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She may have only moved to the neighborhood in 2018, but Priya Ahluwalia has taken Hell’s Kitchen to her heart. Here’s Priya’s West Side Story
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born and raised in Delhi, India. I then lived in Beijing, China, for four years (2009 to 2013), later I moved to San Francisco for my master’s in Chinese language and literature and lived there for almost 4 years. My husband (boyfriend back then) lost his job at a startup, and we ended up moving to Rapid City, South Dakota. We were there for about 18 months but realized we both loved the city life. My husband brought me to NYC in May 2017 and proposed to me here, where dreams came true for me. We immediately knew this was our place and decided to move to NYC in 2018.
We love this city. There is no other place like NYC in the world. The energy, the people, the food, and all the amazing cultural diversity this place offers make it a real global center of the world.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
In 2018, when we were deciding on where to live in the city, we both ended up picking Hell’s Kitchen. We are both foodies and the food culture in HK attracted us to it and made us move to 49th and 9th.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
My most favorite thing about HK is the fact that people come together for each other in time of need. The power outage in 2019 demonstrated that but the pandemic really showcased the spirit of Hell’s Kitcheners. I love our neighborhood spirit; everyone tried to help each other and came together as a community. I saw people delivering groceries to each other and supporting in the time of need.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
The rats in HK seem to be really stubborn and keep disturbing the peace in our kitchen. From time to time, I encounter a rat or two enjoying the ketchup packets.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
We stayed all the way through and tried our best to support the local stores and restaurants. Sadly, many didn’t survive 🙁
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I wear multiple hats. Before COVID, I had a full-time job as Director of Operations at a real estate company near Times Square. I used to walk every morning, pick a cup of coffee from a truck on 41st and 7th, and work from 10 am to 6 pm. In the evenings, I would walk to 29th and 7th to ABC Languages, see people from all around the world walk by, and teach Hindi at ABC from 7 pm to 9 pm.
On Saturdays, I would teach Chinese to US military students, and later in the evening, make a stop at Jaspers for some quick Irish beer and rosemary fries.
COVID, of course, changed everything. Now, my journey is limited from my bedroom to my living room. But this pandemic gave me some wonderful opportunities that would have never happened. I used to run a wine meet up and, during the lockdown, met the CEO of a food-tech startup called PlateRate and joined PlateRate as the COO. We are now around 64 people in the company and close to the launch date.
For me, this pandemic brought the most amazing opportunity. Back in March 2020, I was sitting on my couch, frustrated and thinking about how online language teaching will work during the pandemic. That is when I came up with the idea of an ed-tech startup and decided to form my own on-demand language learning platform called Linguiyo. So, I work as the CEO of Linguiyo, COO of PlateRate, and still teach Chinese and Hindi online in the evenings.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
It was discovering my passion for creating something different.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
My husband who is also my best friend, and is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. No matter what the situation, he is always there like a rock by my side. He is my ray of hope and the most beautiful sunshine that always lights my world.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
There are two experiences:
- Being mugged for the first time in my life. Thankfully, it was not money but 6 cans of beer right outside Duane Reade. I consoled myself by thinking the other person needed it more than I did, went back to the store and bought 6 new cans.
- The second most insane thing was the non-stop day and night drilling/construction by ConEd that started on January 25th, 2021, and continued till March 5th, 2021. It was frustrating and annoying.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
First, in 2010 I met the Prime Minister and President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s house) in Delhi.
Second, in 2021, on March 6th I ran into a Bravo TV star Anish Rama Krishna; she was part of The Family Karma on Bravo TV. Mohit (my husband) and I were headed to The Immigrant bar and saw Anish enjoying an NYC pizza slice from East Side Pizza. No one can resist a good NY slice, not even a celebrity.
What’s your superpower?
The ability to remain calm in the toughest of situations and believe that everything and anything is possible. I believe that there is always a way, and we should never give up and work towards finding the right way.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
I don’t sing. I think. I get the best ideas while in the shower.
Which people inspire you the most?
The ones that do not shy away from expressing themselves to the world and write their own destiny.
A woman who inspired me is Empress Dowager Cixi, a Chinese empress dowager and regent who was the de facto supreme ruler of China in the late Qing dynasty from 1861 until her death in 1908.
Cixi not only became the first woman to rule China but took it from an agricultural era and introduced industrial programs. She taught me to always look ahead, believe in myself, and not take NO for answer.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
Always believe in yourself.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I like Times Square during the day, but I love it during the night. Nighttime lights the entire place and you feel being a part of something amazing. And of course, the ‘bab smell (my way of saying the kebab smell), the kebab scene at night is just awesome. I love grabbing a bite or two and enjoying the glittering streets.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Places — I would love to bring back Rudy’s (I hear it’s just in hibernation), Donna Bell’s Bake Shop, Uncle Nick’s, and The Coffee Pot.
Event — Saturday farmer’s market and the 9th Avenue International Food Festival (I really miss it).
Person — Romulo. He was our neighbor’s cat and was so adorable. He would come to our apartment every day between 1 pm to 2 pm and inspect the house like little Meow Holmes. His parents moved to a new house in October 2020. I miss him dearly.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
My love for languages, passion for teaching, and a deep interest in startups made me take a big step in the ed-tech world. Started with me from my one-bedroom small HK apartment, Linguiyo is an on-demand language learning platform that also offers cultural experiences and language games and now has 22 people from around the world (a truly global and diverse company). www.linguiyo.com
You can follow me on Instagram at @priyahluwalia
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
Jasper’s Taphouse & Kitchen (9th Ave & W51st St). I love the rosemary fries, Irish beer, and all the hosts who have become really good friends.
Amy’s Bread (9th Ave between W46/47th St). This little dessert heaven is my favorite go-to cake shop. I love their German chocolate cake and carrot cake. The cakes from Amy’s always put a huge smile on my face.
Amish Market (9th Ave between W49/50th St). From the super sweet owner who is always there to greet you and have lovely conversations with you, this place offers so much. I not only love their deli section, but also love their fresh produce, and my favorite coffee section. My husband and I start our day with the cocoa mocha coffee from Amish.
7 Brothers Famous Deli (9th Avenue & W49th St). I love stopping by just to grab a few snacks and say hello to all the people behind the counter. They are all so friendly.
November 19 (W49th between 9/10th Ave). This cute boutique shop offers wonders from Korea. Mohit and I cannot live without their charcoal toothbrush, warm rototo socks, and the everyday oil.
VIV Thai (9th Ave between W48/49th St). Looking for a bowl of soul-satisfying food? Check out Viv Thai. We love their basil friend rice and khao soi. A bowl of khao soi a day keeps stress away.
Sacco Pizza (9th Ave between W54/55th St0. Who doesn’t love a great cheesy pie? Their regular cheese slice hits the spot.
UT47 (W47th St between 8/9th Ave). A place that serves awesome coffee and hummus bagels with a lot of smiles.
Nams Nail Spa (W46th St between 9/10th Ave). The best place to get one’s manicure and pedicure done in HK. Nams Nails makes you forget the hustle and bustle life of NYC and immerses you in their own sanctuary. You enter this sanctuary and the first thing that hits you is this beautiful song – “om ah hum vajra guru padma siddhi hum”. You immediately forget all the worries in your life.