We are a city of immigrants. We come here to escape poverty and political repression, to make a better life for ourselves, our families, our children.
Buddhi Thapa was one of those immigrants. He came to this country eight years ago from a small village in Nepal. He spent the next eight years working, mostly in Indian restaurants, saved his money and negotiated the immigration maze, to get green cards to legally bring his wife and children, two boys, 9 and 18, and two daughters, 14 and 16, to America. Eight months ago the family finally arrived. They joyously reunited and lived together in a two-bedroom apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. Life was difficult but seemed to be working out.
Arun Mirchandani, his uncle Raju Mirchandani, and Chirag “CC” Chaman, co-own a new Indian restaurant, Drunken Munkey. It’s the culmination of a childhood dream of Arun to open a cocktail bar in New York. It opened five weeks ago on the Upper East Side, at 338 East 92nd Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Arun studied hospitality management in India. Raju, developed a luxury beverage program at the New York Helmsley Hotel, and founded two international chains, Bar and Books and Monkey Tobacco. Chirag is an entrepreneur and childhood friend of Arun. They are old friends and come from a world in which family ties matter.
Arun was introduced to Buddhi at Tandoor Oven, and hired him as a prep check — an entry-level position in Drunken Munkey’s kitchen.
Then, two days before Thanksgiving, in the middle of the day – about 12:55 in the afternoon – while Buddhi was crossing 2nd Avenue at 89th Street, he was tragically struck and killed by an SUV, just blocks away from the restaurant. The driver stopped and was not charged. Police are still investigating whether, as the driver alleges, Buddhi crossed against the light and, possibly, slipped.
News of the tragedy reached Arun the next day. He immediately understood the devastating consequences for Buddhi’s recently-arrived family.
“Buddhi only worked here two weeks,” says Arun, “but I liked him. I felt he was a good person.”
Arun consulted with his partners. He went to Jackson Heights to visit the family, and brought $3,000 with him ($1,000 from each of the co-owners). What he encountered was heartbreaking.
“They don’t speak a word of English. Buddhi’s wife has no bank account, nothing. The monthly rent is $1,300.00. The children are in school. I sat on the one chair in the apartment; they sat on the sofa. They have no family in New York. They are peaceful, humble people and totally without resources.”
Arun comes from a distinguished family. His father is a former diplomat. There are elegant wedding photographs of his parents and grandparents on the wall of Drunken Munkey. The restaurant is a craft cocktail bar with a full Indian kitchen, a tribute to the cafes and bistros of Old Bombay, serving late into the night and early morning. It’s inspired by the family’s connection to glamorous Anglo-Indian culture and cuisine.
Arun’s partners, family, friends and colleagues want to help the four children and widow overcome their painful loss and begin to ease their financial burden.
“We’d like to do as much as we can,” says Arun. In less than ten days they’ve already raised $7,500. Now, exemplifying what New York is all about, they’ve come up with another way to raise money and help ease the financial burden of Buddhi’s family.
All money from the restaurant’s food sales on Monday, December 16 and Tuesday, December 17, will be donated to the family. Also, one of the partners will match every dollar that comes in.
“This is not about the restaurant. This is about Buddhi’s family,” says Arun.
So, dear readers, especially those who live and work in New York, this is your opportunity to make a difference, to do a good deed, to be real Santas and stop by Drunken Munkey tomorrow, December 16 and Tuesday, December 17.
You will be doing an old fashioned mitzvah!