And you know, a couple of the reasons you mentioned are things that women face, women leaders specifically, or women founders specifically when we're in the workforce or when we're trying to get our ideas funded.

[27:51] And it, it can be really hard, right? We know that like the amount of capital that goes to women entrepreneurs, is much less than men. And when you're talking. Black, Latina, Asian women of color, it's even harder. So the statistics don't lie. And it can be extremely frustrating, right? You if you think you have a great idea and then you're getting nos, nos, nos, nos, nos.

[28:17] It's really easy to quit  and just be like, I guess my idea's not great. I guess like, this isn't a good idea. But sometimes you need to pause and think, Wait a minute, what system am I going to and asking for this money? Was that system designed with anybody like me, or is it being led by anybody like me?

[28:39] And I think it's always a really important question for all the young women that are listening to these podcast episodes on our, with our entrepreneurs, because we don't wanna give up our ideas simply because the people we're asking might not completely understand what we're building. 

Jenny 

[28:57] Mm-hmm. 

Stef

[28:57] So it's important to have that context, right. What advice would you say though? If there's a young entrepreneur out there and they've been told no, I don't know, 50 times, they're going on three months and they're not getting any funding.

(background music starts)

Jenny

[29:13] Oh my gosh. I feel like I'm the last person that should be giving anyone advice. But I think in my case, what helped me was like, I just thought about, like you said, I thought about all the people out there who have really great ideas and they're shut down for one reason or another. And it makes you wonder what kind of a world it would be if everyone was given the opportunity to make that idea a reality.

[29:38] When it comes to other people or thinking about like the needs or I don't know, I'm a lot more motivated when there's someone else to  benefit from something that I'm doing. So I thought about that and that really helped me to be like, you know what and I, I have a great support network. You know, my, my family is pretty middle class, so it's not like if I totally went bankrupt, I'd be like sleeping on the street. Like I have a good backup system.

[30:05] And so I knew that even if I failed, like if I tried and tried and tried and failed, there would still be something for me, you know? It's still scary to fail, obviously. But I, I think, I guess I just had more to lose by not continuing to try.

Elizabeth

[30:21] Thank you for listening to the Voice in Sport podcast. My name is Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player at Emory University and producer of this week's episode. If you enjoy hearing from Jenny Nguyen and would like to get the chance to talk to entrepreneurs like her, go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for free memberships and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly content. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, @voiceinsport. Now let's get back to the episode.

Stef

[30:46] I think it's super inspiring, right? I mean, again, like bringing visibility to amazing women like yourself who are trying things that maybe you felt uncomfortable doing in the first place is. Super inspiring to our community. So I wanna go a little deeper too, and talk about like how you brought your entire concept to life.

[31:06] I mean, being that you're a chef, like you had the background of Menu Creations, and I love some of the cocktails that you have listed, like the Title IX cocktail, and at Voice in Sport, we're doing a lot of work around Title IX. We've advocated with our organization to create a new bill called the Fairplay for Women Act of 2022.

[31:26] And all of that came from all young women athletes working directly with me and going to Capitol Hill and sharing our stories using our voice, bringing more visibility to the issues that women are facing in public schools. And so I'm a big fan of like your menu names . Tell us a little bit about like, I don't know, some of your favorites and like how you ended up developing your menu.

Jenny

[31:49] Sure. To me, really good food doesn't have to be fancy. And so when I go out to sports bars or pubs, like a great burger is key. And so just like the name I really wanted everything to be familiar. So it's really like a lot of popular pub, pub grub, you know, there's nachos, wings burgers, salads, nothing, nothing crazy.

[32:11] But where the difference is or where the tweak, I guess you could say it would be  there's a couple things is all of our beef is sourced from a female rancher out in eastern Oregon, and it's a hundred percent grass fed beef. So it's absolutely the best. And you know, when you take a simple menu to make it great, you just really need great, simple ingredients. And so we, I think that's one of the keys to delicious food. And so it doesn't have to be anything wild. But another thing is that  I'm Vietnamese and so I grew up, my mom cooked dinner every night. And so there's a couple dishes on the menu that are inspired by the family. So we have wings named after my Aunt Tina. I tried to get her wing recipe and she gave it to me and I tried to make it for a large scale restaurant and it just didn't work out.

