What I Do: Devi Gurung States of Everest Café

A chance encounter with an American tourist in Kathmandu, Nepal, changed 16-year-old Devi Gurung States’ life forever. That man became his adoptive father and brought him to the U.S., where States pursued his education relentlessly, earning a doctorate and two (soon to be three) master’s degrees.

States has combined his background in medicine and public health policy with his passion for food at Everest Café at 4145 Manchester Ave., in The Grove. There, he focuses not only on feeding his customers, but also on caring for their physical health. Everest provides free health screenings in St. Louis every Sunday, and the restaurant’s earnings help support States' Nepalese nonprofit, Himalayan Family Healthcare Project.

Here’s how States went from a homeless teenager to a philanthropic doctor and restaurateur.

“My dream was to own a restaurant. When I was 15, both my parents passed away. … I didn’t know what to do, so I left my village and I moved to Kathmandu … I did not know anybody, and I was too young to find a job, so I became homeless. I [spent] every day picking garbage cans, knocking on doors. … After a year and a half, I found a restaurant … I asked [the owner], ‘I want to work for anything. I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten for a long time.’ So then they gave me a job to wash dishes and bus tables. That’s where I said I have my two dreams: One dream is to own my restaurant. The second dream is I want to do something to help children who are poor and suffered as I was.”

“When I was working at the restaurant, I met my American father, Dr. States … He told me he’s a doctor, he went to medical school to help people, not to be rich, and he wanted to help me and take me to the U.S. … After I completed my undergrad, I asked my father, ‘You brought me to America. What can I do pay you back?’ He said to help people.”

“Sometimes customers come here, and do you know what they ask me? They ask, ‘Is this good?’ I say, ‘Well, I respect what you’re saying, but your first question should be: Is it healthy? Then the second question should be: Is it good?’ I want you to reframe your mind. My goal is to make it healthy, then tasty.”

“Three years ago, one customer came [for a free health screening]. His blood sugar was over 300, and I said, ‘You need to see a doctor right away to get medication.’ His wife called me crying on the phone saying thank you very much. … Now, almost five times per week, he comes to eat. His blood sugar is under control, normal.”

“In Nepal, we’ve built two schools already and one medical clinic. Doctors, nurses and medicine we supply 100 percent … that money comes from Everest Café. Once a year, at Festival of Nations, all the restaurants make a lot of money. For us, everything – 100% – goes to our [Himalayan Family Healthcare Project].”

“To me, in order to be strong mind, I need to take care of my body. … I have to run. I will run anywhere from 8 to 10 miles every other day. It’s fun.”

“I like to challenge myself to see what I can do. I think my motivation came from when I was homeless. I had nothing. Now I have all this opportunity. I want to use it.”

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine. 

Editor's Note: The original print version of this article in the July 2019 issue said States has an MD. The online version was updated to correct that information.