Leaves bounce in the wind. The setting sun bruises the sky. Cheerleaders rub pom-poms in long sleeves.
Up the hill, at the Roosevelt High School flagpole, Ahmed Musa pops open a fold-up table. His little sister, 6-year-old Rita, drags a cooler. Ahmed pulls fluorescent yellow and orange and red pouches from the ice.
He props a sign.
“MUSA’S LEMONADE … $4.”
Three girls in sweatshirts and flannel hand Ahmed dollar bills and stab straws through the plastic. The drink is a flood of sugar, sticky and catatonically sweet. But business is slow at Community Night on Oct. 6, when families gather for a parade the night before the Roughriders’ homecoming football game.
“I wish it was hotter,” says Ahmed, 24.
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His little brothers made the mix the night before, swirling water, lemons, cane sugar, sweetener, mangos and strawberries in jugs. The Musa siblings have tinkered with the recipe since April, when they launched outside Platinum Kutz on University Avenue during the Drake Relays.
The Musas hawked their juice on weekends around town this summer, at Black Art Mecca, at the Downtown Farmers Market, and at the 4th & Court Hy-Vee.
“Love to see that entrepreneurship!” a Roosevelt employee shouts.
“That’s all her,” Ahmed shouts back, pointing at his sister.
Rita, who loves the Minions and Buffalo Wild Wings and the rapper Lil Durk, is the face of the business. The business is cute. Ahmed doesn’t want to be cute.
“I want to be a mogul,” he says.
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Ahmed’s parents, Adel Musa and Adely Boula, arrived in the United States as Sudanese refugees in November 2000, on a day so cold that the flight attendants demanded they wait in the plane until staff found them heavy coats and a blanket for Ahmed.
Adel cleaned a hospital and laid tile and drove a semi. Adely cleaned hotels rooms and made furniture and worked in food services. They lived in a downtown apartment until Adel’s sweat equity earned the family a Habitat for Humanity home north of Evelyn K. Davis Park.
They sent money to family in South Sudan. Adel watched his son take after him, giving his miniature basketballs to neighborhood children. When he was older, on a visit to South Sudan, Ahmed returned to his grandparents’ house in his socks. He had handed his shoes to a local boy.
At home, Ahmed gave shoes to the houseless and, hoping to create a business with a philanthropic arm, enrolled in a Simpson College social entrepreneurship class.
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He has visions for Musa’s Lemonade. He wants to build brand recognition, add flavors, bottle the juice, buy a trailer, sell at RAGBRAI and rent a booth at the Iowa State Fair.
At Community Night, the sun sets further, lights the school façade orange. Parents watch the parade, rub goosebumps. Ahmed may need to stop the business until the spring.
But he gets an idea. People like hot chocolate. He Googles a recipe.
“It’s not that hard to make,” he says.
Marching past, football players bury hands in pockets.
“We’ll use, like, almond milk as a substitute,” Ahmed says.
A girl in debate club demands applause. A group drapes Mexican flags over their shoulders.
“It’ll be cool,” Ahmed says. “Yeah. We’ll see.”
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. He prefers the mango lemonade.
Our Des Moines
Our Des Moines is a weekly feature on an interesting person, place or happening in the Des Moines metro, the kind of gems that make central Iowa a special place. Have an idea for this series? Contact email@example.com.