Yun Cafe stays resilient after Ida

During Hurricane Ida, New Yorkers were shocked by videos of subway stations completely submerged in water, including many in Queens. Yet after only one week, the vibrant culture of the mass transit system has returned.
The subways are yet again a place to watch a dance routine, listen to a mariachi band, and enjoy some world-class Burmese cuisine.
Since the spring of 2020, Yun Cafe & Asian Mart has been nestled underground right by the entrance to the 74th St-Broadway/Roosevelt Ave subway station in Jackson Heights. Within that time, the young store has endured through the heights of the pandemic and now the serious flash-flooding brought upon by Ida.
However, these roadblocks haven’t stopped the new business from accruing a loyal base of customers in the neighborhood and national media attention from outlets such as the New Yorker and Gothamist.
Yun Yati Naing, who manages the cafe alongside her Burmese immigrant parents, discussed the impact that Hurricane Ida had on the small business, as well as her larger goals for the cafe going forward.
“All these bottles and stuff were wet,” Naing said while gesturing around the cafe’s small dining area, “and what’s more frustrating is that it wasn’t just water. There was a lot of oil that came with it. I don’t know where that all came from, maybe from some of the food we keep inside the store.”
Naing and her family had to drain over a foot of water from the cafe the morning after Ida. Additionally, the store experienced an electric outage that ruined one of its refrigerators, consequently damaging a large amount of food.
Yet to the naked eye, Yun Cafe looks just as clean as ever. Even when flooding isn’t an issue, the store’s owners are feverishly dedicated to making the space feel welcoming and homey, an oasis hidden within the labyrinthian tunnels of the Jackson Heights subway station.
“There’s a different vibe when you walk into the store from outside [in the station],” Naing explained. “A lot of people say that when you come inside it feels like you are somewhere else. Our store is very friendly and very cozy, and if you are a regular we definitely know who you are and we feel like friends.”
This comfortable atmosphere is enhanced by the food served, which includes an assortment of traditional Burmese dishes that utilize a variety of locally sourced and internationally shipped fresh ingredients.
“It’s very flavorful and has a fresh taste to it,” Naing said. “We use many types of vegetables, mixed with fermented things or noodles. It tastes flavorful but isn’t heavy. You can always adjust the spice level and sour level, too.”
Popular menu items include the laphet thoke (tea leaf salad), gin thoke (fermented ginger salad), and kaut swe thoke (noodle salad with chicken and boiled egg). The cafe also serves a variety of Burmese soups and teas.
Ever since the store was featured in the New Yorker and other publications, it has attracted many new visitors from near and far. However, a large amount of the store’s business comes from loyal customers who stop by frequently for a meal, drink, or to pick up some groceries, as it serves as a marketplace, as well.
“We see many Burmese people, a lot of them come from Queens and others come from Brooklyn,” Naing explained. “They come when they want to get the food, dry goods, or vegetables that we carry. But we also get non-Burmese people in the area and others who read the articles and travel all the way from New Jersey or something just to visit a small space like this.”
Located right below Diversity Plaza, Yun Cafe & Asian Mart is surrounded by an array of different businesses, cultures, and cuisines that have earned Queens its nickname as the “world’s borough.”
Even with all the trials the city has faced this past year, Naing and her family have always felt welcomed by the people of Jackson Heights.
“We’re just very honored to be part of this diverse community,” Naing said. “A lot of people come to Queens to experience Asian cultures and their food, and that really means a lot to us.
“People are very, very open minded, and they want to explore new cuisines and they want to explain they’re very appreciative of other culture,” she added. “So if you want to show off your cuisine, I think New York City is a place to do it.”

For more information, visit @yuncafeandasianmart on Instagram.

