Thiru Kumar, also known as the Dosa Man, discusses his time spent working at a small company during COVID-19 and how he rose to prominence in the New York City dining scene as a result of his accomplishments in this arena.
The Dosa Man Thiru Kumar's food cart is located at Washington Square Park in New York City. The address is 50 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10014. It is a 15-minute distance from New York Penn Station and can also be reached by disembarking at Christopher Street.
The food cart has served fresh dosas and other vegan South Asian foods since 2001. One of the signature dishes is the "Special Pondicherry," which features a dosa filled with spiced potatoes and a mixture of fresh vegetables. The food cart is ranked 16th as one of the top twenty best food carts in New York by New York Magazine.
In February 2016, my buddy Daniel Cieneva contacted me during our Food Studies class at 11 a.m. and said, "Have you ever heard of the Dosa Man?" Dosa Man? I was only vaguely familiar with dosa, which is a sort of South Indian and Sri Lankan thin flatbread cooked from a batter consisting of lentils and rice. So what information on the Dosa Man was I meant to have?
Another text alerted the buzzing of my laptop. This time, it was a link to the Dosa Man's Twitter profile, which was packed with photographs of his followers and food, and it ended with the query, "Want to check him out after class?" I accepted since I was starving for additional information about the Dosa Man. Before I knew it, Daniel and I had made our way across from Waverly Place to the Dosa Man's cart in Washington Square Park South, where we waited in line. Of course, a line is a good indicator for any business, but at the time, I didn't understand that it was common practice for the Dosa Man.
The air was filled with the aroma of freshly prepared veggies and smoked potatoes. I had to climb on my tiptoes to get a closer look at the Dosa Man and his one-man operation, which had accumulated a queue that was longer than the line for the Sunday brunches held at the NYU Palladium (remember those?). While preparing the meal, he would cheerfully answer the phone with, "Hello, NY Dosa."
The Dosa Man stood elegantly while cooking potatoes and pouring the dosa batter combination onto the griddle. After that, he would flip the dosas and then cover them with potatoes, fresh veggies, and other fragrant stuff I couldn't place. After completing the task, he took a tray, added a cup of lentil soup and some coconut chutney, and then placed the newly prepared dosa on the tray.
"Next," he would announce, and then, within a few seconds, he would begin his procedure again.
A scene that was even more astonishing than the indescribable scent of his supper could be seen. The Dosa Man was conversing with his clients and even going so far as to take photos with them between answering the phone, taking orders, and scooping the dosa batter into the pans for cooking. I began to grasp Daniel's enthusiasm over the Dosa Man and realized that the picture of the Dosa Man and his cart utterly enthralled me. Finally, I started to comprehend Daniel's joy over the Dosa Man.
Soon enough, it was our chance to speak. I followed Daniel's advice and had the number two dish, Pondicherry, consisting of a dosa stuffed with potatoes and other fresh veggies. As soon as we had everything we needed, we went to the commuter lounge in Lipton Hall to have lunch there.
After seeing the Dosa Man make dosas, I couldn't wait to try one for myself. After trying only one morsel, I was hooked.
It's about time you gave a dosa a go if you haven't before. However, I recommend you take your time eating to get the most out of the experience since you will never have another chance to taste your first dosa.
It was tangy, crunchy, and chewy simultaneously, which was a pleasant surprise. My tongue was dancing with the flavors of the coconut chutney, potatoes, and fresh veggies as I ate. The symphony of tastes gave me (ody to) pleasure as each mouthful revealed a new layer of texture, flavor, spice, and crunchiness. It was an ode to joy.
Since that day forward, Daniel and I have made it a point to follow the same weekly routine: every Tuesday afternoon, we wait in line for the renowned dosas. But unfortunately, because of COVID-19, this long-standing practice was temporarily suspended, which had been an integral part of my time as a student at NYU.
Even though I haven't been back to the park in a while, I still follow the Dosa Man, also known as Thiru Kumar, on Twitter to keep up with the latest happenings at his restaurant, NY Dosas, which, happily, is still open.
In 1995, Kumar journeyed from Sri Lanka to the United States, eventually establishing his pushcart business. Since then, he has risen to the level of a celebrity thanks to the spread of his story via word of mouth, social media, and several magazine pieces. As a result of his popularity among gourmands all over the globe, his pushcart is included in travel guides for 42 different nations, and Japan even has fan clubs dedicated to him. In 2007, Kumar was named the most outstanding street food cart seller in New York City, earning him the Vendy Award.
It's been over a year since I last indulged in one of those world-famous dosas. I had a phone conversation with the Dosa Man because I was interested in learning how he managed business during the epidemic. He went on to tell me more about his background and his mission to provide the NYU community with vegan cuisine that is both inexpensive and healthful.
I wanted to do something completely new that no one [had ever done]. Due to the large number of international students in the New York University neighborhood, I decided to open the first vegan dosa cart in the region. In 2001, when I first began doing this, many individuals were concerned about their health, and it was quite difficult to locate vegan cuisine over there. Washington Square Park was one of my favorite places to hang out while I lived in New York City, and many of my friends attended NYU. My close friends told me, "Hey, Thiru, there is nowhere around here to get good vegan food," so I thought, "Why don't I start a vegan pushcart?"
We prepare the ingredients in a little restaurant that functions more like a commissary. We prepare those components from scratch at that location, but [the dosas] are prepared at the cart. My pushcart is a tiny processing cart, so everything I need, including the grill, the fire, and everything else, is right there with me. I prepare it for the audience so it is always fresh. Because of this, there is almost always a very long queue.
New York University sends me a significant amount of business whenever they can. Many teachers encourage their students to give [my cart] a go, and then they write articles about me, after which other students try it for themselves. The fact that academics and clubs at NYU have placed catering orders with me contributes to the growth of my company. My company depends on NYU in some way, shape, or form to function at all times.
When the epidemic struck, New York University shut down its campus, and I followed suit and did the same thing for three or four months. In July, I got back into the swing of things, and NYU did the same. Because most [the students] at NYU are now taking their programs online, the university does not send me much business. My fan group is comprised of people from 45 different nations throughout the globe. The pandemic has had a significant impact on me [because] there is no tourist and no students, which together account for a loss of fifty percent of the company.
The unique Pondicherry is a dosa created on a crepe [batter] made out of rice and lentils. It also includes fresh vegetables, a salad, and potato, and it is served with lentil soup and coconut chutney. To ensure that vegans receive enough protein and vitamins in a single meal, this option is highly recommended by me. In addition, people in a rush or who don't have time to wait in line sometimes grab a samosa on their way out the door as a convenient and quick lunch option.
I have a lot of pride and happiness in the fact that I am providing people with vegan cuisine and doing something beneficial to both the people and the planet. Because New York City is such a bustling metropolis, many residents do not have the time to prepare healthy meals at home because they have to hurry to catch the train to work or school. Many students at NYU like me because I provide them with highly nutritious cuisine for just $9, allowing them to attend classes and focus on their studies. Even students will come up to me and say, "Your food helped me stay healthy while I was on campus."