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Rapper Heems Gets Behind Punjabi Deli’s Taxi Stand Campaign (Updated)

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Suri poses in front of Punjabi Deli on East Houston Street, where he hopes the taxi stand will be located. Photos by Linda Li.
Suri poses in front of Punjabi Deli on East Houston Street, where he hopes the taxi stand will be located. Photos by Linda Li.

Over the years, we’ve followed the plight of Punjabi Deli, which saw its business plummet five years ago due to a massive public works project. Linda Li reports the restaurant is now receiving some celebrity support. 

Punjabi Deli, a haven for taxi cab drivers and locals alike, is located steps below street level at 114 East 1st St. After construction began along East Houston Street in 2010, the restaurant lost most of its clientele, since cabbies were no longer allowed to park out front.

“At the end of that year, 70 to 80 percent of our business went down to the point where we were making five dollars a week after expenses,” says Jashon Singh, the owner of the restaurant.

Last summer, the NYC Taxi Workers Alliance launched a petition to have the area in front the restaurant designated as a taxi relief stand. Ali Najmi, attorney and community organizer, has teamed up with Himanshu Kumar Suri, best known as Heems from the hip-hop group, Das Racist, to revitalize the campaign (Heems just released his first solo album, “Eat Pray Thug”). He says the taxi relief stand will restore business, as well as provide the city’s cabbies a place to rest.

According to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission, almost half of the city’s 13,000 cabbies hail from Pakistan, Bangladesh or India. For many of them, Punjabi Deli is the place they go between their long shifts. The restaurant offers them a restroom and a place to eat. Gurchatten Singh, a 59 year-old taxi driver, has been coming to Punjabi Deli for 18 years. He now has to park several blocks away to avoid getting a ticket.

“People come here and talk about the community events. We talk about what’s going on in the UK or what’s going on in India,” says Jashon Singh. “They use it as a hub for community service.” Both Najmi and Suri have reached out to local politicians on various social media platforms. Najmi organized a meeting with Council member Rosie Mendez to discuss the matter but it was later cancelled (we’re getting more information about this point from Mendez’s office).

Ali Najmi enjoys a quick bite at Punjabi Deli as Himanshu Kumar Suri looks on.
Ali Najmi enjoys a quick bite at Punjabi Deli as Himanshu Kumar Suri looks on.

After a decade of patronage, Suri says the place appeals to his sensibilities as both an artist and as a person of Indian descent. “I love coming here – listening to music. I grew up speaking to your dad in Punjabi,” Suri tells Singh. “It’s nice to be in this environment. At the same time, I would go to rock shows around here. So this place checked off two boxes for me.”

Suri, voted one of the top Tweeters in Music by Rolling Stone magazine, has compared Punjabi Deli to Kats’z Delicatessen in its cultural significance. The iconic New York restaurant stands unobstructed across the street facing Punjabi Deli.

“This wouldn’t happen on the other side of East Houston Street,” says Najmi.

JP Bowersock reviewed Punjabi Deli in February. You can see his article here

UPDATE 1:45 p.m. A spokesperson for Council member Mendez says she is holding off on a meeting until Community Board 3 considers a resolution in support of the East 1st Street cab stand.

UPDATE 2:09 p.m. We’re told by the Community Board that the issue will likely be on the May agenda. The Taxi and Limousine Commission has not yet provided CB3 with details about the application, a necessary step before the issue can be heard by the transportation committee.

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  1. I love this place. Best chai in the neighborhood — and they’ll make it not-sweet for me.

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