Queens resident shares the joy of reading through community library

“No child should be without a book” believes Kay Menashe, who has been making a difference for people of all ages with a donation-based library service.
The 44-year-old Howard Beach resident and former EMT owns and operates the Free Community Library of Ozone Park.
“During the height of the pandemic when all libraries were shut down, my goal was to make sure every child had a book to read,” said Menashe. “My free library originated when I placed a few of my own books out, and the community began taking them.
“Then we were asked by other community members if they could leave their books as well,” she added. “All of our books come from a different home with a tale to tell.”
The library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, weather permitting, since the library operates outdoors at locations announced on social media. The books come from community donations.
“We accept all books, as the Queens public libraries no longer take donated books since the pandemic,” Menashe said. “The only supplies we need are books, which we know most of you have at home just sitting around collecting dust.”
Menashe was recently named runner-up of the second annual Sparkling Ice’s “Cheers to Heroes” contest to honor America’s everyday heroes.
The contest received 1,000 nominations from 905 American cities with three finalists. Menashe received $7,500.
“We received such support from the community and from the parties and events we ran,” she said. “We won because the community voted for us and since our library makes a difference.”
Menashe hope to further develop her initiative, hoping the Queens community can help her find a small permanent space in an office or retail establishment.
“The books need to be displayed and stored and stay dry when it rains,” she explained. “We would also like to see a mom-and-pop coffeehouse go into business with us. My vision is to see my community members sitting down with coffee and maybe a slice of pie while reading free books they can take home.”
Menashe believes reading a physical copy is the best way to enjoy a book.
“I feel that e-reading takes away from the magic, including the new book smell,” she said. “As you hold books, it lets you relax. An e-reader is just a computer screen where you feel nothing.”
With titles spanning every genre in the community library, every day becomes a journey filled with surprises. She explained her personal inspiration is not just one person.
“The kids are why I do this mostly,” Menashe said. “Books are expensive for families to buy when you walk into a store, but when you walk into our café, that would never be an issue as your son or daughter would always leave with a free book.”

To donate books or to help the library secure a space, email To keep up with the library, follow @communityozpl on Instagram.

Elmhurst Hospital commemorates 9/11 survivors

Woodside resident Dominick Artale says he probably has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (CPOD), as a result of volunteering at Ground Zero in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, although he’s yet to be officially diagnosed.
Battling different types of cancers and suffering from severe lung problems and sleep apnea, Artale can still recall what it was like to watch the events unfold from across the East River.
“It was a beautiful day, but it turned to hell,” Artale said. “I’m thankful I wasn’t down there. I would have been, but I had a fight with my work partner two weeks before. He didn’t want to work or I would have been in the tower.”
Artale’s work partner would develop thyroid cancer as a result of being exposed to the dust cloud, and the horrors of that day threatened Artale’s physical and mental health.
“I thought it was a nightmare,” Artale added. “Every morning I would wake up and see the smoke on the way to work. I went down to volunteer to help, I wanted to play my part in it as an American. I felt helpless.”
Two decades later, the memories of that day are still stuck with Artale, now 66. But he’s not alone.
For the past three years, Artale has been part of the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program at Elmhurst Hospital, which was created to provide no-cost medical and behavioral health services to the first responders and survivors.
At Elmhurst Hospital, services have been provided to approximately 900 survivors. The WTC Health Program also operates in Manhattan at Bellevue Hospital and Gouverneur Hospital, caring for more than 13,000 patients at the three NYC Health + Hospitals locations.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Elmhurst Hospital recognized and paid tribute to the survivors they have cared for since 2011.
Hospital CEO Helen Arteaga, praised the partnership between the health providers and the patients, which she says brings a sense of community to Elmhurst Hospital.
“For us, it’s not just the physical and clinical work,” Arteaga said. “For us, it’s that true partnership of holistic care. We are there for our community during the good, bad and the ugly.”
Arteaga was working in the emergency room at Northwell Hospital in Manhasset on September 11, preparing for an expected flood of casualties. Instead, she recalls a somber moment when no patients showed up.
“It was the worst silence of my life,” said Artega. “I remember when we realized no one was coming, just the tears, because we felt so helpless that we couldn’t help anybody.”
Patients in the program have access to psychologists, physicians, social workers and more support staff within the city’s hospital system.
Enrollment for the WTC Health Program remains open and eligible for New Yorkers, including those who are now in their 20s and 30s who were children when the attacks occurred.
“They listen to me and they understand,” Artale said. “They know that I’ve seen things that a lot of people didn’t see. I could call them at any time and they will be there for me.”

