By All Things Writing, LLC
Augustine Guma has traveled a great distance from Uganda to Virginia.
More than 7,000 miles separate the East African country from the East Coast of the United States. But Guma’s longest journey has been from surviving the civil wars that marred his childhood to become a successful entrepreneur with multiple businesses headquartered in Woodbridge.
Throughout it all, the same skills helped Guma succeed. The savory East African pies he learned to make and sell as a child now form the core of his diversified enterprises, Gumax International. While he also offers accounting and software services, it’s those Guma Pies that represent the heart of his business.
Acts of Generosity
Guma was born in 1971 near Kampula, the Ugandan capital situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. By 1981, the family had moved north, where Guma was attending school when the Ombaci Massacre took place, following the overthrow of military dictator Idi Amin. That tragic incident left about 100 people dead and countless others wounded and traumatized. Guma, one of the few children to survive, fled to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
That experience affected Guma in ways that have reverberated from his native Uganda to his adopted America. It was during the time as a refugee in Congo that he encountered a pair of American institutions that left a lasting impression – the American Red Cross and the U.S. military.
“They were giving out food, blankets, and even ate grasshoppers with local people when food was scarce,” he said. “I later found out that they were from the American Red Cross and U.S. Army.” Those acts of generosity stuck with him: “If a stranger can love you with no strings attached, so much so that he will sacrifice his life to protect you, suffer with you, and even die for you, who am I not to pay back?”
When Guma returned to Uganda to continue his education, his family struggled to pay the tuition. That’s when he first began selling the savory pies that continue to provide his livelihood. Known as samosa, or sumbusa, in the East African region, he now markets them as Guma Spicy Pies.
“I had to sell sumbusa to schools and canteens … to buy school supplies in addition to the help I received from my two elder brothers,” he said. Those sales helped him finish school and head to college, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
Love Is Spicy
In 1991, Guma escaped the wars ravaging Uganda and Congo, winding up in Cape May, New Jersey. He started working as a dishwasher, but soon began learning professional cooking skills. At the same time, Guma, who speaks seven languages, was busy picking up degrees in computer science and accounting.
Eventually, Guma moved to Prince William County, where he lives with his wife, Dr. Stella Kintu Guma Nalongo, and five children.
Working with software development, Guma discovered the connection between his passions for computer algorithms and food recipes, which are both ways of getting the job done. “It’s all some form of precise instructions to create something fabulous,” he said. “I preferred the latter because of the instant appreciation of the product – the dish created.”
Guma adapted the his father created and sold in Uganda, using all-American ingredients such as beef, chicken, vegetables, lobster and crab. The pies are available at his restaurant, Gumax Cafe & Grill in Woodbridge. The company also has food trucks and grocery store kiosks.
And Guma Pies soon will be available at select Costco stores. They’ll be featured in roadshows – special events showcasing products for specific stores – at 90 locations in the northeast. The company plans to expand by partnering with individuals, businesses or charities to introduce the brand into at least 200 major cities.
A Greater Mission
Guma’s business has traveled a path that parallels his own journey, with branches now in the United States, Uganda and South Africa. He began offering tax preparation services in 1998, eventually expanding to provide a wide range of accounting and financial consulting services. With the addition of the Guma Spicy Pie business, the enterprise has grown to include food manufacturing and distribution.
Now Guma wants to pay it forward by providing franchise opportunities, using a cross-section of recipes and culture from around the world to bring people together through food and entrepreneurship. He was inspired by those experiences with the Red Cross and the U.S. military during his time as a refugee.
“Having been a beneficiary of such volunteer work, I developed a burning desire to give back to the world,” he said. “There are many more good people out there and other sources of power to change the world, especially those with the power of money, knowledge and love, who, if used positively, can impact the world in a significant way.”
Serving private, government and nonprofit sectors, All Things Writing ([email protected]) is a content development and content marketing company on a mission to help clients shine online and in print.