SAN ANTONIO - A local business owner is on a mission to change the lives of children. He owns a food mart on the north side and he's turning it into the new hangout spot for kids in the neighborhood.
The owner of Desi Food Mart near 281 and Evans is Mukul Seth, but everyone calls him "Moo."
"This is the job I love," said Seth, an engineer from India. "When I was backpacking for three years, I studied a lot about the education system in different countries and how society was in different countries. I saw there was something lacking here. Kids are not out in the street. Kids are not playing. Kids aren't able to mix socially like they used to.They go home from school and then they get on their phones because there's nothing else to do. There's no place for them to, the keyword is, 'hang out.'"
Weekdays, starting at 3:30 p.m., kids flock to Desi Food Mart's bully-free zone.
"We have a safe place for [the kids]. They don't have a choice not to go to school. After school, if they get bullied, they can come here. Instead of going straight home and being upset, they can come here and cheer up," said Raiya Rowshan, a manager at Desi Food Mart.
"All the kids come here from Tejeda Middle School and we all hang out," Tejeda student Elijah Vieira said.
It's a place for youth to be themselves and make new friends while they're at it.
"They've got the snow cones, they got loads of snacks, too," said Arshiyaan Feerasta, a local fifth-grader. "He fixed the [arcade] machine so you don't have to put coins anymore."
"[Moo] says, 'Hi! How was your day? What did you do? What did you learn?'" said 10-year-old Elizabeth Eckard, who attended summer camp at Desi Food Mart and learned vocabulary in three languages.
Seth says that he hopes the non-profit project sets an example for other stores in the area.
Desi Food Mart often hosts musicians, and karaoke for the kids.
Parents applaud the idea. Kelli Harward's 14-year-old is homeschooled, and she says that Desi Food Mart helps him mingle with friends.
"He has a couple of friends who will go from school to here and then he'll meet them here. They'll get snacks, they'll get drinks, they'll laugh, hang out," Harward explained. "If you can start with your middle schoolers, your 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds and get them back into the sense of community, I think it's great."
"I think it gives the kids a positive place to be rather than out messing around," parent Christopher Eckard said. "You can't compare it to other stores. There are no other ones like it, not these days. He really wants to have a positive place for kids to come and he's attained that."
Seth gives the kids healthy food to eat. Some students even started a tab.
"He gives us free apples," Tejeda student Josh Walkingstick said.
"He cares about our health!" classmate Jose Juarez said.
Mukul's business model is under construction. He says that his profit is slim-to-none, but what fills his shop from end to end is the group of dedicated students. Each spends 45 minutes a day with their new friend, Moo.
"When we grow old and we're in a nursing home, these are the kids who are going to take care of us," Seth said.
Desi Food Mart celebrated six months in operation on Wednesday. Seth says that he is looking into hosting iPhone coding classes for the kids.
To keep up with the shop, you can visit the official Facebook page here.
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