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Aurora small business owners celebrate the city's diversity
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Aurora is home to many immigrant-owned businesses, Rocky Mountain PBS spoke with owners from four of them. 

AURORA, Colo. Like much of the Denver metro area, the city of Aurora is growing quickly. It now has close to 400,000 people living in the city; 10 years ago that number was 340,000.

Aurora is also one of the most diverse areas of the state: 60.7 percent of the population identify as white, 28.4 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino, 16 percent identify as Black, and 6.3 percent identify as Asian. Nearly 20 percent of people living in Aurora were born in other countries. This all makes for a culturally diverse city where countries from around the world are now represented in locally owned businesses.

[You can find more population statistics for Aurora here]

Rocky Mountain PBS went to four of these shops and restaurants to hear from the owners about their life and business in Aurora.  

Hiwot Solomon

 Hiwot Solomon, born and raised in Ethiopia, brought her love of traditional Ethiopian food and culture to Aurora. She is the owner of HiRa Café & Patisserie. One of Solomon’s favorite dishes made fresh daily at the café is a spin-off of an Ethiopian breakfast mixed with a traditional American breakfast. Solomon explains that Ethiopian food is mildly spicy and cooked with various spices such as cardamom and a with a traditional barbecue sauce. “Coffee is also a huge part of Ethiopian culture,” said Solomon, smiling. She explained that Ethiopian-grown coffee beans are shipped fresh to her café. Solomon opened her café in February 2019. 

HiRa Café & Patisserie:  10782 E Iliff Ave, Aurora, CO 80014

Hiwot Solomon brought her love of Ethiopian food and culture to Aurora.

When did you move to the United States? And how long have you lived in Aurora?  

I am originally from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is an old country comprised of many different people of various ethnic backgrounds and speak different languages. There are many historical places in my home country. The people of Ethiopia are respectful and religious. I am proud to be one of them. I moved to the United States when I was 26 years old.  

What made you want to move to Aurora?   

America was my dream country, and I chose Aurora because my sister lives here. 

What do you love most about living in Colorado or Aurora for that matter? 

Colorado is a beautiful state. I love living in Aurora because it’s a welcoming place for diverse people. There are many people from around the world who live in Aurora, and I love being one of them. 

What sort of business do you have? And why did you decide to open a business specifically in Aurora?  

My business is a café, restaurant, [and] bakery. I opened my business in Aurora because of the different people from different countries living in Aurora, including local people. There is more than 35,000 people from Ethiopia living in Aurora.  

What do you love about being a business owner?  

I love being a business owner. I love serving and showing people my culture through food but in a modern way. 

Has COVID-19 affected your business negatively? If so, what were the challenges?  

COVID brought a lot of challenges with opening a new business only few months and that happened and shutting down, cutting hours.  

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking about moving to the United States and possibly thinking about starting a business?  

My advice is follow you heart and do what you love to do and you will be successful. [There is] nothing like America if you want to open a business or to be in school; you have all kinds of opportunity and you can achieve any dream you have. 

Do you feel welcomed in Aurora? Did you ever feel out of place?  

Aurora is very welcoming city for anyone I am so happy to be here. The local supporters small business. No. 

Why do you think diversity is so important in any space?  

Diversity is important since everyone is human. It’s about equality, knowing different cultures.   

How do you celebrate your culture in Aurora?  

We celebrate each Ethiopian holidays at home with the family, at church, we also celebrate as Ethiopian people by gathering, for example, for New Year’s or Taste of Ethiopia.  

Deepak Sunuwar

Deepak Sunuwar is from Nepal and co-owns Namaste Plumbing. Sunuwar and Shankar Gurung started the plumbing business in Aurora because they wanted to provide services to everyone, but primarily for minorities. Besides plumbing, Sunuwar and Gurung also do work for the  Non-Resident Nepali Association Colorado Chapter , a global organization that supports immigrants from Nepal. For Sunuwar and Gurung, this organization is a way for them promote their culture and tourism in Nepal. Currently, Shankar is the secretary and Sunuwar is the treasurer for this organization. 

 Namaste Plumbing: 5555 S. Winnipeg St. Aurora, CO 80015

Deepak Sunuwar is from Nepal and co-owns Namaste Plumbing.

What is your nationality? And what are you most proud of about your culture?  

