Whomever said “No Guts, No Glory” must have heard Natasha Phan’s story.
As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who owned and operated an Echo Park supermarket, Phan is no stranger to the LA food biz. After graduating from UCLA and accepting a digital advertising position with Martha Stewart, Phan seized an opportunity to pursue her true passion. During a panel discussion with culinary mogul Roy Choi, Phan went out on a limb and asked her future-boss for employment. Despite initial rejection, Choi ultimately accepted. Now the Director of Business Development for Choi’s Kogi Group, Phan is shaping the future of Korean-American food.
More from Natasha below.
Name: Natasha Phan
Instagram Handle: @natasha_phan
Where do your drive and passion come from?
My parents. They came to America at the end of the Vietnam War with very little and figured things out pretty quickly. For over 30 years, they independently owned and operated an Echo Park supermarket that brought immigrant families together. My career is an extension of their story.
Your journey begins with a 'no.' You in person cold-pitched Roy Choi. And he said no. What did that moment feel like?
Total rejection and confusion. I believed there was a spiritual force that led me to meeting Roy, so I trusted my gut and put myself out there. The last thing I expected was to be told “no.” It didn’t make sense because everything felt so intentional.
And what did it feel like when he emailed you later that evening?
Pure joy and relief. My instincts were right! I was supposed to meet him and I was supposed to introduce myself! I remember feeling anxious because I knew that my life was going to change very quickly.
What did that teach you about being persistent in biz?
It taught me the importance of checking in with your gut. As business owners, we often let facts, data, and others guide our decision-making. But I’ve learned it’s crucial to take a pause, or two or three, and give time for your brain to align with your instincts.
"It’s crucial to take a pause, or two or three, and give time for your brain to align with your instincts."
What did working with Roy teach you? And how did you take those lessons and turn them into Commissary?
Working with Roy has taught me to never get too comfortable. If you start feeling like everything’s at ease then there’s likely something wrong or something you’re not paying attention to. In the last 10 years, I’ve been trained to look deeper and deeper, corner to corner, and more often than not, I’ve found something else to make better.
What's something you'd like people to know about your job that they probably don’t?
Many people don’t know that I’m heavily involved in the creative development of all our businesses. I work closely with Roy on ideation as well as vet and guide all the designers, photographers, and artists we collaborate with.
IYO-- How can we stay original when we are so saturated with other people's work?
I stay original by engaging in a world that’s not curated by a set of algorithms. I actively seek out tastes and ideas that aren’t easily acquired or accepted by the mainstream and pop culture.
What about your career makes you feel the most complete?
What makes me feel the most complete is that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than feeding people. It’s more than a career, it’s my life’s purpose. I know this is my calling.
If you had to trade jobs with anyone else in the world, who would it be and why?
Oprah is my ultimate inspiration. She is beyond the beyond.
At what point in your career did you find the confidence to really take charge and become the woman you are today?
When I left my job at Martha Stewart to work for a taco truck.
When you hit a big bump in the road, how do you find a new road or a detour?
I talk it through with my advisory council – my best friends, mentors, and therapist.
What song do you sing in the shower when you’ve had a bad day?
"Dancing on My Own" by Robyn.
Photo Credit: @davisfactor