Road to West Side Bazaar
On the morning of September 20, our West Side Bazaar on Grant Street suffered a horrific fire that caused it to close. We're thankful no one was at the Bazaar when the fire broke out and no one was hurt. We are grateful for the outpouring of community love and support we have received since it happened. Your support in all ways is appreciated as we navigate the aftermath of this traumatic event.
To make a contribution to help our West Side Bazaar entrepreneurs, please donate here.
We are assessing and working with our small business owners to establish what they need to recover and reopen. Their businesses are vital to their families' economic security and to the cultural life of our city. The new West Side Bazaar at 1432 Niagara Street will not be open until fall 2023. Immediately, we are looking for below-market-rate commercial kitchen and retail space for our current Bazaar businesses. Financial donations to WEDI are gratefully accepted as we work with our businesses to come back better than ever.
Your West Side Bazaar Small Businesses
Journey: Ethiopia to Yemen to Buffalo (Arr. 2005)
Established in 2012
Zelalem Gemmeda was born and raised in Ethiopia but relocated to a refugee camp in Yemen due to political unrest. During her 12 years in Yemen, she learned Arabic and worked at a restaurant. Eventually, she was able to purchase and own a restaurant, a rare achievement for a woman in Yemen but she and her husband had to leave for the U.S. She opened Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine where she proudly serves authentic Ethiopian cuisine using spices sourced from Ethiopia. Her dishes are meant to be eaten with your hands and the food is particularly popular with vegans. Zelalem said she likes owning her business because she feels connected and involved with the community. She hopes to graduate from the West Side Bazaar and serve dishes on traditional clay plates from her birth country. You’ll often find her husband G. and their daughter Feben working with her at the restaurant.
“That’s why I have a restaurant-to make people happy (with what I am serving)”
Journey: South Sudan to North Sudan to Egypt to Buffalo
Established in August 2021
Akec’s career in the hospitality industry began in Karton, North Sudan as he escaped unrest from the Sudanese Civil War. For nine years he worked at the Friendship Palace Hotel where he learned how to cook Italian and Lebanese food. He went on to become a private chef for a Canadian oil company where he mastered cooking North American-style cuisine. Encouraged by a friend, he moved to Egypt to start the immigration process to America. On April 18, 2003, Akec and his wife arrived in Buffalo with their three children and worked with Catholic Charities to settle in Buffalo’s west side shortly thereafter. He applied to work for a security company, then a car rental at the airport, before he became an Uber driver while receiving his associate's degree in hospitalityfrom ECC in 2018. After being on the West Side Bazaar waiting list for five years, Nile River Restaurant finally opened in August 2021.
Journey: Sri Lanka to Buffalo (Arr. 2006)
Established in 2015
Romala grew up in a small village in Northern Sri Lanka but was displaced to Negombo, in Western Sri Lanka due to civil war. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, she moved her family to the US, eventually settling in Buffalo. She is excited for West Side Bazaar’s expansion and hopes to bring Sri Lankan cuisine to Western New York in the future.
“My passion is to bring pieces of my culture to Western New York through cultural clothing, jewelry, art work, and home décor.”
Journey: Myanmar/Burma to Buffalo (Arr. 2008)
Established in 2022
Aye Myo Aung has lived in the Buffalo area since 2008 and has over 10 years of experience in the restaurant business. His first job was as a dishwasher at Salvatore’s restaurant, he then started working at the Lexington Coop in 2009, which is where he was bit by the sushi making bug. He is currently the sushi manager at a major grocer in Orchard Park. He spent eight years on the West Side Bazaar waitlist to open KO Food Galaxy and is grateful that “WEDI has allowed me to start my dream of owning my own shop.” He takes great pride in his work and said that every piece of his sushi is made “tastefully and beautifully.”
In Burma, Aye studied philosophy in college in Rangoon; he earned an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts from ECC in 2012. He said that he enjoys reflection and solitude. His favorite part of living in Western New York is riding “Maid of the Mist” in Niagara Falls.
