A staple of the community might become a relic of its past, the fight to save Punjabi Deli from closing

Kuljinder Singh, a former Taxi driver took his knowledge of being a cab driver, into making an enterprise that could directly cater to people like him

Kuljinder Singh went from driving his taxi on the streets of New York, to opening Punjabi Deli which is located in the East Village on 114 E. 1 ST. Many fellow cab drivers knew that he wouldn’t be taking breaks for the whole day during his shift, because there was a lack of businesses who would allow people from the outside to use their bathroom, and there are prohibitive costs associated with having to buy something every time in order to use the bathroom, as many enterprises often make customers do. Mr. Singh found a solution to creating a welcoming space that is culturally sensitive to South Asians while also having a policy of allowing cabbies to take a break from work by eating food that they would normally eat at home and use the restroom without having to make a purchase, a generosity that is sorely lacking in the city. While there are high end enterprises that focus solely on providing a gourmet experience to it’s clientale, Mr. Singh wanted to make sure that cost would not be a barrier to feeding working class people like him.

In a city that chronically faces food insecure residents (NYC estimates up to 1.5 million NY’ers face a food crisis), Punjabi Deli offers more food on your plate with a smaller cut from your wallet. It leaves you full for hours on end and promises to activate taste buds you never knew even existed. For Punjabis, we’re used to having Dhabhas on the side of the road that cater to weary travelers and provide them with nourishing food that could keep them full for hours and hours on end. Given the COVID-19 crisis businesses across the city of New York have been facing unprecedented crisis and many have shuttered.

With the rest of the state being allowed to dine indoors and New Jersey allowing 25% capacity as of Friday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson says now is the time to grant similar authorization to eateries in the five boroughs.

Johnson echoed others in a statement that leaned on the immigrant New Yorker’s dependency on jobs in service industry and that food service and bars were some of the most impacted by COVID-19. —NYC Council Speaker Johnson, AMNY

The federal government had the paycheck protection act in place many small businesses that are primarily immigrant owned and operated have been left out of the program which has resulted in larger corporations taking the money meant for small businesses but also the fact that most stores now can't afford to lease their spaces and have been forced to either relocate or close entirely.

As this article from News Week finds:

Members of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released initial findings from an ongoing investigation into the program’s implementation on Tuesday. Their report outlined several prevailing issues, including the allocation of funds to ineligible companies, which “suggest a high risk for fraud, waste, and abuse” within the PPP’s application and distribution procedures.

The investigation identified more than 600 loans totaling $96.3 million administered through the program that were issued to companies prohibited from engaging in government business, according to Tuesday’s report. Companies “debarred or suspended from doing business with the federal government” do not qualify for PPP loans, it explained. — EMILY CZACHOR, NewsWeek

Many immigrant enterprises are especially vulnerable because they serve a constituency that also faces extinction as Asian Americans are increasingly being priced out of major metropolitan areas and ethnic enclaves are also facing gentrification and rapid construction.

As the development in Flushing Queens continues to happen at a rapid pace many are feeling the loss of the neighborhoods unique characteristics that have made it a popular culinary Destination for visitors from across the world. As Sarah Ngu writes in The Guardian (US):

The influx of transnational capital and rise of luxury developments in Flushing has displaced longtime immigrant residents and small business owners, as well as disrupted its cultural and culinary landscape. These changes follow the familiar script of gentrification, but with a change of actors: it is Chinese American developers and wealthy Chinese immigrants who are gentrifying this working-class neighborhood, which is majority Chinese.

In Downtown Flushing, where the waterfront is located, the median income per resident is $25,000. Most of its population are foreign-born immigrants (68% Asian and 16% Hispanic). Between 2000 and 2010, Downtown Flushing’s Chinese community doubled while its Korean and Indian populations declined by 30%.

Looking for a quick bite to eat? You won’t find any menus at Punjabi Deli. Which is good considering the environmental impact of printing things on paper.

Food Crisis in New York

As it is located in Manhattan, it serves people from all backgrounds. The spot has become popular for locals and influencers who use the vivid green colors and splashes of red to add to their respective food, travel, hospitality blogs. In a documentary created in 2015 filmmakers hoped to showcase the profound impact of the Punjabi deli on the city's working class. In a country that doesn't provide space for immigrants to thrive and where the radical act is just taking up space Punjabi Deli is one such enterprise that delivers hope for the working class that their needs will be met and that they can have culturally sensitive food on a small budget. Much of the food that is made in Punjabi Deli is the food that you will find in a typical Punjabi home.

The height of the COVID-19 crisis the city of New York failed to provide Muslims who have been fasting in obersance of the Holy Month of Ramadan many community members were quick to point out the proper preparation of foods they could break their fasts with. Some activits and lawmakers suggested empowering the local vendors who could serve culturally sensitive foods prepared in the ways that Muslims would find it in accordance to their religious beliefs.

New York City has a huge South Asian population, according to the latest figures available the population of South Asian Americans in New York stands at 300,000 and with the ongoing Census count, we should have a better understanding of how many south Asian Americans that are in New York City and what trends are going on with population.

Influencers Flavor their Feeds with Savory Punjabi Food

CREDIT: Punjabi Deli Instagram pag

As it is located in Manhattan, it serves people from all backgrounds. The spot has become popular for locals and influencers who use the vivid green colors and splashes of red to add to their respective food, travel, hospitality blogs.

In the full swing of saving Punjabi Deli it means that we must donate to efforts to keep the Deli in the neighboorhood since it is beloved by people who come from all across to see it. As of this writing, $40,000 have been raised in two days of the announcement that Punjabi Deli is in trouble.

