A Restaurant That Serves Up A Side Of Social Goals : The Salt Burned out from her high-tech job, Srirupa Dasgupta opened a restaurant and catering service that hires primarily refugees. On the menu: a mix of cuisines from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
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A Restaurant That Serves Up A Side Of Social Goals

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A Restaurant That Serves Up A Side Of Social Goals

A Restaurant That Serves Up A Side Of Social Goals

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Here's a twist now on the idea of the dreaded New Year's resolution. We're telling the stories of people who are starting over, by choice or circumstance. In this installment, NPR's Jeff Brady has a story from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It's about a woman from India who started out as a software engineer, but now helps refugees.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: When Srirupa Dasgupta came to the U.S. for college in the mid-1980s, she was determined to work in high-tech, not the restaurant industry. But today, she owns a small restaurant and catering service.

SRIRUPA DASGUPTA: The starting over point - well, it wasn't like a Big Bang thing. It was kind of a migration.

BRADY: Dasgupta worked her way from software engineer to manager at a health care company. But then she got burned out and started to look for something different. She liked the idea of helping refugees because she grew up in India with stories of her grandparents fleeing what is now Bangladesh in 1947. And Lancaster has an active refugee community that includes people like Tulsha Chauwan.

She chops vegetables in the kitchen at Dasgupta's restaurant. Chauwan says she spent years in a refugee camp in Nepal, after her family fled Bhutan in South Asia. Her family was granted permission to come to the United States, where she's now making her favorite dish - eggplant tarkari.

TULSHA CHAUWAN: (Unintelligible) What you do - you take eggplant, you make powder and - chili powder - and onion.

BRADY: Where did you get the recipe?

CHAUWAN: My mom makes this one, and my mom teach me. And I learned how to cook here.

BRADY: So it's special to you?

CHAUWAN: Yes.

BRADY: Dasgupta says Chauwan was very shy when she started working here, but now she brings new recipes all the time, hoping her boss will put them on the menu. Dasgupta's restaurant is called Upohar. She says that's the Bengali word for gift. Her idea for the restaurant and catering service came after she heard a speech about businesses that also have a social objective.

DASGUPTA: And I kept thinking about this concept. And I was, like, really intrigued. I just couldn't let it go. Like, what can I do with it? I need to do something with it. I was possessed. (Laughter).

BRADY: Over at the stove, another employee, Rachel Bunkete, has her own favorite dish to cook - peanut stew. She learned to make it in her home country - the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. In 2008, she fled the political, ethnic and religious conflicts there. Bunkete had to leave behind her husband and three children. Eventually, she got permission to come to the U.S., and she was able to make contact with her family again.

RACHEL BUNKETE: They are not here for now. I'm alone.

BRADY: That must be hard.

BUNKETE: Yeah, it's too hard for me to live alone.

BRADY: And do you know where they are?

BUNKETE: Yes. They are in Nigeria now.

BRADY: Within the next few months, she hopes her family will join her in Lancaster. She's saving money to make that happen. Bunkete is one of only three regular employees at Upohar. Owner Srirupa Dasgupta says for her, starting over has meant starting small.

DASGUPTA: I'm just focusing on my little corner of the world and my neighborhood - literally to say, you know, I'm just going to focus on making a difference right here. And if it grows beyond that, that's wonderful. But if it doesn't, then it will have made an impact to my neighbors.

BRADY: If her version of starting over succeeds, the restaurant needs to turn a profit; it's not yet. But out in the dining room, reviews from customer Nicki Martin are good.

NICKI MARTIN: The food is healthy. It's not mass-produced. It's cooked with love.

BRADY: A good reporter needs to check this out firsthand. I chose the $10 lunch buffet.

Oh, my gosh. That cauliflower dish is amazing. I'm going to finish my lunch. We're at Upohar restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I'm Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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