Opening her first business is the culmination of a long journey for Linh Nguyen, one that began in the middle of a war in Vietnam and ended in Westerville.

Opening her first business is the culmination of a long journey for Linh Nguyen, one that began in the middle of a war in Vietnam and ended in Westerville.

Nguyen opened the Finger 2 Toe nail salon on Lazelle Road Nov. 10, focusing, she said, on cleanliness and customer service. The full-service nail and pedicure salon that uses organic nail polish and environmentally friendly products, Nguyen said.

"Our main goal is here is twofold: We want to provide a place for people to look good so they feel good, but we also want to provide the most sanitary environment for them to do that," she said.

To accomplish this, many of the items used in a nail salon (such as pumice stones and toe separators) are discarded after each use at Finger 2 Toe, she said.

Although Westerville's business community can be competitive, Nguyen said, it is much more accommodating than Saigon in 1970, when Linh, then 5, her mother and four siblings were supposed to meet her father, an American soldier, at the airport before traveling to the United States.

On his way to the airport, Nguyen's father was killed in a car crash.

"I still remember the day that my dad died. I can remember his face," she said.

Without their father, an American citizen, to take them to the States, Nguyen's mother spirited the children away to a small village, so they wouldn't be taken by Vietnamese Communists. When the war ended in 1975, with the Communists in power, Nguyen's mother was found and put into a "Vietnamese re-education camp," Nguyen said.

"No one was thinking that they'd lose to the Communists, and when the commoners took over in 1975, a lot of people were shocked," she said. "They took mom to the camp, and for two years, we were pretty much homeless. We just did whatever we had to get by."

The children were eventually found and placed into five different foster homes. Finally, in 1982, their mother was released from the camp and found four of her children. While Nguyen's last brother was later found, he eventually committed suicide, she said.

"After our mother found us, she was able to get us to the American embassy in Cambodia, where we could get passports," Nguyen said. "Mom knew a person she was able to pay to get us across the border. We were very, very lucky to escape that way."

After finally making it to the United States, Nguyen's family went to stay with her father's brother in Indiana.

"My father's family basically rejected us. My uncle finally took us in," she said. "Once he received (Social Security back pay) for my father, though, he took it all and left."

Although Nguyen and her family were then left with very little money and no connections, she learned to speak English and moved to the central Ohio area about 15 years ago and began working in the restaurant business. Now she is her own boss.

"I always wanted to do this and now is really the best time," Nguyen said. "I spent seven years working for someone else, always thinking I could do it better. You don't get where you are without working hard."

The Finger 2 Toe nail salon at 431 Lazelle Road is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment after 7 p.m. and on Sundays.

lrice@thisweeknews.com