The naysayers will tell you that New York is dead and that the Covid virus is wiped out the city. But for the working class New Yorkers who call this place home they know for a fact that they can go through any struggle and a trying time but they'll still be able to come out on the other end and make sure that they can continue to serve their foods live their life and contribute to their communities in the way that they see fit. The support of patrons and the support of the Internet community has certainly made the deli into one of the most beloved spots in Manhattan and honor the legacy of a working class Punjabi American who said his roots down in New York and is able to serve the food that everyone knows and loves and provide a place for community for those seeking rest in all forms.

Honestly, who wouldn’t want this?

What Customers Rave About

According to Yelp, the amenities offered in Punjabi Deli are what you can expect from an immigrant-owned and operated business. In keeping with Sikh traditions of serving food, the menu is purely vegetarian. While the reviews for this resturant usually are good there are some comments that prompt a lot of confusion.

This comment makes it seem like Punjabi Deli was created with Hannah in mind. Given that everyone has their own experience and expectation when walking into any business I only cite Hannah as someone who could belong to the class of influencers who will later go on to “discover” Haldi when South Asians across the subcontinent have been using it for centuries in our culinary palette. For a race of people who invaded India for spices, we seldom see them using it in their food and when they do use it, they’ve suddenly made a discovery about an ingredient people have been using for a long time before them. It takes me back to the days where unwrapping an aloo parantha during lunch time in middle school would earn me the derision and disgust of those who were used to eating hot dogs and mac & cheese.

When Kuljinder Singh started Punjabi Deli it was with the aim to bring in customers from his background but also the Deli is open to whoever is a curious foodie and wants to taste Punjabi food. This comment exemplifies peak white privilege in the ways in which posits itself. White people in the Lower East Side LOVE to pick an immigrant owned and operated spot, make it seem like they “discovered” it and then go on to gentrify our food and immigrant backgrounds. This is not shame other white people who might enjoy our food and culture and have been on the frontlines of supporting this business.

This comment is emblematic of the issue with New York City’s food scene. People who are culturally disconnected from Punjab like to go on and on about how “bland” our food is, and think they’re necessarily punishing immigrant resturant owners by taking their money elsewhere.

Just like the bicycle parking, sitting on a stoop next to Punjabi Deli is part of our culture of finding a place to rest while enjoying a meal that is cheap and hot. That those concepts have been gentrified by white people and their brown allies shows just little value culture can have when there is money to be made in glorifying a rest stop for weary cabbies. Punjabi Deli is the lived experience of restroom-access inequality that plagued the city even before COVID-19, the lack of parking spaces for yellow cab drivers so they could pull over and park while seeking rest, and the experience of being racially profiled and being stipulated about how much space one can take up.

Indian Matchmaking comes to Little Guyana

Indian matchmaking with Nadia Jagesar visits South Queens to get Guyanese Chicken Patties at Sybils Bakery and really highlighted the massive presence of this important gathering space for yummy food for Indo-Carribean food. It's interesting to note that we're people settle down and build our business in ethnic neighborhoods this is one place that we can comfortably visit and purchase from in addition to feeling like we actually belong to the community whereas we are just imposing corporate standards of conduct on customers. To envision a New York without Punjabi Deli or Sybils (which isn’t on the chopping block hopefully), we need to make sure we five from immigrant owned businesses especially considering the impact of COVID-19 on extended closures of enterprises that serve otherwise great food but have been unable to do so because of public safety measures. Another thing that comes with long-term planning for cities should involve having restrooms that are publicly available but I also well-maintained and cleaned. We shouldn't have to rely on Starbucks to have a bathroom in public.

With legislation that's coming from the New York governor it seems the indoor dining space is still off-limits, although we’re opening schools for little children. Due to the hazards present and being confined in such a small and tight place by so many people.

Punjabi deli has a small space to indoor dining. But the clientele has decided to eat outdoors as they should be doing and it makes for a great picnic to have some somasa, pakore in outdoor spaces that helps with social distancing and provides everyone a chance to take in the dwindling days of summer. According to Eater New York:

Cuomo told Mayor Bill de Blasio that he’d have to improve enforcement and recommended that City Council speaker Corey Johnson assemble a task force to perform restaurant compliance checks, NY1 reported.

“We have major problems in New York City with the compliance on the bars,” Cuomo said, according to NY1.

De Blasio said yesterday that any decision to reopen restaurants would likely come separately from a decision over whether to let indoor nightclubs and bars begin to operate again.

Both Cuomo and de Blasio have expressed concern in the past over links between indoor dining and COVID-19 infections. Cuomo has specifically cited the city’s population and density as a point of concern.

New York City bars and restaurants were forced to shutter traditional indoor sit-down service on March 16, nearly six months ago. Socially distanced outdoor dining in the five boroughs began near the end of June as infections began to recede.

Indoor dining is currently permitted in all areas of the state except for the city at 50 percent capacity.

One thing is for sure that this conversation around Punjabi Deli has certainly reignited the debate about corporate food chains versus local immigrant-based businesses and the fact that we're not doing enough to protect small businesses in the time of COVID-19 and it's a scary picture of what is to come for municipalities as they cut programs for immigrant businesses to operate but also for new entrepreneurs to come into the picture and set up shop in New York State. For things to change and for the tide to turn we need to be able to have immigrant businesses to continue to sprout up in our communities but also leave a lasting conversation around occupying space and calling a community that's far away from our actual home hour place.

There have been so many reports of businesses that have been in operation for 30 years, 60 years, 90 years, having to close because of this deadly pandemic. People have lost so much and they have had to sacrifice their businesses because they can't afford to continue working in New York State who is not who is not providing support for small businesses at the moment to thrive in.

What is your favorite immigrant business? Use the #KaurRepublic and tell us what restaurants you luck in your community.

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Navjot Pal Kaur

Navjot Pal Kaur

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