Ceremony honors firefighters from Squad 288/Hazmat 1

There was a distinct emotional feeling among attendees at Maspeth Federal Savings’ annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony this year as the community marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
As it is annually, the ceremony was held in front of a 9/11 monument in Maspeth Memorial Park dedicated to the 19 firefighters from Squad 288/HazMat 1 and others from the community who lost their lives on that morning.
The Squad 288/Hazmat 1 firehouse, which is located just off the memorial park, had the single largest loss of firefighters of any FDNY firehouse on September 11.
But this year’s ceremony looked a bit different, with the gate surrounding Memorial Square behind the monument adorned with banners displaying the names of the firefighters from Squad 288/HazMat 1.
Each name was read aloud at the event.
Kenneth Rudzewick, host of the event, cited the importance of holding memorial ceremonies like this one every year.
“This is a 20-year journey that has affected most of our lives, remembering the attack and marking it is vital,” he said. “There is no better way to honor the lives of those heroes taken in 2001 than to protect and honor their fellow rescuers of today.”
The ceremony included words from Vincent Tomeo, a retired high school teacher and poet; music from husband-and-wife duo Bill and Liz Huisman, and the singing of the National Anthem by Kathleen Nealon.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to sit here for the last 20 years,” said Nealon. “I keep all of those who died on 9/11 and their families in my prayers always, as well as those who have died from 9/11-related illnesses and continue to suffer from that day.”
In addition to the 343 firefighters killed directly in the attack, 253 later died due to complications from their rescue work at Ground Zero.
Maspeth Federal Savings continues to honor them and add them to the memorial, including Firefighter Thomas Oelkers, who died just this May from a World Trade Center-related illness.
Congresswoman Grace Meng and Councilman Robert Holden discussed the importance of not only remembering and honoring the lives lost, but also how to carry out justice on their behalf in the present day.
Meng said that Congress is working on a resolution to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to ensure that New York’s future generations never forget the events of that day.
“We are also working on a bipartisan basis to make sure that we are fully funding the health programs that will benefit so many of the victims’ families and to take care of those who are still with us,” she said.
Holden, alongside the Juniper Park Civic Association, has fought to have the Maspeth firehouse recognized as a landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down their request because it was constructed too recently.
“The Landmarks Preservation Commission will have to landmark this,” he said “We’re not going to wait 30 years.”

Restaurant workers from Twin Towers recall experiences

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the restaurant staff at Windows on the World went about their business as usual on the top floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. They prepared food in the kitchen, served breakfast to the tourists and businessmen outside, and started getting the lunch menu ready.
Within the next few hours, 73 members of the restaurant staff would be dead.
The impact of 9/11 on the Windows on the World restaurant workers has not been forgotten. Every year since the attack, a dedicated group of survivors and organizers has held a vigil to remember their fallen coworkers and friends.
On the 20th anniversary this past weekend, a special vigil was held on the roof of 110 William Street. With a perfect view of One World Trade Center, approximately 45 Windows on the World workers were joined by politicians, dignitaries, and friends for speeches, a candle lighting, and moments of silence.
“Today we honor the 73 restaurant workers who died on September 11,” said Fekkak Mamdouh, an East Elmhurst resident and former worker at Windows on the World. “We should never forget them, their struggle, and their sacrifice.”
Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the event’s keynote speaker. She discussed the ongoing sacrifices that restaurant workers make during times of hardship, including 9/11 and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m here today to thank all of you for honoring those who were lost and who continue to work and serve,” Clinton said. “People who are working in service, restaurants, and hospitals are always working to make this a better country, and today we remember those workers who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
A number of local politicians were also in attendance, including State Senator John Liu. Speaking to our paper, Liu discussed the ways in which essential workers continue to be a source of inspiration for their communities.
“Twenty years seems like a long time, but I know we all remember September 11, 2001, like it was yesterday,” Liu said. “But as terrible as that day was, in the coming days and years it brought out the best in people across New York City and beyond. We remember the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice, but we must remember all the service workers that died that fateful day. No one was collateral damage. Every death mattered.”