[32:58] So we had to tweak it big time. I invited her in to try them to make sure that she would put her name on 'em, and she looked at me and she said that these are better than hers. And I was like, No, that's not true, but thank you. So so those wings are inspired by by her. And then there's baby back ribs on the menu that is word for word my mom's  recipe of my favorite dish that she makes. And so those two items are kind of unique, I guess. But still very pub grub kind of thing. 

Stef

[33:28] I love it. Okay, well we need to come up with a more VIS like drink or some something like, something that's like about, I don't know, It's gotta be bold.

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Jenny

[33:37] Sure, Sure. Whate, whatever you want. Whatever you want. And, oh, and when it comes to like  our cocktails and our beer and wines and stuff, all of that stuff is also incorporating local women owned, operated businesses. So we partnered with Freeland Spirits, which is a distillery here in Portland, just over the river, and they are one of a handful of women owned and operated distilleries in the country. And they're right here in our backyard. So they're at the base of all of our signature cocktails. And then we also feature several other women owned, operated distilleries  on our bar shelves.  But then we have 21 taps and every single thing on tap is owned, operated, or has a woman in the beer making process.

[34:21] And some of them are super small, nobody knows about them. And you know, that's what we're here to do is to kind of promote them. And then some of 'em are huge. Like everybody knows Widmer, but nobody knows that the master brewer at Widmer is a woman. And it's interesting because when we opened, you know, we filed for a liquor license, and when that happens, it becomes public knowledge.

[34:40] And so you get all these reps coming through the door trying to sell you stuff, right? And so here I am trying to like bust out the construction on this thing, and like the door is constantly opening with reps, dropping off cards and asking me things, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we have all this beer. And it got to the point where I was just like, Listen, this is what we're about, do you have any owned, operated made by women beers? And they just had like the glazed deer and headlights look.  And it wa I don't think it wasn't because they didn't care. I think it's just literally no one has ever asked them that. And so I sent everyone away with homework, basically. , and they came back with knowledge and they came back with just a, I feel like they, they, they were learning just as much as I was learning.

[35:23] And so a lot of the reps hang out here now because they've met a lot of incredible women that they weren't paying attention to before. And it's kind of eye opening, like I feel like  especially with a lot of the men that have been through The Sports Bra, there's kind of like a switch that gets flipped for them because  it's not their lived reality, right?

[35:44] And so when they are exposed to it, they're kind of like, Oh, I never thought about that. Like super simple. Like, Oh, it never occurred to me that all the sports at the sports bars are men's sports. It doesn't occur to them. And so now, like you flip that switch and they can't unsee it.

[35:59] And so like I have guys come in all the time and they're just like, Oh, it drives them nuts. Now they go to another sports bar and they're just like, God, this is weird. So that's been pretty cool. And you know, I think it's another way of just forming more, like I said before, like intersections and, and allyship and and who knew that a bar could be a place for that. So I think it's pretty neat.

Stef

[36:21] I love it. Well, let's talk about women's sports a little bit, and visibility. I mean, we know that, unfortunately, women's sports only gets about 4% of coverage on media today. And when they do get coverage, a lot of it isn't in the traditional media outlets, right? It's not on ESPN at a convenient time.

[36:40] It might be on a streaming service that you have to sign up for, and then maybe pay for, and then watch at some god awful hour. So we know that like there are some systemic issues still at play with just finding women's sports on tv. So I wanna know, bring us to your bar, like how many TVs you have, what does it look like that's on tv, and where are you streaming it from or watching it live?

Jenny

[37:08] So yeah, our bar has five TVs.  It's pretty small inside. We seat it about 40 people and it's cozy. You know, we try to have games on all the time, but sometimes there's just not enough content. And we've been pretty, pretty public about  turning the TVs off or just letting it, the screensaver roll through.

[37:28] Because people are used to going into a sports bar and having 24/ 7 coverage of something. And for us, we would love that for women's sports. But right now it doesn't exist. And so if you are streaming everything constantly, it may give people a false sense of availability.  And I think a part of what we do here is not only hyping what we can hype, but also showing where there's holes and content is a big one.

