WALNUT GROVE — Mark Vue is the new owner of Bubai Foods grocery store in Walnut Grove, a staple in the community for nearly 20 years.

Vue purchased the business with help from Southwest Initiative Foundation’s (SWIF) Microenterprise Loan Program and took ownership in March 2020.

“I saw the purchase of the grocery store as a learning opportunity. I felt like it would give me a chance to gain and hone the necessary skills to grow a successful business while having a relatively low risk of failure,” said Vue, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Southwest Minnesota State University. “The first few months have been both equally challenging and rewarding. Luckily, I had plenty of people to help mentor me through the process of starting the business. With their help and with the help of the previous owners, it was a smooth transition.”

Bubai Foods offers a wide selection of items while filling a local need for Asian food staples. Walnut Grove has a population of 880, with about 30 percent of community members identifying as Hmong. The store stocks pantry items as well as fresh produce like sweet Thai mangos and rambutan, a small tropical fruit encased in a hairy shell.

Loan programs have been a key function of SWIF since its inception to support communities and businesses throughout southwest Minnesota. In 2001, microlending was added to existing programs as a tool to support small businesses and people looking for self-employment opportunities.

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Microloan clients receive free technical assistance from SWIF staff to improve their business management skills. Areas of support include business planning and financials analysis, QuickBooks training, marketing assistance and other training opportunities for the life of the loan.