Immigrant entrepreneurs have always been part of the American Dream. Time points-out that 40% of the U.S.’s Fortune 500 firms and “untold millions of smaller businesses” were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. This phenomenon is evident across the country and right here in Grand Rapids.
Nandu Dangal, owner of Everest Marketplace in the Towne and Country Shopping Mall at 4301 Kalamazoo SE, arrived in Grand Rapids as a refugee in 2008. Everest Marketplace is Dangal’s second venture, boasting colorful displays of traditional clothing, produce and packaged food from various South Asian cultures.
Dangal’s first job in the U.S. was housekeeping at a hotel, but the job was difficult to keep because of sporadic bus schedules during the winter months. With little English and few prospects during the recession, he struggled until landing a job at Meijer, which he held for five-and-a-half years. “Working as a cashier, and then in customer service at Meijer taught me so many things about doing business.” This vital job experience helped Dangal dream for a future as an entrepreneur.
Before long, Dangal was taking business and home ownership classes at an area college while working extra hours as a cab driver, factory worker and interpreter to put away money. Like many other immigrants and refugees in Grand Rapids, he transformed hard-earned wages into a thriving career. In 2012, he had saved enough money to open his first business and purchase a home.
Dangal says he’s “always had a vision, not only for personal success, but also helping others.” Since 2008, many Bhutanese refugees have resettled in Grand Rapids after long years sojourning in camps in Nepal. Dangal and other members of the Bhutanese community have thrived in Grand Rapids. “They are buying homes at a very high rate,” Dangal reports. Part of his success has been helping others put down roots. “When I came to the U.S., I needed an interpreter. Now, I am an interpreter.”
Six months ago, Dangal was able to purchase space for Everest Marketplace, which provides familiar foods, like panipuri, to the Bhutanese community--and also to Burmese, Somali,Tanzanian and customers from other parts of the globe. Dangal is already planning a small deli to share Bhutanese food with a wider array of customers by summer.
Dangal’s success supports research that shows effective economies keep important places for immigrant workers. Thriving refugee businesses like his are an indicator of a broader strength we share in Grand Rapids. In addition to starting businesses, refugee and immigrant workers buy homes, pay taxes and purchase goods--a boon for all involved in our local economy.
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