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Dawa’s Restaurant Forges Ahead, Overcomes COVID-Related Obstacles

Dawa’s, located at 51-18 Skillman Avenue, on a rainy day

July 15, 2020 By Asha MacKay

For Dawa Bhuti of Dawa’s restaurant in Sunnyside, the only way to get through dark times is with a sunny attitude.

Bhuti is co-owner of the restaurant along with her uncle and father. Located on the border of Sunnyside and Woodside at 51-18 Skillman Avenue, Dawa’s has made itself at home straddling both neighborhoods for the past 5 1/2 years.

The restaurant is a neighborhood favorite for residents who seek Himalayan and New American fare.

Bhuti’s family made the difficult decision to close the eatery–even for takeout–when COVID-19 was at its peak. The decision was influenced by their desire to protect at-risk family members from the virus.

“Closing our restaurant for a month and a half was emotionally very tough,” reads a sign now posted in the restaurant’s window.

Bhuti told the Queens Post that she felt like she was letting her customers down while it was closed. “The food that we serve here is warm and hearty, good for people who are sick,” she says.

Dawa’s reopened for takeout in May after receiving a PPP loan. Despite issues with her landlord over rent and profit-zapping surcharges on delivery apps, the restaurant pulled through and is now experimenting with outdoor dining.

Bhuti bought palm trees and furniture to stage the outdoor seating area, which she built on top of parking spaces right in front of her property. She put together the space herself where diners now sit.

But her outdoor seating was not embraced by everyone. One woman came by to reprimand her for taking away parking spaces in an area where spots are already hard to find.

“She said, ‘It’s not your private property,’” Bhuti recalls. “I told her…I need community support and she told me no, no the community is not with you.”

Bhuti ignored the woman and the outdoor space has been welcomed by most.

Dawa’s outdoor space (Photo: Asha MacKay)

The process of re-opening hasn’t been straight forward, she said, since many of her employees have elected not to come back to work—preferring to be on unemployment.

Bhuti’s current wait staff are all volunteers and friends who want to help keep the business afloat.

For her part, Bhuti has offered up the unused space inside of the restaurant for local artists and artisans to showcase their wares. Her goal is to support fellow small businesses like her own and utilize the empty space in a positive way.

Thick clay bowls, incense holders and postcards are on display for purchase inside the restaurant, as long as shoppers adhere to CDC guidelines. All of the proceeds from a sale go to the artists.

Bhuti says that all of her diners have been respectful of social distancing rules and wear their masks when interacting with wait staff.

She said that she is confident that her workers and customers are not in danger of contracting COVID. Bhuti said she wipes down everything after each use, paying attention to the corners of chairs and places where people tend to touch.

Bhuti adds that the outdoor dining has increased Dawa’s profits and, more importantly, morale. “It’s nice to see our regulars again,” she says.

Some of them stick it out even in the rain, and Dawa is there to hand out umbrellas.

“I’m a bit of a control freak, and I can’t control this,” she says of the unpredictable weather as of late. “But I know the sun is going to come back out again.”

Dawa Bhuti serving customers (Photo: Asha MacKay)

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13 Comments

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Anonymous

Almost 23,000 people have died from COVID since March. I really do not think it is that dangerous to cross the street. At least I hope not….

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Carbie Barbie

Parking. The woman was angry about parking.

The car cult is a sad, sick sight.

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Sunnysider

The community stands with Dawa’s. No one has a right to park anywhere, never mind in a specific spot.

Move to the suburbs and buy a house with a garage/driveway if you want a parking space.

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El loco

That woman was a selfish jerk. We need the restaurants in our community to survive.

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Tired of the Death Cult

Regarding the above comment: The elderly and people with health conditions have been stuck at home for MONTHS already. They can’t stay home forever. There is no proof that herd immunity is achievable with this virus.

But sure, let’s not give up a single inch of precious free parking to let a respected and beloved business stay afloat.

I wonder if the woman who scolded the owner of Dawa’s for taking a parking space also went to the MEN who own other local restaurants to scold them similarly.

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Anonymous

Agree. Such ignorance. 192 COVID-19 deaths in 11377. No way that 192 people died crossing Queens Blvd.

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Aunt 'Rona

Yes – did the same complainer give the Kettle owner hell back in May for encouraging people to lounge in clusters on the sidewalks without masks for hours drinking, not distancing, blocking the sidewalk to Key Foods and leaving all the plastic cups behind?

I bet not.

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The parking isn't free.

We always have to pay the meters.

Or have you never, ever tuned into the morning news?

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Carbie Barbie

Please. Be honest with yourself and others. The vast majority of parking around here is free.

Or, to put it another way, the vast majority of parking around here is subsidized by the taxes of people who do not own cars, which is to say the majority of us.

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She's bitching about the parking spot on this street.

Not talking about the side streets.

Genius.

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Herd immunity is a good thing

Just let the restaurants operate inside. Keep the elderly and people with weakened immune systems at home. Focus on protecting the most vulnerable and not quarantining the entire bloody world. If you’re relatively young (under 70), in good health and using common sense sanitary practices, the odds of dying fromcorona are extremely slim. You’re far more likely to get killed crossing a city street (“Blvd of Death” ring a bell?)

Good luck to all the local restaurants and pubs. We need them.

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Herd Immunity doesn’t work

It doesn’t work. Look at Sweden. Even the top medical chief admitted his approach failed. It caused too many unnecessary deaths. Quarantining the entire population is what worked in Asian countries. They went through SARS. Now most can open schools etc like South Korea. All of the cruise ships like Princess Diamond proved leaving passengers and crew quarantined on a ship even with PPE was the worst solution. It never worked.

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