Nepal. Culture and Ethnic Diversity.

When did you move to the United States? And how long have you lived in Aurora? 

July 2014 and moved to Aurora [in] April 2015. 

What made you want to move to Aurora?  

Better opportunity, better education and better life opportunity for kids.  

What do you love most about living in Colorado or Aurora for that matter? 

Colorado is similar to Nepal: similar altitude, hiking, biking, skiing, mountains, [seasonal] climates. 

What sort of business do you have? And why did you decide to open a business specifically in Aurora? 

Plumbing services and remodeling. Aurora is the majority of immigrant  living places and wants to give plumbing issues services with decent prices and affordable prices compared to big plumbing companies. 

What do you love about being a business owner? 

First Asian licensed master plumber and plumbing company owner. 

Has COVID-19 affected your business negatively? If so, what were the challenges? 

Not really.  

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking about moving to the United States and possibly thinking about starting a business? 

[A] lot of opportunity here. Just need to be passionate, hard work, dedication, and willingness to learn.  

Do you feel welcomed in Aurora? Did you ever feel out of place? 

Yes, of course. Never. 

Why do you think diversity is so important in any space? 

This is because their thinking patterns are very much alike. However, if you change things up by mixing diverse individuals together, you'll have a workforce that's more prone to creativity and innovation — two important ingredients for success. 

How do you celebrate your culture in Aurora? 

August 18, every year: Global Fest organized by the City of Aurora. 

Ana Munguia

Ana Munguia is from El Salvador and owns Mi Tienda Naturista, a vitamin and supplement shop that emphasizes a more holistic approach to wellness. Before opening a business, Munguia suffered from seizers and had to undergo surgery because of a brain tumor and was later prescribed a lot of medications. Because of this, she decided to open what she calls "a natural medicine store."  

Mi Tienda Naturista:  1728 S. Chambers Rd., Aurora, CO 80017

Ana Munguia is from El Salvador and owns Mi Tienda Naturista, a vitamin shop.

 What is your nationality? And what are you most proud of about your culture?  

I am Central American, from El Salvador. I am proud of my culture because we are hard-working, don’t give up, and we are not afraid to dream big. It is an honor to be able to represent for my country because it made me who I am today. I proudly wear the Salvadorian and American flag.  

When did you move to the United States? And how long have you lived in Aurora?  

I moved to the United States a little over 27 years ago. I first lived in Los Angeles, California for about three years and then moved to Aurora, Colorado. I have been here since and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. 

 What made you want to move to Aurora? 

We wanted a new start to raise our family. 

What do you love most about living in Colorado or Aurora for that matter?  

I love Colorado because this has been my home for so long. My beautiful family is here and living here has given me the opportunity to open successful businesses. California had a lot of local Latin grocery stores and at the time, Colorado had more opportunities for entrepreneurs. 

What sort of business do you have? And why did you decide to open a business specifically in Aurora?  

I am so grateful and blessed because at the beginning of 2022, my husband and I will be opening the doors to our two new businesses in Aurora, Colorado. We currently have Mi Tienda Naturista, which is an organic medicine, herbs, and supplements store. Mi Carniceria and Mi Panaderia will be open soon and we will have a large variety of fresh groceries, fresh meat, fresh bread, menudo, tacos, etc. 

 What do you love about being a business owner?  

This is truly a dream come true for me. I am fulfilling every dream I had as a little girl growing up in a very poor country. I used to walk by grocery stands as a child and wish I could buy something, but my family was very poor, so I could never eat outside of home. I remember having to save up coins with my brothers just so we could share a tortilla with butter as a treat. I told myself that someday I would have a grocery store so that my family would never be hungry or in need of anything. I am blessed to have the opportunity to now serve other families and make kids smile. 

Has COVID-19 affected your business negatively? If so, what were the challenges? 

Like every business, we did take a hit due to the pandemic, but prayer and faith go along way. We are blessed that our store is still open and thriving. We have the best customers, and we look forward to continuing to serve them. 

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking about moving to the United States and possibly thinking about starting a business?  

