PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Being a sports fans comes with its fair share of struggles. There’s the angst over a team’s draft choice or recruiting class, the sadness over a loss. But many women’s sports fans face an obstacle few male sports fans face: ‘Can I watch my team play?’
Walk into any sports bar and odds are if there are 10 televisions, all 10 will be showing men’s sports, or feature shows talking about men’s sports.
Jenny Nguyen is creating a space that will deliver exactly the opposite — all women’s sports, all the time.
“This is ‘The Sports Bra,‘” said Nguyen, smiling as she looked around the space on NE Broadway that will soon become the first sports bar dedicated solely to highlighting women’s sports. “The motto is ‘We Support Women.’ The goal is to play women’s sports on TV and represent women in food and the beverage industry.”
“Statistically, 96% of all sports media on TV is men’s sports,” Nguyen explained. “So that means 4% of everything shown is women’s sports and yet 40% of athletes are women. We’re out there playing, we’re just not getting shown. So the goal of The Sports Bra is to promote that 4%, pump it up.”
For Nguyen, The Sports Bra at 2512 NE Broadway represents the blending of two passions: women’s sports and bringing people together around food.
“I like to say I put down the bottle and picked up a basketball,” Nguyen joked.
Born and raised in Portland, Nguyen played basketball growing up, with dreams of the game taking her through college athletics and maybe even beyond, but her freshman year that all changed.
“I blew out my knee one week prior to the season starting,” Nguyen said. “I was 19 years old and I felt like my whole world was devastated. [Basketball] was my whole life.”
“The very next year I went to college and discovered cooking. So I started cooking and it was such a great way for me to translate all of this energy that I had towards basketball. I found a passion for cooking after that.”
Between cooking and still being a bucket in intramurals then and pick-up to this day, Nguyen had found her space. She went to culinary school in Portland and started working as a chef at places like Adidas and Lewis and Clark College.
“That really gave me the chops with all different kinds of cuisine,” said Nguyen. “We were cooking everything under the sun.”
Then 2020 hit, and Nguyen found herself in the same situation as hundreds of thousands of Americans, with her work closed and reevaluating what she wanted out of her career and life.
“When the pandemic happened and then there was a bunch of upheaval from social justice movements, people started to reevaluate their priorities and their lives and I went through the same thing.”
That’s when the longtime joke among friends of opening a sports bar, dedicated to showing women’s sports, turned into an idea that couldn’t be ignored.
“I first thought of, ‘OK, we need to open a place that just shows women’s sports so my friends and I have somewhere to watch it,'” Nguyen said. “It got us to talking how important a space like this actually can be.”
And so working towards opening The Sports Bra began.
“The name actually came pretty easily,” said Nguyen. “It just makes sense, it’s just switch a couple letters. If you put it on a sign most people would drive by and not even notice that it’s different and that’s kind of the whole point. You want to show the world that it’s these small, tiny changes, that’s all it takes.”
The spelling difference is a small thing, with a big impact, as is the way Nguyen is building her bar from the ground up. Everything from the beer on tap, to the cocktails mixed and meat served highlighting women in their respective industries.
“Women-owned and operated, or women who are behind the scenes,” are the brewers, ranchers or providers Nguyen is looking to partner with. Breweries like Gateway Brewing, run by a husband and wife team, or Migration Brewing, who has a woman running their small batch. She’s teaming up with Nguyen to create a small batch that will be just at The Sports Bra.
Even the furniture customers will sit on will be in line with Nguyen’s mission, because tables will be built by girls from Girls Build, a nonprofit organization, whose website says they teach girls 8-14 years old the basics of carpentry among other skills.
“They’re going to create a couple team tables, big, communal style tables, and they’ll be building all the outdoor furniture,” Nguyen explained. “It’ll be the first time something they make will be in a public setting so it’ll be great for them to come in with their friends or family and be like, ‘I made that.'”
If there’s a women’s game or event on television, it will be airing in The Sports Bra. Nguyen is also working with companies like Just Women’s Sports to get access to their digital content to ensure that even while mainstream viewing options are limited for women’s sports, The Sports Bra never runs out of content to show.
“When there are no games, we’ve worked with several different sources for content. I reached out to Just Women’s Sports and asked them for access to some of their digital content and immediately they said, ‘What else?'”
Like the bar’s motto, ‘We Support Women,’ the support for The Sports Bra has caught even Nguyen off-guard.
“I like to consider myself as optimistic, like a realistic optimistic person, but ideas are weird. They live in your brain and I think it’s a great idea and then eventually I told my friends and my friends thought it was great but we’re off the same mind and they’re my friends so what are they going to say? You always wonder what the reaction of out there is going to be and so when this kind of reaction happens, it’s unbelievable.”
The Sports Bra menu will feature non-alcoholic, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian menu options and Nguyen wants to create a space kids and families are comfortable in.
“What a difference it would’ve made to have a place where we felt like we belonged as little girls in sports,” Nguyen said of her own childhood. “Even if there’s only one girl that ever comes in here and sees it in on TV and that inspires her to dream big about playing sports as an adult, that to me is everything.”
Nguyen is targeting an early April date for The Sports Bra’s grand opening.