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Davis, California

Monday, April 22, 2024

A snapshot of G-nails & Spa: where great service meets artistry

G-nails & Spa is the place to go for so much more than a gorgeous fresh set 


By ANGIE CUMMINGS — arts@theaggie.org


Sometimes picking a salon to get your nails done at can be as easy as crossing the street and walking in, but there are times when it feels as difficult and complex as finding a life partner. There is so much that goes into the decision to commit to a new salon; one must factor in prices, reviews, ambiance and so much more. Luckily for those of you who have yet to find a nail salon to return to for the remainder of your time at UC Davis, I have done the due diligence and investigative journalism to confirm that G-nails & Spa provides the most satisfying and even enriching nail experience in Davis. 

Run by husband and wife duo, Kiet Le and Tina Tieu, G-nails sits comfortably right on 2nd Street, in close proximity to the myriad restaurants in the heart of downtown (in case one were to be a bit peckish post-salon visit). Upon first entering the storefront, G-nails looks to be set up much like any other nail salon, with its rows of spa chairs, comfortable waiting area and minimalist yet cozy decor. Once you are seated for your appointment, however, you may start to notice the lack of any harsh overhead lighting (which is replaced by warmly lit hanging fixtures) and unique photography across the walls of this spa. 

“The photos [in G-nails] cheer it up instead of just a picture of the nails or a foot with a flower,” Le said of his choice in decor, in comparison to the standard types of ornamentation in nail salons. 

While I might not be an expert on quality photography, it is clear to see that the photos Le has chosen are of a high standard and possess artistic character you just cannot obtain from stock photos or decor at a department store. When I had my first appointment with Le last year, I asked where he got all these photos and learned every single one was taken by him. This was when I knew I needed to know more about his and this salon’s story.

“I’m not a nail guy, I’m a photographer,” Le said towards the outset of our interview. 

Le attended San Francisco Art Institute for photography, and has been featured in numerous exhibitions and galleries throughout the Bay Area. To this day, he works as a professional photographer when he’s not delivering excellent service at the nail salon. 

“[I used to do] travel photography, but after she [his wife, Tina] opened up here, I helped her out and we had more and more customers coming back requesting me,” Le said about his transition from traveling six days a week to having a prominent role in the running of G-nails. While he admits photography is still his primary passion, “nails are art too […] if you don’t have an artistic eye you can’t paint a nice nail or a design,” Le said as he effortlessly applied the gel polish to my right hand. 

When asked if he had a favorite of his photos up on the walls, Le promptly stated, “they’re just like your children, you know, they all equally get love […] each of them has their own story and memories.”

Le’s deep connection to these photos is quickly revealed as he discusses the stories behind them. 

“I go home to visit family in Vietnam and sometimes Thailand […] to document the places I’ve been before as a refugee […] to bring back the memories of the old days,” Le said. “A lot of my work is historical. I know Vietnam is a developing country so it changes a lot […] even my own house I can’t recognize.”

The backstory of these beautiful photos adds to their artistic value — with each framed photo on the wall, Le is able to give a deeper glimpse into the country and culture he grew up in. From stories of how plants are transported on motorcycles to a look into the covered markets he remembers his mother working in, Le provides so much more than just nail services. 

“It’s something you can look at and learn more about another culture,” Le said. 

Le not only takes pride in his passion for photography but also in the quality of the experience and service at G-nail. 

“We’ve got a lot of local regulars […] but it gets crazy busy when [UCD students] come back. Customers only give you a hard time when you don’t do a good job — so we don’t get that very much,” Le said with a smile on his face. 

By the end of my interview with Le, I had a flawless set of maroon squoval gel nails and a new breadth of information and appreciation for the rich histories and cultures he shared with me. 

“You got your nails done by a photographer today, so don’t complain, I’m no specialist,” Le said jokingly and all too modestly. 


Written by: Angie Cummings  — arts@theaggie.org