In his free time, Aye likes to hike, play tennis, and watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
Established in 2021
Flavia’s goal is to bring quality African, Middle Eastern, and Asian clothing to her family and friends here in the US. Flavia personally selects the clothing, purses, bags, and decorative items she imports to ensure they are of the best quality. She also makes and sells braids and decorative hair pieces. Flavia speaks 6 different languages which allow her to communicate more efficiently with the growing immigrant and refugee community in the Greater Buffalo Area.
Journey: Burma to Thailand to Buffalo
Established in 2012
In Burma, Ma Thient was a middle school English teacher until 2000. Her father, Maung Tha Ya known as the Burmese Gypsy Writer for his inability to remain in one place for too long, left Burma out of fear of the government without telling his family. Once safe in the US, he informed his family to follow him here, so Ma relocated to Thailand. In Thailand, she worked as an assistant medical worker and was encouraged by a doctor to stay in the medical field when she arrived in the US. When she arrived in Buffalo, she attended ECC so she could become a Home Health Aide. From 2005-2016, she worked as a HHA at a senior living facility where she loved learning from the residents. Her desire to open a business began when she bought a house and wanted to decorate it n traditional items but found out that was hard to find. She then began discovering wholesalers to buy from so she could sell to other Burmese people from her home. A friend noticed she had a way with people and her home store and told her about WEDI. In November 2012, MoonLady Arts & Crafts opened in the West Side Bazaar.
“I’m a Buddhist so we need a Buddha statue but I couldn’t find it, so I had the idea to order it from my country.”
Journey: Burma/Myanmar to Malaysia to Buffalo (Arr. 2013)
Established in 2016
Originally from the Arakan state in Burma/Myanmar, Htay learned to cook Thai in Malaysia. Upon arrival in Buffalo, he worked as a dishwasher at the Original House of Pancakes. He learned about the West Side Bazaar from 007 Chinese Food owner Maung Maung Saw, with whom he worked in Malaysia. With his earnings from The Original House of Pancakes in Williamsville, he opened Night and Night Thai Cuisine in 2016, a few feet from Maung. He said his favorite thing about owning a business is the freedom that comes with it — he gets to decide his own menu. Since opening, he has hired an employee and expanded his family — he and his wife Mae welcomed Nuri, a baby girl. Next, Htay plans to open a larger restaurant featuring more Thai and Southeast Asian dishes.
“Because I own my business, I feel like I am a positive role model for my family, especially my daughter.”
Journey: Myanmar to Thailand to Buffalo
Established in 2018
Originally from the Karen state in Burma, Elizabeth relocated to a refugee camp in Thailand to avoid geopolitical fighting in 1997. While there, she worked in a Thai restaurant learning recipes, and helping the chef prepare dishes, often early in the morning before she went to school and then, she returned there after school. In 2011, she immigrated to Buffalo solo. She worked as a hotel cleaner for three years and eventually, she was able to bring the rest of her family with her in the United States. Elizabeth’s favorite thing about owning a business is it allows her creativity and the ability to experiment with recipes to come up with new dishes and she enjoys being her own boss and making the business decisions. Elizabeth lives in Riverside with her husband Soe, who recently passed his United States citizenship test in May. They have four active children, Moeyu (8), Soethanda (6), Soesandy (3), and Soenilar (1), and you can find the family riding bikes, hiking or at gymnastics in their free time.
“My oldest daughter is proud of me for owning a business. She helps me in the kitchen with making samosas. I think she wants to own her own business when she gets older.”
Journey: Burma/Myanmar to Malaysia to Buffalo (Arr. 2009)
Established in 2016
Originally from the Chin state in Burma, Kap Thang fled to Malaysia when he was 21-years-old. For 10 years he worked various jobs, including as chef in a Japanese restaurant. His first job in Buffalo was prepping food at the Lexington Co-Op. He began working with WEDI on a business plan in 2016 and with our help and using savings, he fulfilled his dream to open a restaurant, featuring Japanese and Malaysian influenced dishes. He said his favorite thing about owning a restaurant is that he can work as much as he wants, learn business skills, and feel accomplished at the end of the day. He said he appreciates the business incubator concept of the West Side Bazaar as it gives him the opportunity to start small and grow. Kap lives in Kenmore with his wife Van Mawi and three sons Daniel, Steven, and Caleb.
