O.C. native Andy Nguyen worked with his team to make Rodeo 39 a dynamic food hall experience, a new gathering spot, and a place to nurture budding talents and business owners. The Afters Ice Cream co-founder is also opening two boutiques at the market: Orng Cnty, a clothing brand celebrating our community, and WNTD, an eclectic shop of curated collectibles, ranging from toys to sports cards. “I’ve always loved the underdog story,” Nguyen says. “I’ve always enjoyed finding the hidden gem of a new, talented chef or the guy that never got his chance. The guy that works really hard, but he doesn’t have this opportunity. If I could be a part of helping them and catapulting them into another spectrum, or giving them new opportunities, I’m going to be that person.”
What sparked the idea of building Rodeo 39?
For 15 years, that Stanton Plaza was nothing. No one went there. It was empty. Even when I first heard about it, I was like “Are you sure?” Dan Almquist (the managing partner of Frontier Real Estate Investments and developer of Rodeo 39) pitched us the project of how he wanted to (improve) Stanton. We wanted to do something for the community and help elevate people’s perception of Orange County.
What is your role as co-creative director?
Collectively, we worked on curating the tenants and on separating ourselves from just being another food hall. We added the elements of the arcade, the tattoo studio right smack in the middle, the clothing store that represents Orange County, the streetwear store that brings the youth in, and curating the murals and artwork that you don’t really see much of in Orange County.
What was your goal when curating the tenants?
The biggest thing we wanted to do was bring together super unique concepts that you weren’t finding anywhere in the area. We also wanted to find a collective of people that could work (well) together. So even though everyone owns their own concepts, if one concept runs out of rice, someone will help them. There are no egos involved. That was a big part, which was more of the community aspect. We’re all trying to push each other. The better someone does, we all benefit from it.
How do you want to boost the perception of O.C.?
I was born and raised in Orange County. I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’m probably never going to leave. I think Orange County is a melting pot of so many different cultures. There’s so many things going on and so many different pockets of places, and I don’t think a lot of people outside the area understand that. I just want to help shine that light. Even a cool industry like streetwear. Streetwear is huge all around the world, but it was born in Orange County with Stussy. It’s crazy how our sense of style has become a worldwide thing, and people don’t know it.
What are some of your team’s design elements?
There was a place called Golfland down the street that had an arcade, which actually inspired our arcade at Rodeo 39. We worked with a great architecture company who helped us with the flow of things. Our partner Jasmine Gonzalez was great at understanding the feng shui of things. We wanted the roll-up garage doors because we wanted to bring that outdoor-indoor feel: You’re in California, and you have a lot of air coming in.
Is there a vendor you’re particularly excited about?
Kra-Z-Kai’s, a Laotian barbecue concept. The owner has a location out in Corona and our team went and tried the product, and we fell in love. We’re like, “You need to open in Orange County.” We begged him, and when he said yes, I knew that he was going to crush it. When he decided to join, we were super stoked.
Describe your past few weeks.
Soft opening has been a surreal blur. It reminds me of the early days of opening the first Afters. We’re very excited that everyone finally gets to see it. It’s fun to see the progression of the project. We hope that everyone enjoys the space. We want to make sure that it’s a space that’s here for a long time.