Bikini coffee shops get a chilly welcome in some Orange County cities

STANTON – Coffee and nudity are a tough mix in Little Saigon and beyond.

Tonight, Stanton’s City Council is expected to follow in the footsteps of Garden Grove and other cities trying to limit bikini coffee bars from becoming something closer to caffeinated strip clubs, voting on ordinances against nudity and smoking. The vote is coming in anticipation of one or more bikini coffee bars opening in Stanton.

“We see the trend is heading our way,” said Omar Dadabhoy, Stanton’s community development director. “There are coffee shops in surrounding jurisdictions, and some have interest in coming here. We want to be prepared.”

The new rules: no tinting or covering windows, no live entertainment, no smoking, no exposure of “male or female genitals, the anal region, or buttocks.”

Bikini coffee shops are largely a Little Saigon phenomenon, with similar establishments occasionally popping up in other Vietnamese enclaves including San Jose. They aren’t found in Vietnam.

But in Garden Grove, on Euclid Street, bikini cafes are lined up. There are a few in Westminster and parts of Santa Ana.

In them, attractive young women in bikinis, lingerie or simply their underwear serve Vietnamese coffee – often with dollar bills, tips, dangling from their underwear. Alcohol is not served.

The clientele is typically older Vietnamese males who like to chat, drink coffee and sometimes wager with friends in a relaxed fashion.

“I like to hang out, watch sports, play cards and drink coffee,” said Tony Nguyen, a Garden Grove resident, before he went into Cafe 168 on Harbor Boulevard.

“And the waitresses go around and talk to you.”

Some of the establishments are tame. At others, the waitresses adjust their outfits so they’re essentially disrobed.

Smoking also is endemic at many of the coffee shops, even though that is against California law, with entire rooms clouded in white haze.

In 2011, when Garden Grove established new regulations for its bikini coffee shops, it was a response to the nudity, smoking, gambling – and what police said at the time was rising gang activity.

In March of that year, eight police departments teamed up to target the cafes and conducted a raid, which they said netted more than 200 illegal gaming machines and $145,000-plus in cash. Those raids took place at more than 20 cafes, bars and pool halls, and resulted in 23 people being arrested on misdemeanor charges of possessing illegal gaming machines.

Some shop owners contend the police overstated the problems.

“There’s no gang activity,” said Leon Phan, who opened Cafe Dang on Westminster Boulevard. “That was an excuse for them to go in.”

Phan’s Westminster cafe does not have tinted windows, and he says that he never allows his bikini-clad waitresses to be naked.

“I don’t believe in it,” he said. “I agree with that rule. I think nudity is bad for business.”

But he’s not OK with other regulations.

It‘s been 20 years since California prohibited smoking inside all enclosed workplaces, but Phan says he should be able to choose if he wants to allow smoking.

“I have high-powered vents, so it doesn’t get smoky,” he said. “You can’t stop them from smoking” he says of Vietnamese customers. “You’d lose business. What are you going to do?”

GZ Cafe on Garden Grove Boulevard doesn’t have gambling machines and has “no smoking” signs posted. But the waitresses there will on occasion essentially disrobe while serving coffee – and when sitting and chatting with customers.

GZ Cafe is the coffee shop moving to Stanton, Dadabhoy said. It’s not open yet because improvements are being made to the premises.

The owner of GZ Cafe could not be reached for comment, and a manager on duty, clad in a blue bikini, declined to answer questions.

Several miles away, at Star Cafe on Euclid Street, a customer said the atmosphere in these establishments is harmless.

“It’s nice to hang out, drink coffee and look at women in bikinis,” said Johnny Vo, an Orange County resident. “What’s wrong with that?”

Contact the writer: 714-704-3707 or chaire@ocregister.com

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