Living in a refugee camp in Nepal, Damber Adhikari never imagined he’d realize his dream of owning a business. Today, he and his brother, Prakash, operate Everest Asian Market in Essex Jct., which was one of two Chittenden County businesses awarded by a local nonprofit last month.
The Crystal Family New Hope award is presented annually to new Americans in partnership with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. This year, two winners were selected through the CVOEO Financial Futures program, which helps residents of Chittenden and neighboring counties with financial skills and business development.
Recipients received $500 in recognition of their hard work. The New Hope Award was inspired by the Vermont-based Crystal family’s immigrant ancestors. Jon Crystal, of Waltham, served as the CVOEO board president for several years and “has a passion for the immigrant community,” according to CVOEO development director Joan White.
“When I was a kid I always wanted to do some kind of business, but back home it was only a dream,” Adhikari said. “Here it’s like … my dreams [are] coming true.”
Adhikari and his family moved to the U.S. after living in a refugee camp in Nepal for 17 years. They fled their home in Bhutan in 1988 when the political situation “was not great,” he said. During the 1980s and ’90s enforcement of a citizenship law, ethnic unrest and anti-government protests provided for political turmoil, according to the BBC. In the U.S., Adhikari held several posts before settling in Vermont for an education and job at IBM.
Last November, the brothers purchased the Everest Asian Market after Adhikari’s wife, who worked for the market’s former owners, told her husband the business was up for sale. Damber was attending Champlain College for digital forensics on a scholarship for new Americans, but parenting his infant child and succeeding in class was proving difficult.
“Digital forensics is my favorite thing, but you need to give so much time and effort [to succeed],” he said. “When I [came] home, I had to spend time with my daughter and there [was] always something going on.”
So he made the difficult decision to leave the college after two-and-a-half years and transition to business ownership—an area where he could succeed.
Adhikari didn’t have much money, so he asked his brother Prakash to join him in purchasing and operating the market. An employee at IBM, Prakash was hesitant to jump ship, Adhikari recalled.
“He said, ‘That’s a lot of money,’ and I said ‘Yeah, it is a lot of money, but I think we can make it,’” Adhikari said.
Today, sales are up 75 percent, and the brothers take turns on biweekly trips to New York City and Boston to stock their shelves, Adhikari said. In the store, it’s a family affair. The two brothers, Adhikari’s wife and his now 2-year-old daughter work together to better the market.
“It was the first award that I received for my business so it means a lot to me,” Adhikari said. “I just [want] to say thank you for Crystal family.”
Since the award funds weren’t anticipated, he said they won’t be used for the business. Instead, he hopes to donate the cash to a child in Nepal on his daughter’s third birthday.
“At least for one day, the homeless kid in that area will not have to stay hungry on my daughter’s birthday,” he said.
As for the future of the Everest Market, Adhikari hopes to purchase a larger truck for transporting goods to the store and, one day, build his own shop in the area. But those projects are far off, he said. For now, he’s happy to work alongside his family in the business his child-self never imagined he’d own.
“I’m just glad that I came here and got the opportunity to serve the local Asian community,” he said. “I wish people keep coming here, keep loving us.”