It’s hard but not impossible. You can do anything! There are no limits to what you can achieve if you have faith and work hard. I am giving my testimony that as long as you believe in yourself, you too can achieve anything. I grew up never receiving one Christmas gift because we didn’t have the money to celebrate. I slept in my baby crib until I was 14 years old because we couldn’t afford a mattress. Now, I cry thanking God daily that I can help others and provide for my family. My husband has been a big part of our success as well. He has endless love and support for our family and has never given up hope either. We make a great team. Find someone that shares your hopes and dreams so you can strive towards them together.  

Do you feel welcomed in Aurora? Did you ever feel out of place?  

In any city, you can sometimes feel unwanted or disliked based purely on your appearance, your accent, or your career. It’s hard sometimes because we work with a lot of people and unfortunately, not everyone is always going to enjoy your presence or be happy for you, but you have the power to use that as fuel! Don’t be afraid to be who you are; use the negativity to your advantage and push forward.  

Why do you think diversity is so important in any space?  

Diversity is beautiful and enriches our community. It’s important to be proud of who you are and share it with the rest of the world. Learning about different cultures and embracing it can make our community so much stronger. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people and experience new things. 

How do you celebrate your culture in Aurora?  

I am blessed to soon have three store fronts that embraces and welcomes diversity.  Nothing makes me happier than showing others natural herbs, foods and medicine that they have never seen or heard of before. I cannot wait for the day when people are enjoying tacos and soccer games at Mi Carniceria. Bringing people together with delicious food and making new connections. I also have an amazing support system of Salvadorian women that are successful business owners in Colorado. We support each other and do our best to be a positive impact in the Latin community. 

Julie Park

Julie Park is from South Korea and moved to Colorado in 2007. She is the owner of an Aurora hair salon called JP Style.  She spoke to Rocky Mountain PBS through a Korean translator and friend, Eleanor Kong. 

JP Style: 2222 S. Havana St. Unit G Aurora, CO 80014

Julie Park is from South Korea and moved to Colorado in 2007. 

What is your nationality? And what are you most proud of about your culture? 
My name is Julie Park and I am from South Korea. I am very proud of how K-pop is becoming widely known in the United States and how it is making people more interested in learning about Korea. 

When did you move to the United States? And how long have you lived in Aurora? 

I came to the US in 1999. I moved to Colorado in 2007. 

What made you want to move to Aurora?  

My husband accepted a job in Aurora which prompted us to move here. 

What do you love most about living in Colorado or Aurora for that matter? 

I love how Aurora has a good size of a Korean Community with a Korean Market. 

What sort of business do you have? And why did you decide to open a business specifically in Aurora? 

I own a beauty salon. I decided to open a business in Aurora because it has a lot of Korean businesses in the community and therefore many Koreans come to this area often. 

What do you love about being a business owner? 

I am 52 years and owning a business at this age gives me pride. Because I own my business, I feel I have more opportunities to meet more people. And I love how I can interact with a lot of people in my profession. 

Has COVID-19 affected your business negatively? If so, what were the challenges? 

When the pandemic started, I was not able to accept as many appointments. And so, my business did have a decrease in income. There were also extra costs in supplies I needed to purchase that is usually not in my budget like masks for customers, hand sanitizers, sanitizing sprays and I even purchased an air purifier. 

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking about moving to the United States and possibly thinking about starting a business? 

When I first came to the U.S. the most difficult thing for me was learning the language. I could understand most of what people were saying, but I have a hard time speaking English. I still struggle speaking with English. Not being able to communicate well in a country you are living in is difficult at times. For people coming to the U.S. for the first time I would suggest trying to learn the language first before starting your own business. Taking English classes can be beneficial and very helpful when trying to open up a business. It's not too late to open a business after learning the language for one or two years first. 

Do you feel welcomed in Aurora? Did you ever feel out of place? 

I have always felt welcome in Aurora. I have not felt like I was out of place here in Aurora. 

Why do you think diversity is so important in any space? 

For me diversity helps me to feel more less out-of-place. Having many different immigrants where I am makes me feel as if I am not the only one that's not from around here. To know that there are many people who are going through the same things as I am trying — to adjust to a new place kind of gives me comfort.

How do you celebrate your culture in Aurora? 

There isn't anything is particular that I do to celebrate my culture in Aurora but anytime there is an event in town that celebrates our culture I try to participate. A lot of people also ask me about Korea and Korean culture once they find out that I am Korean. And I am happy to share information about Korea. 


Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at lindseyford@rmpbs.org.

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