The construction along both Houston and East 1st Street is seemingly never-ending, a major headache for commuters of all modes, and has already given us at least one flood and a gnarly sinkhole. It's also putting one of the East Village's most beloved and affordable eateries in dire straits. Punjabi Grocery & Deli, which has prospered at 114 East 1st Street for over twenty years, is struggling with a decline in business which the owner attributes to the lingering roadwork.
A favorite of hungry cab drivers in search of good food and a spot to rest between fares, the span of East 1st in front of Punjabi between 1st and A was once lined with the parked yellow cabs of satisfied customers. Now that span is home to a battered cement median, some orange cones, and not much else.
"Everybody used to come here, it's real good," cab driver Joda Singh, 45, said as he lunched at Punjabi yesterday. Singh has been coming to the narrow deli every day for the last five years, but now has to park on Avenue A and walk around the corner to enter. That extra distance, he told us, is enough to keep former regulars away. "Parking here, it's very hard," Singh said.
As previously reported, Punjabi has started an online petition asking the commissioner of the Taxi And Limousine Commission approve a taxi relief stand at Avenue A and Houston Street, which would make it once again possible for drivers to take a break and solicit the deli without worrying about an expensive traffic ticket. (A DOT spokesperson says the department "has not received a request for a taxi relief stand at this location.")
"The taxi cab people they work on tips and commission and they get attitude all the time, right or long. There's no parking. They've got rent to pay, they've got to feed their families, and they can't park hardly anywhere or they'll get a ticket.," Susan Lowe, 39, told Gothamist from inside Punjabi. Lowe both lives and works nearby and has been a customer for 19 years.
"The food is good, I like it, and they don't have an attitude problem. When my nursing work shift ends and I'm hungry, I can come here anytime," Lowe said just before volunteering to sign the petition herself. "They should have the stand."
Punjabi's fare is relished by more than just locals and cab drivers. Their all-vegetarian menu of samosas, fried greens, allu tiki, and rice is delicious and an amazing value. Nary a plate will cost you more than $5, and a bevy of South Asian candies and bagged snack foods line the narrow little establishment.
"You have to drive so long sometimes to find someone. Especially in July, it's very slow," taxi driver Bal Manjit, 30, said as he waited at the deli's counter. "It was already an hour and I didn't find anyone. My head was killing me. So I just parked and said 'Well, let me at least eat something. Let me go to Punjabi.'"
You can sign the petition for a taxi relief stand here. And if you've never been, consider checking out Punjabi itself, enjoy some cheap delicious food, and appreciate a place that so many cabbies still depend on.