After earning a pre-social work degree, Bawi Sung felt whatever career she found next should center on helping her fellow Burmese orphans and refugees.
Bawi Sung, who goes by Anu, immigrated to the U.S. from Myanmar in 2009 through Lutheran Social Services as an orphan fleeing ethnic persecution.
In the U.S., while learning English as a second language, Anu completed ninth grade through high school — where she met her now-husband Aceu Thawng, who immigrated to Grand Rapids in 2008. Anu then earned a pre-social work degree from Grand Rapids Community College.
During summers, she worked for her cousin making sushi at a franchise shop.
Her husband also worked in sushi shops for five years, including when the couple moved to Traverse City after getting married in 2016.
When they began thinking about returning to Grand Rapids, they considered buying into or working at another franchise but decided to start their own operation making “sushi with a purpose,” which they felt would motivate them to do the hard work of starting and running a business.
“We had this idea that every purchase of a sushi box would provide for one meal back in Burma to the orphanage we support,” Anu said.
“And also, we know how hard it is to come here and start a new life, especially learning a new language, so we said we’ll also support the newcomers and give them job opportunities.”
True to their word, they launched Anu Sushi seven months ago, securing a space in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen to make their product in the wee hours of the morning for distribution by lunchtime.
Anu Sushi sells trays of sushi for the dining halls at Aquinas College, Davenport University and Calvin College through Zeeland-based Creative Dining Services, as well as to Spectrum Health, LG Chem, Yanfeng, Stryker, Wolverine Worldwide and more for the organizations’ cafeterias.
It also does special events and tastings for its clients.
For every tray of sushi sold, the business donates funds through a foundation to buy one meal for an orphaned child in Myanmar.
In its first seven months, the company has donated more than 50,000 meals to orphans. It is currently supporting one orphanage with 15 children and is connected to a growing list of others.
Anu Sushi currently employs 10 full-time staff who are Burmese immigrants.
The company is leaving the incubator kitchen this month and expanding to a leased facility at 900 52nd St. SE in Kentwood to meet increased production needs.
Anu Sushi is the fifth “graduate” of the Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen and its fastest graduate ever, according to the market.
Once the business has fully transitioned to the new location — which is a former Taco Bob’s drive-thru with a large kitchen — Anu and her husband will hire more people.
Currently, since the academic year is over, Anu Sushi produces about 500 orders per day. Anu expects that to double during the 2019-20 school year.
The menu, available at anusushi.com, includes about 40 different varieties of sushi rolls and appetizers and is constantly updated based on customer demand and trends in the food industry.
Anu said she trains her staff to make only the best. If a staff member makes something they wouldn’t eat, she said, they should assume it’s not fit for the customer, either.
“Quality is our most important consideration, and we take pride in the fact that we make restaurant-quality sushi with the convenience of grab-and-go packaging,” she said. “When people purchase our sushi, they know it’s never more than a day old. Anything left at the end of the day gets pulled from the shelves to start fresh the next day.”
The business partners with clients to help them analyze their sales numbers and order the products their demographics want.
Anu said she also gets requests from clients to keep them informed on how many meals they’ve delivered to the orphanages because the clients like being part of the company’s mission.
In the next year or two, she said the goal is to expand the Anu Sushi brand into “every state that Burmese people live in,” which includes Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, New York and California, as well as Washington, D.C., among others.
Photo: Courtesy Anu Sushi.
This article first appeared in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, a sister publication of GRMag.com.