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An Immigrant’s Story of Success

From a deserted island to Dallas, Ashley Murphree Tran defies the odds

Ashley Murphree Tran knows risk. At the age of five, in 1979, she fled Ho Chi Minh City with her parents and sister in a boat crammed with refugees. On the seventh day, Thai fishermen pirated their valuables and fuel, dumped their food in the ocean, aa lind set the vessel adrift.

Murphree Tran, whose family was wealthy in Vietnam, bears them no ill will. “We were such a burden to Malaysia and Thailand,” she says. “They didn’t want us to land. I have so much understanding for the Syrians and all these Latin countries. Nobody really wants to leave and risk their lives, but…nobody wants these people.” Her boat was relatively lucky. It was one of the first to wash up on Kuku, an uninhabited Indonesian beach that became a notorious refugee camp. They lived a “bare minimum” existence for nearly a year before coming to Dallas “with nothing but the clothes on our backs” to make a new life with family members.

The café at Verbena Parlor + Social House

Murphree Tran, whose grandmother sold an herbal balm across Southeast Asia, has entrepreneurialism in her blood. She started her first business, an upscale preschool chain that she later sold, by borrowing her parents’ life savings and then some. Her latest venture is Verbena Parlor + Social House. Located in the bustling Uptown neighborhood, the unusual combination nail salon, café, and party spot was inspired by her own desire for a pleasant hangout.

“I wanted a place that was very accommodating for everybody, where you could have premium coffee, wine, and beer, and get together, laugh, and have a good time, and also get a treatment, too,” she says. She took special care to offer nontoxic nail polishes, install a premium ventilation system to extract fumes, and stock organic lotions and balms. “I’m very health conscious, and the whole idea is that it’s good for you,” she says.