Eating Right In Astoria

‘Astoria Fruit and Vegetables’ on Broadwa

Curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat. It might just end up saving it. I certainly believe mine mostly does (the latter); in this case particularly. Having dealt with eating disorders in the past, even a little bit of craving or loss of appetite now can worry me more than it ought to. When I recently started living in Queens’ western neighborhood of Astoria, I was faced with the very similar, but not too welcome feeling of overindulgence. And I knew it had to do with my surrounding.

Astoria is a neighborhood that is constantly changing, especially in terms of expanding its ethnicity. In the early 80’s it was a predominately Greek and Italian neighborhood.  But now, the locality boasts a significant population of Arabs, including earlier immigrants from Lebanon and from Egypt, Syria, Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries as well as Brazilians, Spanish Americans and Bangladeshis.  Hence, the district does not just offer a colorful mix of sights and sounds but also enough variety of eateries that together create award winning taste palettes enough to quench half the world’s appetite. Literally.

Moroccan restaurant on Steinway Street
Moroccan restaurant on Steinway Street

Walking down the popular Steinway Street of Astoria, one can just feast through their eyes. The wide array of cuisines present makes you wonder how any regular human being can control the urge to eat almost everything available. This very desire can turn into a harmful one when your food portions or your food type go out of your control and your weighing scales keep tipping. How does one avoid obesity, make the right choice of food or maintain natural health and well being while living in such a neighborhood? I found myself struggling to find a balance and a growing curiosity of finding out how my neighbors dealt with it as well.  Enter ‘Nutritionist’.

I met Angela at a Café on 36th Avenue. She is a friend’s friend. But after this rendezvous, I’ll like to call her mine. Gladly. A vibrant Italian, Angela M. DiMaggio is a Nutritionist/Dietitian who works in an Outpatient clinic in the South Bronx as well as running a private practice in Astoria. Since her schedule is almost always packed, I had to entice the vegetarian doctor to meet me for lunch instead. Over a delicious healthy meal, which I ordered with the help of this newfound friend, I discovered how there were plenty options in Astoria alone to keep the residents healthy and fit.

In Astoria where Angela works with an Endocrinologist, who is essentially a Diabetes Specialist, she comes across a lot of patients who have a weight control issue.  Nutritionists like her also fully recognize obesity as a disease that needs to be treated. According to her, when a patient living in Astoria seeks counseling, it is pretty easy to recommend lots of healthy food options, present in close proximity, to get them on the right track.

In addition to all the traditional Greek and Italian cuisines in Astoria, there are Indian, Japanese, Southern, Middle Eastern and organic food places that one can choose from. While some of these food choices are great for health, they are plenty others which could wreck your diet completely.  The trick is to strike a balance, which I found out, wasn’t difficult to achieve in my area.

In line with the government’s efforts to fight obesity, Astoria too has established a lot of health centers, fitness clubs and organic/health food outlets. These include a wonderful assortment of treats, from vegan to gluten free and from dairy free, wheat free to low fat options. These places quite wonderfully satisfy the taste buds, fill up stomachs yet their meals do not pack on pounds.

Sai Organics
Sai Organics

‘Sai Organics’ is one such delightful health food store on 30th Avenue. You walk in an organic food heaven with a choice of smoothies, granolas, soups, salads and even eco friendly cleaning supplies, personal care and beauty products. The staff is sweet and welcoming and the owner has a pure aura about him. Helpful and easy to talk to, Syed Jaffery is very passionate about serving people healthy food. Established since 2005, this deli cum bakery has clients coming in from all five boroughs of New York.

“Our lentil soup and apple beet juice is very popular. Our clients are very health conscious. Their feedback helps us improve on our menu choices.” Jaffery shares. “Yes Astoria has a lot of health food stores now and more are opening every other week. There is a demand. People here want to watch their diet. It’s a growing trend.”

36-year-old Linda Scott, mother of two who was purchasing SoyDream Vanilla ice cream from the health store, one of the reasons she caught my attention, reiterated that opinion. “I’m so glad I can get all these yummy healthy options a block from where I live.  After 90 minutes of Vinyasa, I need my nondairy fix. I really want to stay healthy. Everyone around me is so conscious and I feel that’s great. Astoria is the best place to live in really if you are conscious that way. We have all these great stories.”  Scott shared with me. “My mom always says she’s jealous of this generation. We have so much to choose from in food and also fitness regimes.”  She added, laughing.