“My children are proud of their dad for being a business owner and I feel I am making a positive impact in their life.”
Journey: Myanmar/Burma to Thailand to Malaysia to Buffalo (Arr. 2012)
Established in 2017
Raine and her husband Jerry were pharmacists before fleeing Burma/Myanmar for Thailand with their small children (now in nursing school and college). Feeling unsafe, they fled again for Malaysia where they applied to the U.N. as refugees. After she arrived here, Raine worked in a nursing home. But she said, she and her husband missed the kind of relationships they had when owning their own pharmacy. They found out about the West Side Bazaar incubator at the International Institute. While owning Zigma Naturals, Raine is a doula and translator and Jerry is a pharmacy technician at Buffalo General Hospital. Raine said WEDI has helped her understand business taxes and ecommerce. Ever entrepreneurial, she said she hopes to open a restaurant and bring her native dishes to Western New Yorkers.
"My aim is to empower women, especially refugee women, to get out of the house and be more independent. I want to show them they can independently support themselves."
Your West Side Bazaar Small Businesses Graduates
Journey: New York City to Puerto Rico to California to Buffalo (Arr. 2003)
At West Side Bazaar 2017-2020
Husband and wife team Maria and Alain were born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico where Maria learned to cook from her grandmother. Later, living in California, Maria learned to cook traditional Mexican food. They opened Kiosko Latino which quickly became popular and a loyal customer based formed to help the business thrive. They graduated despite the pandemic. They moved locations and will open soon at 142 French Road in Cheektowaga.
"WEDI helps you all the way with counseling and checking on you to see how you're doing, and giving you advice on what to do to get better. It's a blessing."
Journey: Indonesia to Buffalo (Arr. 2008)
At West Side Bazaar 2011-2014
Novi Paluch began her career as a trader at the Indonesian Stock Exchange. She moved to Buffalo in 2008 as her now-husband was a resident. When she arrived here, she kept busy taking English classes at the International Institute and ECC, volunteering at Catholic Charities and the International Institute, and then enrolling at a one-year Business Program at University at Buffalo. She is someone who loves giving back. Ten percent of all her sales go back to Indonesia for children’s education and she sells products from elderly, homeless, and disabled persons so they can make a living and receive an education. While honing her business acumen, Novi also creates her own designs and styles and in 2019, the organizers of New York Fashion Week reached out to her to be a part of the show. She participated in New York Fashion Week virtually in 2020 and then in-person in 2021 where she showcased her line called Morning Breeze. Her 2021 designs sold out and a NYC buyer ordered 50 pieces from her. She will participate in New York Week again in September 2022 with a line she calls Cultural Fiesta. All the dresses in her store are her designs and she plans to launch a line of designer purses to sell soon. On November 1, 2021, Sasmita Batik opened a new location at 43 Allen Street in Buffalo that is four times the size of her current location on Main Street. The new location will allow her to be more collaborative with other local business owners and she plans on having pop-ups to help support them.
“I noticed Buffalo was open to multi-cultural items, so I thought why not open a business to bring my culture here.”