[37:57] Especially at night, if you turn a TV off, it's just like, hmm. You know, people will talk about it and then you can have a conversation and they can tweet about it or whatever, and they become a voice for pushing that. I think one thing that's really interesting is the amount of folks from networks and streaming services that have reached out to us to get stuff on our TVs, and I think that that's super key.

[38:22] They see this as an opportunity to pump up that percentage, right. and part of it too is us reaching out and doing that and them reaching out and doing it for us. So it's really hodgepodge right now, you know, we're the first ones to do it, so it's. It's very rough. I feel like we're cutting through a forest with a machete kind of situation. But I'm hoping that  other bars, restaurants, hotels, whoever wants to stream or play women's sports will have a easier time to, to do it because of the things that we're working on today. 

Stef

[38:54] What was the most surprising call that you got from the network?

Jenny

[38:58] Oh boy ESPN probably  they're, they're a big one. I reached out, so I, I have no idea how to reach these people, so I just feel like go onto their contact through the internet, what I find on their website, and I just put it out there into the world and like, maybe, maybe something will come back. And what happened was  five execs, five female execs from ESPN wanted to set up a meeting and I basically peed my pants.

[39:22] They got on a Zoom call with me and were just absolutely thrilled.  They were great. But, you know, they're cogs in a huge machine and a lot of, in a lot of ways their hands were tied, but they wanted to help in, in, in the ways that they could. And so we talked about content and, and what was available to me because I don't know if folks know this, but 99% of streaming stuff out there is for personal use only.

[39:50] It is not for business or commercial use. So you know, I think that there are tons of bars and restaurants that do it and just hope they don't get caught. But being, you know, I think for us it's twofold. One, we have a lot of attention on us and I wanna do things by the book. And two, you know, again, I don't wanna offer that false sense of there's hoards of media or there's hoards of coverage out there that is available because there's not. And so, you know, I think that there's a fine balance for us in the education RO role and also  the content role.

Stef

[40:22] I'm so curious to know, like what was your ask of ESPN and, and did they follow through with anything?

Jenny

[40:30] Yeah. So I basically asked them how can I get more content? They've been talking about, I mean, ESPNW's been around for over a decade and there's still not a channel. I just didn't understand it. So I was kind of like, this was my time to like ask all the questions and they didn't, you know, it's basically bureaucracy and they're also part of a, a huge machine that was built by old white guys and so they're trying to change it from the inside, and I appreciated that a lot, but you know, they have a partnership with Disney, which is even larger. And so that became a whole other thing that they couldn't work around. So a ton of stuff is on ESPN+ and I was like, if I can get access to ESPN+ I will be one happy camper. And there is an outsourced production company that does ESPN+ for businesses and it's, they have all the broadcasting rights, everything.

[41:26] All you have to do is pay for it. And so I reached out to them and it was $450 a month and I was like, Okay, great. How many women's games do you have on this ESPN+? Cuz they can't carry everything. They have like a set number of things. And he said on average between four and nine games a week out of like, I don't know, 8,000 different games a week.

[41:49] And I was just like, there's absolutely no way I'm paying $450 a month for an extra 25 games like that just seemed absurd. So that was a no-go, basically it was a dead end. And then I went back to ESPN and they were  able to give me ESPN3, which is not typically a part of a commercial business like capabilities. So I got a pass on that and that has been great. 

Stef

[42:14] Well, it shows right there like the challenges that we're dealing with within the media  realm and you're kind of front and center. You've built it and you don't have enough content all the time , to put on your TVs, which I think right there is a big reason why  I started Voice in Sport as just to bring more visibility to kind of issues like this.

[42:36] But then, you know, galvanize with other women and other men allies that wanna change this and do something about it. So I think your your bar is like a living, breathing example of the inequities in the system. So I think it's really an amazing opportunity to even just leverage that and be more outspoken about it, you know, when the times that those screens are off. You know, and I think, I think it's really cool that you have that started, that. So what is the future of of The Sports Bra? Are you looking to expand globally?