As you walk down further, you realize how easy it is, actually, to keep your diet on track with all these healthy, great tasting options available right here on your doorstep. I’m very grateful to my curiosity at this point.  All my food related anxiety has disappeared.

And what is better is that Linda was very right. There are, in fact, so many fitness centers and gyms in this vicinity alone. So if you do give to your hungry inner demons, you can always burn the extra calories. The new question is what have these fancy gyms got to offer?    Next stop Astoria Rock Health and Fitness Club!

Wash Dry Fold

Laundromat on 31st Street, Astoria
Laundromat on 31st Street, Astoria

Detergents Check. Quarters Check. Fifty Shades Darker, Check. Add a bottle of water and a bag of chips to that and its off-to-the-Laundromat time. Once a fortnight, a New Yorker finds himself or herself checking off that list. It could be a different book though, but the destination is pretty much the same.

Its safe to say that most people living in New York cannot imagine their lives without Laundromats.  These coin operated laundry machine could be a friend or a foe, a peaceful time away from the exhausting fast paced life of the city or just a mundane task one has to perform. Whatever they may be, they do give every user a clean fresh smelling pile of clothes at the end of each meeting. But what if these Laundromats weren’t there? What if the laundry industry had taken a huge hit in recession and slumped just like a million other businesses around the world? All these questions make one wonder how do these Laundromats survive?

“You take home 70%. The rest is expenses. But you have to be smart to keep your profits high.” says 62 year old Christo Nikas, a talkative Greek customer at Laundromat on Astoria Boulevard. Nikas ran his own laundry business for 27 years before deciding to open a quaint Greek restaurant in the same neighborhood.

According to the experienced Greek, laundry business is easy money. ‘Be honest, treat your customers well and they will always come to you.” He adds with a warm smile. “ I used to always have coffee and donuts for my customers. Never missed a day.”

However, there is more to this 65-year-old industry than honesty and good salesmanship. Hygiene also seems to be an important factor in generating a reasonable income. “If anyone feels the place is dirty they will not wash there. Nobody wants bacteria in there clothes. You could even get skin infection. The cleaner, the more customers, I’d say.” Marianna Sanchez declares. Sanchez is a regular at the SudZone Laundromat on 34th Avenue and says she has never been disappointed.

A recent study of the industry showed there are over 35000 Laundromats across US, generating nearly $5 billion in annual gross revenue. According to you can expect to pay between $200,000 and $500,000 to purchase or build a laundry. Occupying between 1,000 to 4,000 square feet of rental space and running from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm seven days a week, these stores’ cash flow typically runs between $15,000 and $200,000 annually. The US recession has increased the percentage of people that rent their home, which has in turn increased the demand for these facilities.

Until now, one in three if us would be considering owing a laundry business. If the answer is yes then the risk of this business should also be exposed. High utility bills, unexpected events like power outages, machine maintenance costs, and calming dispute between customers all comes with the price. Another issue could be security implementation since laundry business is cash driven. Astoria is a very safe neighborhood; even then the owner has to handle a lot of cash, where in money-handling procedures may be applied, which is also a fixed cost.

“I’m very lucky my son is business student at Columbia. He handles revenue and expenses. But I still worry about having all that cash.” Louisiana Mee shares. Mee is the owner of Mee Laundromat on 38th Avenue.

Staying in step with the technological advancement, these operations have now found a way of keeping the facility air conditioned, which wasn’t a possibility earlier. Although there are only a handful of these in Astoria, you may find a lot of Laundromats with wending machines, coffee stands and also a couple who offer free Wi-Fi in the neighborhood. Some also have Plasma TVs and music stereos in the stores.

In Astoria, there is a Laundromat around every corner. How do they deal with competition? Maybe Nikas was right about being nice.

“It is all about developing personal terms. I know all my customers really well and always ask about their families. I also offer coffee and magazines.” Susan Ling of Won Won Laundry services reiterates. The facility is located on 36th Avenue with three other Laundromats within the same block. The key is to do all these right things at the right time, especially during peak hours, which are all day on weekends and mid-afternoons to early evenings during weekdays.

And this is how the Laundry business keeps inching forward.

Because clean clothes are also considered a necessity of life, the laundry industry is said to provide a basic health service. If you live in Astoria, you will never be deprived of this service. For sure!