Pols discuss need to pass fed infrastructure bill

Elected officials in Queens are calling for the passage of a federal infrastructure bill to prepared for future natural disasters like Hurricane Ida.
During a media roundtable last week, Borough President Donovan Richards acknowledged that many of the basement apartments that were flooded during the historic rainfall were illegally converted into residences.
“One of the reasons people in Queens, obviously, live in basements is because we are in an affordability crisis,” Richards said. “Basements play a key role in providing affordable housing, but also ensure that many of our senior citizens who may have retired can actually afford a mortgage.”
Richards noted he was a “basement baby” himself, and said his “basement apartment helped him get through college as well.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng said she “spent the first six years of her life in a basement in Queens.” She argued government can no longer afford to stall on upgrading the city’s infrastructure.
“I have constituents who might not be experts on infrastructure or climate change, but they know that they’ve made complaints to different levels of government before,” said Meng, “and they know that some of their neighbors have needlessly died.”
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said he and his colleagues in Washington are working to pass the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill.
“We also are going to work hard to get any emergency spending bill over the finish line so that the areas that have been hit hard, like many parts of Queens, can continue to have the resources necessary to help build back stronger and more resilient,” he said.

9/11 mural restored on 20th anniversary of attacks

A mural honoring three local residents killed in the 9/11 attacks has been given new life with a fresh coat of paint.
The faces of Marcello Matricciano, Edward Lehman and James Cartier can be seen on the wall of N&R Deli at the corner of 25th Avenue and 77th Street in East Elmhurst.
Originally painted in 2015 by nonprofit group Groundswell, a restoration process was started after funding was secured by the Queens Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president and CEO Thomas Grech said he noticed the mural was in need of a touch-up during one of his many breakfast trips to the deli. The chamber’s headquarters is located not far away.
“One day in July, the phone started ringing when I was getting my eggs,” said Grech. “I went out to answer the phone and I looked up at this wall. For those of you who haven’t seen it lately, it was starting to peel.”
Soon after, local artists Benny Guerra and Carlo Nieva began scraping and peeling off the old paint that had been weathered and beaten over the past six years.
“We tried to save as much of the original paint as possible,” said Guerra. “By the time we peeled all of it off, about 60 percent of the mural needed attention.”
The artists referenced photographs taken from the mural’s original dedication, applying a coat of primer and color-matching the old and new paint.
The 16-by-40-foot mural will soon be given another clear coat to extend its life even further.
“My favorite part is the integration of the old World Trade Center towers with the Freedom Tower,” said Nieva. “They are patriots.”
Deputy Chief Kevin Williams of the NYPD extended his thoughts to the families of the 9/11 victims who were in attendance for the rededication of the mural.
“I think this is symbolic of the American spirit and the New York spirit,” said Williams. “Over the years, this mural may have been battered and worn, but same thing as that day. We came back, made it stronger, and made our country better.”
John Cartier, the brother of one of the victims honored in the mural, expressed his gratitude for all those involved in restoring the mural. He remembers his brother, who died at 26 years old, as full of life and always having something funny to say.
“I think it’s important as family members to recognize all of you who have carried us through a time of darkness,” said Cartier. “All of you in this neighborhood were the light. You guys gave us hope to continue forward.”

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