Food mart owner beloved by students after school
SAN ANTONIO —
The Desi Food Mart located on 2770 E. Evans Rd. on the North Side is not your typical corner store.
Mukul Seth, who immigrated from India 19 years ago, transformed a portion of the business he owns into an after-school hangout for local middle and high school students.
Dozens of kids, who affectionately call him “Moo," swing by his store after school for up to several hours each day. They come there to play games, drink smoothies and socialize with each other.
“Most people are in business to make money,” Fox San Antonio’s Ryan Wolf said to “Moo.” “But you have taken, what looks like pretty important space away from selling product, and instead made it into an area for kids to interact."
“People call me crazy," he laughingly responded.
“Moo” left a high paying job in Silicon Valley three years ago as an executive and engineer. He said he helped develop the chip used for WIFI in cell phones. But his career in California apparently left him with an empty feeling inside.
“My first goal in life was to get a 3.9 GPA in college, and then to get a good job, then it was to make a lot of money,” he told Wolf. “But then after that, it became not a very satisfying goal."
He eventually moved to San Antonio to live closer to his young nephew. Shortly after, he realized kids in the area had no place to hang out and socialize like he had growing up.
“These kids don't have any real world friends anymore,” he explained. “Not really. Because they don't have any real world interaction."
So he bought the food mart. He gutted a portion of the store. It's now a bully-free zone, where kids can play and bond with each other, instead of being on the phone at home.
Brooke Ashworth and Jose Juarez are two 8th graders from nearby Tejeda Middle School who frequent “Moo’s” store. They credit his after school program with helping them build friendships and better communication skills.
“The majority of people that come here come to have fun and socialize because at school you can't really do that," Ashworth said.
Juarez feels the environment provides a positive impact because “they're not always on their phone or TV."
"Moo" feels good knowing he’s giving back to future generations.
“The satisfaction comes from helping others out," he said. “You can't describe the feeling. You get a tingling in the heart."
His safe space has been open since last March. He’s brought in a musical instrument, an arcade machine, board games and has a smoothie bar. The rules are simple: be respectful to others and the store. “Moo” makes sure there’s no WIFI.
“Let's try to provide this unstructured, un-choreographed time to them,” he explained. “Just let them be together."
He's also trying to teach life skills-- and push better eating habits. Kids get free fruit, discounted smoothies and score healthy snacks for winning games.
“When they're sitting here in the cafe drinking milkshakes, they'll sit on the ground, they'll sit on the stools and they're talking to each other," he said.
His desire to help others is catching the attention of people in the community—including customers at his own store. Duane Conder nominated him for the CASH FOR KINDNESS prize.
“I let Ryan know because the world needs to know, really, what you're doing here in this store for these kids,” he told the food mart owner with kids all around him. “You're being a light to them and to your customers. And that's why we're really here today, to celebrate and acknowledge this.”
With a shocked look on his face, “Moo” thanked Conder for surprising him with the recognition. “Wow!” he said. “Thank you. It's very heartwarming and gratifying to see that people still see this way."
Wolf handed “Moo” a wad of cash from Fox San Antonio. "Wow!” he said with a huge smile on his face. “Really?"
He asked the kids near him to help count the money aloud. “$600, $700, $800, $900, $1,000!"
“Moo” held the money up high and shouted “bling, bling,” as the kids started to laugh.
He said he will use his CASH FOR KINDNESS prize to help fund the non-profit program. And while the food mart continues to lose money, “Moo” said he isn’t worried. He feels rich in heart.
Click here to nominate someone for the $1,000 on CASH FOR KINDNESS