South Asian Owned Small Business' Stories of Survival Amid a Pandemic
Interviews by Sanjana Nigam || Artwork by Bhumika Mukherjee

South Asian small businesses based in New York City have served as sources of refuge for many within the diaspora, providing a home away from home, either through food, community or spaces. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these small businesses struggled to survive and worried about their future or what life post-pandemic could mean for them. Now two years since COVID began, we spoke with many small businesses, some who continue to reel from its effects, some who made the bold decision to start their businesses mid-pandemic, and others who have simply accepted it as the new way of life.


“On September 28, 2018, we opened. And we had no idea what we were doing. But we made it happen. I remember going home that night, after the grand opening, being like “Fuck, we gotta do this every day” (…) Ever since then it’s been like a roller coaster, just going up and down.”

Carrying forward the family torch, Pradeep Deol, known better as PDNY, transformed his father’s 30-year-old American diner into a restaurant bar featuring an Indian fusion menu and Punjabi beats. PD speaks on family legacies, growing up in the Bronx, and the significant role community plays in keeping small businesses alive.
Listen to the full interview here.


“And for us, we were just a small mom and pop shop, we just thought we’d be servicing the local community, but we saw people coming all the way from New Jersey, from Staten Island, from Boston (…) It was one of their stops and that meant a lot to us.”

PyoChai, a South Asian-inspired bubble tea cafe, opened in March 2021, by the young brother duo Shaheer, 23 and Saqib, 17. Shaheer speaks about conceiving the idea and concept behind PyoChai, starting their first business while juggling school and a pandemic, facing racially-driven resistance, and the heavy influences of their Nepali-Pakistani background.
Listen to the full interview here.


“When you come to New York, it's like America, "the city of dreams”. But especially when you’re coming here you are bringing your culture, you’re establishing yourself, you’re being independent, bringing your own culture, your roots, and my parents could never be more proud of that.”

Shortly after the life-changing move from Nepal to New York, Devi and her sister started Karma Nepal as a small stall in a street fair. Today, Karma Nepal Crafts stands tall with storefronts in two boroughs. Devi speaks about running a female-owned small business in New York City, supporting artisans back home, and pivoting to new strategies during the pandemic to stay alive.
Listen to the full interview here.


"Only here. One cart. One place. One dosa man."

Back in 2002, Thiru Kumar had the novel idea of starting a vegan dosa cart in New York’s busy Washington Square Park. 20 years later, he now has an extremely successful mobile business that runs like a well-oiled machine and attracts crowds from all over the city and beyond. Thiru serves dosas in realtime and speaks on starting out the dosa cart and his love for his regular customers and his job.
Listen to the full interview here.


“Yeah, there was a panic. In some ways, I was thinking maybe we have to close down due to this pandemic, if business goes down.”

Punda Tibetan graced the pages of the New York Times during its early days but since the pandemic has struggled to draw-in foot traffic. Tenzing Tsering, owner and chef, speaks on his passion for Ayurvedic cooking and the new realities of being a restaurant owner post-2020.
Listen to the full interview here.


"Sometimes there were no business, no customers in one day, whole day. (…) I was just waiting for better days”

Deepa had moved to New York from Nepal right before the pandemic hit, and was thrust into navigating a career in the nail tech space. In October of 2021, she started her own nail salon in Queens. She speaks on moving to America, the struggles of starting a business in the pandemic, and the role the Nepali community plays in supporting her career and business.
Listen to the full interview here.

Sanjana Nigam (she/her) is a native New Yorker and Indian-American-Canadian journalist. She graduated with a Masters degree from Columbia Journalism School in 2020, and has since worked with publications such as Business Insider and the Juggernaut, and shows such as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Problem with Jon Stewart. She is passionate​​ about using her reporting training to document identity-driven stories across the South Asian diaspora. Sanjana’s project focuses on the stories of struggle and survival of South Asian-owned small businesses across New York City, whose livelihood’s were deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read Sanjana's writings about his fellowship project in TIDES:
• The Legacies of Small Businesses