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Community mourns passing of always positive owner of The Berry Bar impresses

November 30, 2018

By default, Joseph Nguyen would top every order made at The Berry Bar with his smile.

But cancer turned something customary into a memory; on Nov. 11 the owner of this Kingwood dessert shop passed away at 53 years old. One of Nguyen’s children, Tiffany, shared that the event blindsided her.

“The Berry Bar was the ultimate American Dream for our dad,” she said in an email. “Without the support of family and the community, The Berry Bar wouldn’t be what it is, and we’re thankful for everyone’s support.”

Nguyen is survived by his wife Dieu, five children - Peter, Jennifer Taylor and husband Ross, Tiffany and Josephine - and grandchild Lincoln Taylor. He is interred at Brookside Memorial Park.

A caring figure

Nguyen was born on April 28, 1965 in Vietnam. To Tiffany, her father, who escaped his birth country and was sponsored to the U.S. at 12 years old, was a hard worker who made sure every step made would get him closer to the day he can manage his own business — including a stretch on a shrimp boat in New Orleans.

“Running The Berry Bar made him so happy because he always got to meet new people and make friends out of the regular customers,” she said. “He really did love his customers.”

Nguyen once refused to replace one of the yogurt’s flavors for something new because “his buddy” was a fan and he had to keep it, Tiffany recalled. She elaborated that the “buddy” is a kid who would visit the store with his father.

Peter, Nguyen’s only son and oldest child, revealed that the place has been in business since February 2012. All was well until Hurricane Harvey arrived.

In a Facebook Live video Tiffany made on Aug. 31, 2017, every dispenser, cooler, counter and piece of furniture could be seen muddied, drenched or tipped over. The next day, Nguyen appeared on a KPRC news story and said that damages to the store could go up to $200,000.

The store at the time had no flood insurance.

Peter remembered how his father would come to the store every day, from sunrise to sundown, to clean up or to do repair work. Nguyen stayed optimistic throughout, he said.

A GoFundMe page to help the store was made on Peter’s behalf last August. It raised $10,595, slightly more than its $10,000 goal, after 15 months.

Bringer of hope

For Kingwood resident Elizabeth Chesser, Nguyen was one of the main reasons for her and her four children to visit The Berry Bar. Through Nguyen’s persuasion, she also discovered a new favorite at the store — mocha coffee.

It didn’t seem possible at first.

“He’s like, ‘No, but you need the caffeine,’” Chesser said. “He would add flavors to make it good for me, you know?” It started earlier this year, and every time we come in he’d go ‘I know it, I got it, I’m going to start on that coffee.’”

Deputy for Harris County Constable’s Office Precinct 3 Andrew Derkowski also appreciated Nguyen’s ability to remember his large order of a Berry Berry smoothie whenever he came in. He said Nguyen would always give him a law-enforcement discount, but he would always return it as gratuity.

Kingwood resident Sarah Knigin said The Berry Bar was a touch of sweetness after all the destruction that Harvey brought. She said she is part of a mothers’ group on Facebook that is pushing to support the Nguyen family and their business.

“To see his smiling face every time made it all a little bit better,” she said. “And you felt some hope for the entire area.”

Following a weeklong closure, The Berry Bar reopened Monday. The store has a page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/theberrybar) and Instagram (theberrybarkw).

nguyen.le@chron.com

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