Soethu Hlamyo founded Shwe Market International Foods in Columbia in 2016. His story, told to reporter Indah Setiawati, has been edited for length and clarity.
I came to the United States in November 2009 with my wife and daughter as refugees from Burma. We had been dreaming about having our own business. I wanted to work for myself. I didn’t want to have a boss or a supervisor. We wanted to have a grocery store, but we didn’t know how to start it.
I have an American friend from the City of Refuge Columbia. The organization supports refugees from various countries. People who work there – they are my main supporters. This American friend is the best friend. He helped us with everything we needed to know about starting the business such as getting a business license.
I was still working in Kraft Foods when we opened the store. First, I was very tired. I worked night shifts in the company and worked in the store during the day. After I finished my night shift, I would go to Kansas City every Friday to pick up fresh produce that we ordered. That was kind of hard. I slept very little. Another reason was, my wife worked full time in our store when I was working in the company. The business grew, and she got busier. I wanted to take care of her, too, and have more time to take care of our business.
Quitting the company was not an easy decision because we would lose the insurance benefits. I just wanted to make sure that my business was doing OK, so after two years, I concluded that we’d be fine if I quit. You have to make sure that your business is doing good. Make sure it is growing.