Journey: Rwanda to Namibia to Buffalo (Arr. 2006)
At West Side Bazaar 2011-2014
Louise received her BA in Business Administration from the University of Namibia, where she began her career as a businesswoman. “I was known as the girl who likes to sell stuff,” she says. “I made myself a walking billboard for my business.” She began to come to Buffalo in 2006 but would often leave for Africa during winter as she did not like the cold. She says she became a full-time Buffaloian in 2011. When she first came to Buffalo, she was a homemaker, but she wanted to find a job, nothing serious but something fun- and she began working at JCPenny as a replenishment assistant. Here she learned about what the American retail experience was like by watching customer behavior and offered to help people put outfits together. “I learned decisions are made in the fitting room. Learning how people shopped in America, she realized she had to change her business model if she wanted to open a shop. She concluded it would be best to offer more timeless pieces rather than fast fashion.” Her customer base represents a wide range of people so she wanted to make sure her inventory would look good on a teenager as well as older women. She learned about WEDI through a friend and met Bonnie Smith, a WEDI founder, who Louise also considers as her mentor. She was eager to get started so she attended as many WEDI workshops as she could and was ready to start her business when the West Side Bazaar opened. It gave her the opportunity to test the market so by the time she wanted to open her own store, she knew what people wanted. She has inventory from over 20 countries in Africa, South America, and Asia. Not a quitter, Louise knows the importance of staying focused and being creative. She acknowledges she’s lucky as she has a good support network of friends that don’t allow her to doubt herself. She has proven her business acumen, so her suppliers now allow her to customize her orders. What she wants, Louise proudly says can get. She states if I want 1” dangle earrings in a certain size and color, her supplies oblige. Since graduating from the bazaar, she has started an event planning business which she launched as she felt events like weddings were too expensive. She is still testing this business model. She lives in Tonawanda with her husband, Jean-Claude.
“All the friends I have here, I met through the store. If the store closed tomorrow, I still have the friendships.”
Journey: Myanmar/Burma to Malayasia to Buffalo (Arr. 2013)
Established in 2015
Originally from the Arakan state in Burma/Myanmar, Maung Maung and his wife Than Than fled to Malaysia when their son Hein (now Henry Heinrich) was a year old. For over a decade Maung Maung worked in Chinese restaurants in Malaysia, perfecting his dim sum skills. At one point he worked alongside Htay Naing of Nine and Night! It was there he first dreamt of owning a restaurant. After they arrived here, Maung Maung washed dishes in local restaurants and worked in a factory until he had enough savings to open his own dim sum restaurant at the West Side Bazaar in 2015 His goal is to familiarize foodies with genuine Chinese dim sum. He said his favorite aspect of owning a business is being able to work for himself and being creative and experimenting with new menu items. The family lives in Riverside and appreciates Buffalo because of its thriving and supportive Burmese community.
“Since I was in Malaysia, I wanted to open a restaurant, but in Malaysia, I didn’t have a chance because I was a refugee. But, in the United States, everything is possible.”
At West Side Bazaar 2021-2022
Radah Baked Goods is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Lee & Lavenia Thomas. Lavenia has a certificate from the Baking & Pastry Arts Program at Erie Community College. The couple started small batch baking for their friends and community, eventually launching their home-based business in September 2020. Their business offers a variety of cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and custom cakes for weddings, birthdays, and special events. Lee and Lavenia live in Buffalo with their young sons James and LJ. They will open their new location soon on Amherst Street in Buffalo.
“It is not just about a cake or a cookie but instead those whom we serve. Our heart, the core of our ‘why’ the reason behind all of it is really for our people. Let’s bake the world a better place.”
Journey: Iraq to Syria to Turkey to Buffalo (Arr. 2014)
At West Side Bazaar 2015-2021
Nadin Yousef began her journey to Buffalo in 2006 after her family fled to Syria because of the Iraqi war. After spending 6 years in Syria, her family had to flee once again due to the war that broke there so they moved to Turkey. During this time, Nadin applied to come to America as refugees and in 2014, she resettled in Buffalo with her family. Her case worker from the International Institute of Buffalo noticed that Nadin had a talent for make macramé items like plant holders, wall hangings, and necklaces and encouraged Nadin to consider starting a business selling her creations. She opened Macramè by Nadeen in 2015, four months after arriving in Buffalo. During her time at the West Side Bazaar, Nadin was encouraged by WEDI staff to build relationships with her customers by explaining how she comes up with her designs and how to display her products for maximum appeal. This encouragement help build Nadin’s confidence to graduate from the West Side Bazaar in August 2021 with a focus on ecommerce as she works on opening a gift shop with classroom space.
“Because I own my own business, I feel proud, happy, and strong.”
-Channel 2 News April 5, 2018