Jenny

[43:13] So, so when I wrote my business plan, I had kind of a, like my biggest dream was seeing it in maybe a dozen major cities across the country. And that was when I wrote my business plan. And now I cannot tell you how many people have reached out wanting The Sports Bra in their town. And like small towns, big towns other countries have definitely reached out.

[43:38] People who just wanna invest people who are in the system and they wanna be a part of what we're building here. And it's a lot like, it's awesome, but it's also kind of feels like, you know, trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. So I think, you know, when I, when I feel right about it, I'll take the next step.

[43:59] I mean, I've always wanted The Sports Bra to be something accessible for as many people as possible.  And I don't think it's just The Sports Bra. Like, I think women's sports should be easily accessible in public spaces where people can celebrate, communities can get together and do things together. And if, if regular sports bars changed one TV, that would be a win to me. You know, if people were at a hotel bar and one TV is playing, you know, women's lacrosse, I would be like, this is happening. And if other, if other people wanted to open other women's sports bars, that's a win. Whatever it takes to get more representation out there great. If it's The Sports Bra, great. If it's not, great. But yeah, I think it would be fun to have The Sports Bra in different locations and I think it would be awesome to have like regional. Cuz right now The Sports Bra, like if you go up there and you look around, it feels like a fricking museum. We get things donated all the time from all across the country. And it's awesome, but like, if we had more of these, we could really be like more local, you know? Like just imagine one in like Tennessee or something and you just have like a whole corner dedicated to Pat Summit. Am I right? 

Stef

[45:10] I love it. You could like, you could also just celebrate so many, you know, women, you know, athletes in those spaces. And even if you, even if you decide, which would be kind of cool, is to have like, you know, former pro athletes start these, these new ones up in these new cities.

Jenny

[45:27] Yeah.

Stef

[45:27] And could be like an incredible way for them to also be part of, of the work you're trying to do. 

Jenny

[45:34] Sure. Yeah, there's a, there is a lot of possibilities but I, I do think that the bigger picture is that, It will help. So I think that that's cool. One, one thing that I like to say about investors and stuff like that, cuz people are like, Oh, you should reach out to like Serena or Billie Jean King or like, you know, big money things.

[45:52] For me The Sports Bra has been so grassroots and so community driven and  in order to kind of stay that way, even if we got, like, if we franchised or got like quote unquote corporate is never forgetting the goal is for it to be for people who don't have those opportunities, right?

[46:11] And so, like the idea of maybe having a thousand women invest in a spot and it's just like a little bit of money so that people, cuz again, women, like when we're talking about inequities in systems, women are oftentimes not investors. Whether it's stocks or companies or corporations. And so that wealth growth isn't happening for a ton of women out there because the buy-in is too high.

[46:39] But let's say you know, I wanna open one in Chicago, maybe we would have, you know, $10,000 and you can be an investor and you have a share or shares or however that works. I have no idea. And then as that grows, their, their wealth grows and you know, that $10,000 becomes $20,000 and that makes a much huger difference to this one woman than it would to like somebody who has millions of dollars.

[47:03] You know what I mean? And so that to me feels more, Yeah, I just, I wanna, I wanna try to keep it feeling good and not gross. And so I think that there's a happy balance somewhere in, in capitalism for that. So there's just a lot of things I wanna work out before I go big. But the plan is to kind of go big.

Stef

[47:21] Yeah, well I think big, you know, starting with and always not forgetting who you're trying to serve, I think is the number one thing when you're creating a company. And we did the same thing at VIS, really focus on grassroots building and doing it with the girls that we're really trying to help. So I think your, your approach is, is spot on.

[47:42] And like I think the growth will come when you continue to do excellent things for the people you're trying to serve, right. So I think already, I'm sure you've had so many incredible experiences along this journey of starting The Sports Bra, but if you could try to distill it down for our girls here at VIS what would you think are, I guess, what is one piece of advice that you'd give to girls in sport about starting their own companies someday?

[48:12] What is one piece of advice you'd give to girls in sport that are thinking about starting their own business?

