Three North Shore business owners have been nominated for Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards from the nonprofit Immigrant Learning Center in Malden.
Umesh Bhuju of Zumi’s Espresso and Ice Cream in Ipswich and Francisco Lora of Tropicana Market in Salem have been nominated in the “outstanding neighborhood business” category. Lisandra Mones of Glitterati Style in Salem and Danvers has been nominated for “outstanding business growth.”
The Immigrant Learning Center, which provides free English classes and other services, will announce the winners May 8 at a dinner at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge.
Zumi’s: From mountain guide in Nepal to espresso in Ipswich
Umesh Bhuju, 43, opened Zumi’s, a fair-trade coffee and ice cream shop, 10 years ago.
The Market Street shop sits in the heart of downtown Ipswich and backs up to EBSCO Publishing, where 700 employees work. Many get their daily coffee at Zumi’s.
The name is a combination of Umi, his nickname, and Zillie, the first name of his wife, who is from a Greek immigrant family from Salem. The couple now live in Topsfield.
In an age when many coffee shops are run by large chains, Zumi’s is different.
“I’m a community guy,” Bhuju said.
Growing up in Nepal, he worked as a mountain guide, and because of that upbringing, he is a strong supporter of environmental causes, including Essex County Greenbelt, the Essex County Trail Association and Appleton Farms, to name a few. The cafe allows him to provide a forum for artists, lectures by environmentalists and conservationists, and readings by poets.
“It’s not just running a coffeehouse,” Bhuju said.
Bhuju is the son of an engineer who worked on UNICEF projects in remote regions of Nepal. He grew up in a village near Mount Annapurna and went to high school in a village outside Kathmandu. Growing up, he liked to hike the mountains and lead trips for foreign tourists. When he finished high school, he became a certified mountain guide.
About 23 years ago, Bhuju left Nepal on a student exchange program to teach rock climbing at a summer camp in Alabama. He went on to visit a family in New Hampshire and later worked as a counselor at YMCAs in Reading and Woburn. He studied at a community college in Quincy, then transferred to Boston University to study business. He earned a Master of Business Administration at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
He met his wife while working as an overnight counselor at a program in Newton for children with Asperger’s and autism. He also worked in coffee shops to support himself while he was in school.
For a while, he worked as a database administrator but was laid off during the recession that followed the 9/11 attacks. With his first child on the way, he and his wife got a job housesitting in Essex, and he wrote his business plan to open a coffeehouse. He now has three children, Una, 10; Maya, 8; and Asha, 6, and a thriving business.
He has since become involved in the community and is active in the Lions Club.
Bhuju learned about the Immigrant Learning Center through a regular customer, and he supports its mission of giving immigrants the skills they need to move up the ladder.
“I always liked an outfit like that,” he said, “where people are learning and people are teaching and volunteering.”
Glitterati Style: ‘Stay focused, pray and just keep going’
Lisandra Mones was a single mom from the Dominican Republic when she opened the first Hispanic clothing store in Salem, Katherina’s Fashions, in 1987.
Today, she and her daughter, Katherina Mena, own two shops, Glitterati Style in Salem and Danvers, specializing in prom gowns and formal dresses. And they’ve been bustling this prom season.
“She’s proud, she’s emotional,” Mena said of her mother’s nomination for achieving “outstanding business growth.”
Mena is a graduate of Beverly High who took some college courses and later went to work for an advertising agency. While working at the agency’s events and “styling” people for them, she decided to get back into the fashion business.
Growing up, Mena would dress mannequins in her mother’s first store and would going on buying trips to New York City. A fire above the store in the late 1980s closed the store, but Mones continued to sell clothing and work out of her home, or sometimes from a kiosk at the mall.
More than four years ago, Mones and Mena opened Glitterati Style at the former Lafayette Street location of Katherina’s. During prom season, the lines were out the door, so they opened the Danvers shop — a much-larger one — at the former home of Lorraine Roy Fine Apparel on Maple Street.
“It’s been incredible; it’s been a dream come true,” Mena said. “We are nonstop. We are working seven days a week.”
Mena said the challenge of operating two locations at once is to make sure the level of service and quality stays the same at both.
Being a successful immigrant entrepreneur matters in the community, Mena said. The shops provide jobs for young women, with about 20 people employed in Danvers and five in Salem. The store also donates money and dresses to support various charity fashion shows, and donates prom dresses to those who cannot afford them. When Mones or Mena visit the Dominican Republic, they bring with them suitcases filled with clothing.
“My mom always wanted us to be a good example for our community,” Mena said.
Mena said hard work is the reason the shop has grown so rapidly.
“I think what’s driving my success is my passion and having Mom — she’s so inspiring to me,” Mena said. “She always makes sure that no matter what the challenges are, she always tells me to stay focused, pray and just keep going — perseverance.”
Tropicana Market: ‘Advocating for services and betterment of community’
Francisco Lora, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, opened his bodega, Tropicana Market, three years ago in Salem’s largely Latino and low-income Point neighborhood. His award nomination, he thinks, is a good thing for the neighborhood.
“I think that was nice,” said Lora, who is busy most days making deliveries and running the store with his family. He likes helping out the people of the neighborhood, he said in a brief interview.
Lucy Corchado, president of Point Neighborhood Association, nominated Lora, who came to the United States in the 1980s. The store is a typical neighborhood convenience and grocery store, selling ethnic and American foods.
“It is a family-operated business, and you will often see his mother or son behind the counter,” wrote Corchado, who said Lora also owns San Francisco Market in Lynn.
But Corchado wrote that Lora does much more than sell groceries.
“Francisco is neighborhood-oriented and is active in the Point Neighborhood Association, advocating for services and the betterment of the community. He is quick to offer food donations for meetings and events and is very well-liked and respected.”
Lora does, from time to time, employ people from the neighborhood and, as a member of the association, meets with Salem officials and advocates for programs for young people, and works with police on safety issues.
“It is rare to see such involvement by a business owner,” Corchado wrote, “particularly due to the fact that he lives outside the neighborhood. But he clearly recognizes the need and has stood out among those serving the neighborhood.”