During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the AAPI movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of May.
Surging cases of COVID-19 in India, including the B.1.617 variant, have created a crisis in the country for over a month. At the beginning of May, NBC News reported that India recorded over 300,000 new cases for the 12th straight day, raising India’s total infections to almost 20 million.
When Basu Ratnam, a New York City restauranteur and founder of INDAY eateries, saw that oxygen was being airlifted into India amid the surge of cases of COVID-19 in the country, he found it difficult to grapple with the situation and wanted to contribute any way that he could. Two and a half weeks ago, he reached out to his network of fellow restauranteurs to ask if they’d be willing to take part in an initiative, the 1 Billion Breaths campaign, where all proceeds would go to oxygen supply.
“I got on the phone with all these Indian restauranteurs that I knew and friends, and everyone wanted to do something, everyone felt like they had to play their part,” Ratnam explained. “We’re just coming off of the effect of COVID ourselves, but we know in our hearts that what happened here to us, there is no comparison to what's still unfolding (in India).”
Like many food brands that have joined forces to raise money for the COVID-19 crisis in India, including boosting depleting oxygen supplies, Ratnam rallied 28 restaurants worldwide to come together in an effort to raise awareness and donations for COVID-19 relief efforts in India.
Participating restaurants in major hubs like New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Chicago and more will be offering meals initially between May 23 and 29 sold at the same price as a 10kg supply of oxygen according to the official website for the campaign. 1 Billion Breaths' partner foundations, Oxygen for India and Give India Oxygen will receive 100% of the proceeds raised from those meals, with the goal of raising $250,000 over the course of the week.
Jimmy Rizvi, the owner of Gupshup in New York City who will be participating in the campaign, spoke to TODAY Food about how the crisis in India has been affecting his family, including his brother who is in Delhi.
“The stories I'm hearing from family, friends, the news, it’s just disheartening,” Rizvi explained. “And there’s not much medical help available for people. It just makes me feel disheartened. So, when Basu, got in touch with me and he told me about this initiative, I said, ‘Well, whatever I can do to help.’ I'm involved with other initiatives here in New York, but it's always good to give back to your country give back to your people.”
Gupshup will be doing online deliveries and takeout directly through their website locally and have created a family meal — or “feast” as Rizvi calls it — with a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option to choose from.
Rizvi hopes that people, even if they are not from the cities where the 28 restaurants are located, will still seek out opportunities to make a contribution by donating directly to the cause through the 1 Billion Breaths website.
Coterie, an Indian-influenced restaurant, just opened in Charleston in March, but its owner Jeremy Buck is already looking to make an impact by taking part in the 1 Billion Breaths campaign. Buck, who previously ran a beverage program at a restaurant in India, saw how the crisis was affecting his friends as well as his fiance’s family. He knew that he wanted to help, but with his restaurant being so new, he wasn’t sure how before coming across the 1 Billion Breaths campaign.
Buck’s restaurant will be providing a "thali experience" priced at $86 for two during the restaurant’s business hours Monday, May 24 through May 29, including one of his signature cocktails, or a nonalcoholic beverage.
Raquel Wolf-Jadeja and her husband, Jay Jadeja, owners of The Onion Tree and Maa's Indian Kitchen, will be taking part in the campaign this coming week, donating 10% of their gross revenue to support the cause. Jadeja, who immigrated to the United States in 2002, told TODAY Food via email that he feels both "sadness and helplessness" from what is happening in India.
"Many who didn’t have to die are dead-not because they were deathly sick-rather because of a lack of basic infrastructure-mainly oxygen," he explained. "A nudge and a conversation with Basu Ratnam and lo and behold, I find myself partnering with tens of Indian Restaurants across the globe, raising money to help provide much-needed relief and literally help India breathe. I’m humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this campaign."
Jay Sethi, the co-founder of The Host Hospitality Group, and his nephew, Ashish Sethi, the Director of Food and Beverage at The Host in Richmond Hill, Ontario, have always dedicated part of their work to donating to local communities and organizations, so participating in the 1 Billion Breaths campaign was a “no brainer.”
“We're all pretty affected by India, we talk about it in our daily conversations and most of our chefs and workers have family back home,” Ashish told TODAY Food. “We knew we needed to help somehow, it was just kind of figuring out what way we could make the most impact and make sure things get better.”
The Host will be offering a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option for two people at $87 a box, as well as a box for four at $105, with all proceeds of those boxes supporting the cause.
Ashish is happy to see restaurants around the world coming together to support one universal cause and have the opportunity to create a lasting impact.
“It's really nice to see that people that we look up to and the people who look up to us are all coming together for something much bigger than what our own restaurant could do on its own,” he explained. “So it's really nice to see everyone coming together on a global level and it makes us feel, as a small restaurant and family business, that we could have a pretty sustainable and large impact, especially when we come together.”
Ratnam is hoping that the 1 Billion Breaths initiative will help build the infrastructure to create a moment and awareness for the crisis in India and provide support for ongoing needs for a long time to come.
“I think the insight that we created that people–especially the Indian American community–want to figure out a way to stay involved and stay in touch,” Ratnam said. “And I think restaurants are built for this, they're built to build communities and serve food.”