September 4, 2020
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Thiru Kumar’s street-food cart in Washington Square Park — just a stone’s throw away from New York University (NYU) — once faced lines of 50 to 60 people. Hungry customers would gather and chat like family, usually waiting over an hour to get a taste of his world-famous dosas. A key part of the experience, as famously depicted across Kumar’s social media accounts, is a selfie with the chef himself. Customers would tell you: Kumar is one of the friendliest people they had ever met.
But it’s not just Kumar’s friendly demeanor that has made a mark. NY Dosas is the first vegan dosa cart in the world. Kumar has also been featured in Padma Lakshmi’s television series Taste the Nation, named among the city’s top 20 street food carts by New York Magazine and top 11 by Thrillist, and won the 2007 Vendy Awards, a street food competition that doubles as a fundraiser for the Street Vendor Project. For those who search for Kumar on Google maps, his cart will show up as “Thiru Kumar — Legendary Dosa Man.”
In March, amid the peak of daily COVID-19 cases in the city, Kumar temporarily shut down his food cart. When he reopened in July, it was a different world. Masks are now a must, customers who queue up must stay six feet apart, and plastic barriers protect Kumar and his customers. Meanwhile, some things — such as the Kumar selfie, hour-long waits, and some of the tastiest dosas in town — haven’t changed a bit. Well — except for the fact that Kumar’s smile is now hidden behind a mask.