Sherpa Foods has been named the 2019 Vermont Microenterprise of the Year by the Small Business Administration. The administration defines a microenterprise as a sole-proprietor business with five or fewer employees. Located in South Burlington, Sherpa Foods, which makes traditional Nepalese fare, is being recognized for its financial success and community involvement.
Nurbu Sherpa started the business in 2015 shortly after he and his wife Phura moved to Vermont from New York City where he worked for a national department store chain. During his time in the corporate world, Sherpa said he always wanted to strike out on his own believing his experience could translate to entrepreneurship.
Raised in Nepal, Sherpa says momos, a type of dumpling, are a part of everyday life. Having grown up in a household where his family regularly made them from scratch, starting a momo business seemed a logical choice even though he had never worked in a restaurant nor run a business.
“I literally had to start everything from ground zero,” said Sherpa. “I had to develop and build relationships and networks, research and learn food supply regulation, licensing and permitting, take various food industry courses, as well as find a suitable kitchen.”
The business started small, selling momos at a farmers market in 2015. Within a few months, a local food coop approached him about carrying his products.
Each packet of momos Sherpa sold at the coop came with a small container of his homemade Himalayan hot sauce, titled Momo Sauce. The sauce itself became so popular that customers and the coop asked if Sherpa could sell the sauce as a stand-alone product.
Today Sherpa Foods offers chicken, beef and vegetable momos, and the hot sauce is available in mild, hot and sesame flavors. Its products are sold in several Vermont coops, local grocery stores and supermarkets. The momo sauce is distributed to 15 states and sold through the company’s website and on Amazon.
Known for his contributions locally and internationally, Sherpa believes that community outreach must be a fundamental part of doing business. Last November, Sherpa Foods received the COTS (Committee of Temporary Shelter) Business Hero Award for donating weekly a portion of their sales from their farmer’s market stand. In addition, during winter months, the business provides monthly lunches to the COTS Daystation, a daytime drop-in shelter.
In addition, Sherpa Foods has assisted communities affected by the 2015 earthquake in Nepal as well as organizing the Women Empowerment Project, which helps women in the rural Nepalese village of Dhading become independent through business start-up initiatives.
“The project aims to build a small soap factory and train women to make hand soaps while providing them with sales and business skills training so they can sell their soaps to various markets and generate income,” said Sherpa.
Sherpa Foods will be presented their awards during the 2019 Vermont Small Business Awards Ceremony in June.