Jenny

[48:18] I think that it's hard, It's really, really hard, but I think that if at the core of what you're trying to do is important to you, that you won't wanna give it up, that you won't wanna let go. So make sure that it's something that you love and is a part of your identity. Cuz it will get really, really hard. And if, and if the last thing you wanna do is give up your integrity or give up a piece of yourself then you won't quit. Right. So that I, I guess  that's kind of what did it for me. Cuz there were so many times where it was just like, Oh my God, what am I doing? How am I gonna get through this? But I loved it so much, so I wanted to see it happen no matter what.

Stef

[49:05] What is one myth or a misconception about women's sports that you'd like to shatter?

Jenny

[49:11] That it's boring.

Stef

[49:15] Yes

Jenny

[49:16] Has anyone ever watched women's sports and actually said that? Like No. I think that there's a bunch of haters out there that have never watched a lick of women's sports and they're like, I don't watch it cuz it's boring or I don't watch it cuz it's slow. It's just like, I, I don't, I don't even under, I don't even understand it. I don't even, I don't even. Huh?

Stef

[49:37] Love it. Love that. Okay. What is one thing that you'd like to see changed for the future of women's sports?

Jenny

[49:45] Oh my gosh. You know, honestly I'm an eternal optimist. I feel like the change is happening now. Like I am seeing so much movement  towards equity in sports and we're like, you know, Title IX celebrating 50, 50 years and the last 50 years, a lot has happened, but in the last two years, so much has happened and the trajectory for women's sports, I feel like in 10 years it will surpass men's sports in both popularity, investment, everything. Like, to be honest, I think women's sports is where it's at.

Stef

[50:24] Well, I 100% agree with you. That's why I left my job to start Voice in Sport. So you and I are gonna hopefully in 10 years be able to look back and be like, yes. Like we change things, we change the visibility and access to women's sports and there's Sports Bras everywhere. And I'm keeping these girls in sport with the digital platform.

[50:47] That is the goal. What are three words that you would describe in terms of the experience of building a business as an entrepreneur? 

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Jenny

 [50:59] Oh my gosh. Challenging. Overwhelming.  Fulfilling.

Stef

[51:07] At least you got one positive in there. Just kidding. Challenging could be good

Jenny

[51:13] It is good. It is good.

Stef

[51:16] So, you know, it's never boring, that's for sure. well, so excited to see what you're gonna do, you know, in the next few years with your amazing bar and the community that you're trying to bring together and, you know, bring more visibility to. So we'll be here cheering you on and anything you need, you just let us know.

Jenny

[51:37] Okay. Thank you so much.

Stef

[51:40] This week's episode was produced and edited by VIS creator Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player at Emory University. Jenny's story shows us with passion, vision, and a supportive community can do to make our entrepreneurial dreams come true. Established in response to inequities and lack of representation.

[51:58] The Sports Bra is an incredible cutting edge establishment, inspiring others around the nation to foster communities that celebrate and appreciate and rally behind women's sports. Jenny reinforces the importance of community by her commitment to using locally owned and women run businesses and partnering with local nonprofit.

[52:18] At the end of the day, Jenny reminds us to stay true to our values and remain persistent, especially as strong women in the world of Entrepre. If you liked our conversation with Jenny today, please leave us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify. You can follow Jenny at The Sports Bra on Instagram at The Sports Bra pdx.

[52:37] Now head to the feed on Voice in Sport and spend some time diving into our incredible free resources we have here at Biz. If you're interested in other women athletes that are using their passion and talents to really advocate for change, check out the article titled These Athletes are Using their Platform to protect the Environment.

[52:56] You should also check out sessions that we have by incredible professional athletes like Kelsey Robinson, who also decided to use her power of sport and create her own company. If you're interested in other entrepreneurial stories through the Voice in Sport podcast, check out episode number 65 with Kelsey Robinson.

[53:14] See you next week on The Voice in Sport Podcast.

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Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creator™ Elizabeth Martin 

Today we are speaking with The Sports Bra Founder, chef and basketball player Jenny Nguyen. Through the Sports Bra, Jenny is reinventing the typical American Sports Bar to promote women sports.