Live music. A poetry reading. A local art show on the walls. Hot, fair-trade coffee.
It’s all part of the vibe Zumi’s, its workers and its owner, Umesh Bhuju, exude, from the counter out, at the 40 Market St. location.
Throw in annual social justice and humanitarian efforts like the Rise Against Hunger meal packaging effort at Ascension Memorial Church that Bhuju helps organize and support — this spring the local effort packaged 50,000 meals for developing nations — and the local coffee/art hangout becomes something more.
“I believe in myself,” said Bhuju, after the morning rush at a Zumi’s table that would never be free at 8 a.m. “I believe in genuinely serving people and if you serve the community you will win.”
Not that it’s about winning for Bhuju. Winning just comes with the territory.
Bhuju just received the Malden-based Immigrant Learning Center’s Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for a neighborhood business, beating out some 70 other neighborhood immigrant businesses.
“Umesh is a superstar. In small town Ipswich he knows everyone, and is universally loved. You can’t come into his wonderful shop without Umesh coming over and asking after your family, and letting you know what is going on in town,” said Isaac Ross, who nominated Bhuju for the award along with Robert McNeil, president of the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce.
Bhuju, originally from Nepal, came to this country in 1990. He earned a business degree from Boston University and opened Zumi’s in 2003. Bhuju now lives in Topsfield with his wife, Zillie, and their three children Uma, 15, Maya, 13, and Asha, 11.
“It has been a great experience since I got here,” Bhuju said in his acceptance speech. “There was a time I wanted to go back and start a health clinic in the village I grew up in, but right around that time we were expecting our first baby and the plan got changed. That’s when I decided to put together a business plan for a cafe!”
Now Zumi’s serves about 500 people a day — Bhuju can say exactly how many people on a given day simply by clicking his phone.
It wasn’t always like this. To start, Zumi’s was lucky to do $68 a day in business.
Getting the word out about fair-trade coffee or about Bhuju’s concern for the world outside his business, outside Ipswich, took time.
Those long-range concerns were part of the business when Bhuju began and they’re part of it today.
Zumi’s, for example, composts or recycles about 85 percent of the waste it produces and produces less than one trash bag per day of trash.
The fair-trade coffee Zumi’s uses helps get money to the farmers who grow coffee. Bhuju buys directly from the farmer, eliminating the middleman. The label also ensures the coffee wasn’t harvested using child labor or grown using pesticides.
Fair-trade coffee is only one such product, Bhuju said. Consumers can buy fair-trade chocolate and even fair-trade clothing.
Coming to a foreign country wasn’t exactly foreign to Bhuju. He served as a Nepalese mountain guide before he came to the United States. Guiding expeditions up the Himalayas and, of course, up Mt. Everest, called Sagarmatha in Nepali, Bhuju was familiar with westerners and western countries.
Even with the international background, Bhuju knew he had to improve his English skills, something he stresses all immigrants to the U.S. should do.
Teaching English remains a key goal for the Immigrant Learning Center — it has a 500-person waiting list for its free English classes.
Gaining some publicity for those classes is one of the reasons Bhuju wanted to accept the center’s award.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Bhuju. “At the same time it’s not just me. It’s my family. It’s my community.”
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