Big Dig First Draft: Street Vendor Serves Food… and Friendship

By Madison Back

Amidst a sea of yellow and blue Sabrett hot dog carts overflowing Manhattan, there is one silver food cart with a green umbrella that stands proudly, but alone, in the heart of the New York University campus. The NY Dosas cart, open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm, is the definition of “tiny yet powerful”. The cart serves freshly prepared vegan and vegetarian Indian food that leaves NYU students, tourists, and native New Yorkers alike salivating in line for their lunch time fix.

Unlike other food carts, however, it may not be only the delicious and nutritious food that keeps customers coming back. Thiru Kumar, owner and sole operator of NY Dosas, is a man truly devoted to his craft. A native Sri Lankan, Kumar moved to the Big Apple in 1995, where he spent his time hopping from job to job, working at gas stations, factories, and restaurants. It wasn’t until 2001 that he opened what would become an internationally recognized food cart.

“I wanted to do something different and healthy,” Kumar said. Kumar, a vegetarian, wanted to provide an option he didn’t find so readily available to New Yorkers in the area ten years ago. “I am glad I am helping NYU students have choices.”

Using his grandmother’s recipes, he makes 90% of the food completely on his own to serve a bounty of customers daily, often running out of menu items as the end of the day nears. Since opening his cart in 2001, Kumar has not changed its location, stationed conveniently outside of Washington Square Park on West 4th and Sullivan Street.

“I’ve only been [located] here because NYU is here, [there are] lots of students and artists, the park is here, people can sit and eat, it’s a convenient spot, a convenient space,” explains Kumar. “I have a lot of repeat customers. All of my regulars have my number, they text me.”

For the past ten years, Kumar has been cooking up healthy, tasty, and traditionally Indian foods for both his vegan and omnivorous customers. Though their dietary limitations vary, there is one thing that remains consistent across customers that cannot be ignored: their allegiance to Kumar and his food.

“I’m definitely loyal to him,” said Max Raskin, an NYU junior, of Kumar. A frequent visitor to street vendors, Raskin said, “I will eat anything that’s good and if it’s from a food cart, it usually means it’s good.” However, Raskin has stayed true to NY Dosas, as he is a returning customer since his freshman year at NYU.

Kumar treats all customers who approach his food cart as if they were an old friend, and most of the time, they are.

Jacob Shufro, a part-time third year student at NYU, was referred to the Dosa cart by his own mother. Shufro has been a fan of Kumar’s food for the past five months, going so far as to utilize the NY Dosa Twitter page for urgent updates. “Dosa is the only Twitter account that I get forwarded to my phone,” he said.

Due to the cart’s overwhelming popularity, Kumar has plans to open a fast-food style restaurant in 2012. He wants it to be located in the NYU area so that his regular, devoted customers can enjoy it.

As for now, however, Kumar is happy with what he is doing. “Right now I’m happy with what I’m doing, I’m happy with the people,” he said. “I love my job.”


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