Winooski Market Tends To Immigrants’ Tastes

Business leader poses with supplies in retail storefront

Recognizing a void in the market and filling it is one of the true traits of an entrepreneur. Filling the void doesn’t need to be complex either. One doesn’t need to establish a new e-currency market, it can simply be a market.

That is what Muyisa Mutume did in 2021 when he established M. Square Vermont African & Tropical Food Market on Main Street in Winooski. An immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mutume noticed many new Americans in Vermont did not have a suitable market to buy food from their various homelands.

“Selling goods was always a hobby of mine growing up in the Congo and I knew people needed a market with food from their country, so I thought it made a lot of sense for me to start this,” said Mutume.

It appears to be a natural fit for Mutume. He speaks six different languages, so he can interact with about any customer that comes through his doors. He has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years, so he knows American culture as well as he knows his homeland’s.

“There is certainly a lot of socializing with my customers because they get to speak to someone in their native tongue outside of their home,” he said. “People know this is a place where they will feel welcomed and never feel out of place.

Although M. Square looks like a typical independent market upon entering, its inventory is very different than what sells in a typical American market. Mutume sells Camote tops, which are sweet potato leaves, and matoke, which are West African bananas. He imports food from eight different countries.

“I sell everything. Rice, goat, eggplant, fish and if people want something specific, I can probably get it,” said Mutume. Fish is the market’s best seller and it sells a wide variety of fish from Asia, Africa and South America.

Along the way to help grow the business, M. Square received assistance from Pacifique Nsengiyumva, a Micro Business Development Coach with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

“Muyisa has worked so hard to bring his business where it is today. Despite some challenges, his resilience, patience, and work ethic embody many of the skills required to start and run a successful micro business,” said Nsengiyumva.

CVOEO is one of nine Vermont organizations assisting underserved small businesses throughout the state as part of the Small Business Administration’s Community Navigator Pilot Program. Based on a “hub and spoke” model, the Vermont Small Business Development Center was awarded a $2.5 million grant in 2022 to act as the hub and work with the nine different organizations, which are the spokes. 

“I’m glad the federal government has an initiative such as the Community Navigator Program, and I get to be a part of it, alleviating some of the challenges and issues faced by many if these businesses,” said Nsengiyumva.

Mutume says as much as he enjoys having his own business and interacting with his customers, it is hard work and much of what he earns goes directly back into the business. Growing is a slow process, but he did hire his first employee in late 2022 and is looking to hire another in the spring.

“If everything goes right, I’d like to eventually open another market in another city and my ultimate dream is for this to become a franchise, but for now I’m happy to be building this little community,” said Mutume.

This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.