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Muju International Groceries reflects Utica’s many cultures

Thomas Caputo
Staff writer
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Posted 7/1/22

Muju International Groceries is stocked with items that can’t be found at just any grocery store.

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Muju International Groceries reflects Utica’s many cultures

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UTICA — Muju International Groceries is stocked with items that can’t be found at just any grocery store. Located on Champlin Avenue in Utica, right on the border between Utica and Yorkville, the store provides ingredients and foods from other countries and cultures, ranging from Caribbean, Latino, Middle Eastern and Asian.

The store was established to address the lack of ethnic options available in the Mohawk Valley.

“Utica is so much more diverse than people actually think about or talk about,” said Ujjwal Rai, one of the founders of Muju International Groceries. “We started with a purpose of helping people to have easy access to food from their culture. We want to be the store that represents who we are, what we are as a city.”

Ujjwal Rai, along with his wife Grace Rai, are refugees from Nepal and Bhutan and the founders of Muju International Groceries. After arriving to Utica, they came to the realization that many of the items they needed to cook food from their culture could not be found locally.

The namesake of their business pays homage to a woman named Muju, who offered Nepali food to Grace Rai as she was struggling to adjust to her new life in Utica.

“After that lady came into my life, everything changed,” Grace Rai said. “That was the first time I felt like I can get food from my culture here.”

Grace Rai became inspired to start a business and provide ingredients and food from cultures of local immigrants. With the help of her friend Ayushi Batra, they developed an app during the pandemic where customers could purchase items that the Rai’s stocked in their basement and have them delivered. Upon the success of their app and delivering groceries around the city, a brick-and-mortar store was established to give customers better access to items they might be looking for. The Rai’s have been operating the brick-and-mortar store for over a year now and have recently expanded to offer freshly prepared foods and boba tea.

Seeing customers come into their store and finding items from their culture is one of the many reasons the Rai’s continue to provide to the community.

“We want to see that reaction,” Grace Rai said. “It gives us so much happiness.”

With a mission to continue helping the local immigrant community, Ujjwal Rai hopes that in the near future, Muju International Groceries and their app can become a place where local immigrants can network and sell their own products.

“We want to make sure people know we are super grateful,” Ujjwal Rai said. “We’re learning every day, we’re learning about people, we’re learning about culture and at the same time, we’re using all this information to give it back.”

“This is home, there is no second home,” Ujjwal Rai added. “There is a memory, but there is no second home. This is home now. Nobody’s going back.”

Muju International Groceries is located at 1026 Champlin Ave in Utica with their hours of operation being weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For more information, visit: muju.store

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