ENTREPRENEURS FIND FOOD BUSINESS PROFITABLE

By: Alexandra Ushakova

Pots are clanking, fryers are frying,and the kitchen is engulfed in a misty fog from the cooking steam. That is a typical day at the busy Short Stop Coffee Shop Diner in the Bronx, where Mohan Singh is part-owner and part-time chef.

Short-Stop Coffee Shop Diner located in the Riverdale area of the Bronx is always busy, with many popular dishes ranging from their omelettes to hamburgers. Although it looks no different than any other diner in New York, customers are satisfied both with the food and service, according to Ruby Kaur, daughter of Singh.

Singh (55) emigrated from India in 1986, and did not even imagine that he would spend the latter part of his life devoted to the culinary industry. In fact, Singh received his accounting degree from York College in the early 1990’s. His love for cooking began back in India, where his aunt would teach him various techniques of fixing up food native to the Sikh culture he is part of. Although he does not have professional culinary education, Singh adds his own twist to the food prepared at the diner, and has customers coming back for more. He spent several years working as a busboy and dishwasher in numerous restaurants around the city before he decided to invest in his own restaurant.

“When I first came to this country as an immigrant in 1986, the only job I could get was that of a dishwasher,” he said. “That’s how my career in the food industry began. I quickly worked my way up to being a fry cook. I decided to enroll myself into college after receiving my GED at age 33. I went into accounting because it sounded like the right thing to do. After many years of working in the industry I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go back into the world of food.”

Singh is among many New Yorkers who had difficulty finding the right career path and were drawn to the food business by love and knowledge of food.

David Shea, chef and owner of applewood restaurant in Brooklyn, has a similar story. As a teenager headed down the wrong path, he could not imagine that one day he would own one of the most popular restaurants in New York. In fact, applewood, where Shea is also the chef, has received recognition from numerous prestigious food critics. Zagat rated applewood 25 out of 30 in the category of food, and “locavores” (who are local-eaters) are bestowing their best reviews upon this Park Slope neighborhood gem. It was the critic’s pick for nymag.com, where users gave it 7 out of 10. The restaurant is so popular that there is usually a 40 minute to one hour wait during weekend brunch.

However, when Shea was asked if he always wanted to become a chef at a panel event titled “Locavore’s Dilemma’s,” which took place at the New York Public Library in Bryant Park on October 21st, he replied simply, “no.” “I dropped out of high school, and joined the United States armed forces when I was 17 years old. I was stationed in Alaska for about a year. When I came back, I worked in a local restaurant. After that, I became interested in the culinary arts and went on to become chef and owner of applewood restaurant.”

The owners of a new cupcake store called Cupcake Kings in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn are also new to gastronomic proprietorship. Larry Kopylov and Denis Roitman opened up the store in late October, to a very welcoming response from locals. However, prior to this business Kopylov was in the finance industry and Roitman was in precious metal refining. Kopylov had shares in a local food company, but nothing close to owning his own food joint.

“We had to venture off to Manhattan in order to treat ourselves to gourmet cupcakes. Our area lacked a specialized cupcake shop. We thought that people would appreciate it,” said Kopylov. “You can always tie culinary arts to finance. People like to eat,” he added.



Indeed Kopylov’s words are true, witnessing the increasing numbers of people who tie business with food, and the customers who are enjoying this rapid boom. What Singh, Shea, Kopylov and Roitman have in common is not only their love and passion for food, but enough creativity to make it a worthwhile business. In fact, they are all similar wherein they started off in many other industries from accounting to precious metal refining, and tied their lives with gourmet.

Mustafa Boz, co-owner of Masal Café Turkish Restaurant in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn has a similar story. He always loved cooking and wanted to partake in the restaurant business, but like Singh, fell under the pressure of immigration woes. Like Shea he did not go to college because of financial pressure in the family. Although Boz started cooking at the age of 12 in his native country, upon immigrating to the United States he was the proprietor of a small toy business. When that fell apart, Boz started working behind the scenes of several restaurants and eventually joined the partnership of three other men to open up Masal Café.

Even during the tough economic times, Short Stop Coffee Shop, King’s Cupcakes, applewood, and Masal Café seem to be profiting. Witnessing the mass amount of customers that attend these places to this day, means they must be doing something right.

“What enticed me towards this career was that there are many different ways of using your creativity,” said Singh. Jobs that don’t harbor innovation become depressing.”

“Yeah right now it’s really hard because a couple of years ago people spend money. Now we keep our prices reasonable to draw our customers,” said Boz.