In this ongoing series, we hear from island restaurateurs, in their own words, about how their eateries have fared in the time of the pandemic.
This week, we catch up with Vinnie, Ashima (Ash) and Micky Dhir, the owners of the island’s only fast-food franchise, Subway. For married couple Vinnie, age 34, and Ash, age 30, Vashon’s Subway is their first business venture. Joining them in the business is Micky, who is Vinnie’s father, and age 55. All three worked at an Auburn Subway owned by Vinnie Kumar, the previous owner of Vashon’s Subway shop.
The Dhirs, who worked out their deal to purchase the franchise shortly before the time of the pandemic, spoke with one of their regular customers, islander Todd Pearson, to tell the story of their lives before the pandemic, how they have endured, and about their immigrants’ dream.
Pearson, a long-time island photographer, freely admits to having a fountain Coke habit — a vice that he said brings him into Subway almost every day. Pearson has a “subscription” for his favorite elixir — he has paid for a month’s worth of soft drinks in advance to just stop by the store and quickly grab his daily Coke.
Of the Dhirs, he said, “They are really great people, full of enthusiasm and kindness, friendly and talkative with their customers.”
Pearson has taken the time to get to know the family and find out where they have come from and what makes them tick. Here is what he has learned about them, and their direct answers to several questions.
Pearson: Both Vinnie and Ash are from Punjab, India, where they married. Their mothers arranged the marriage in 2016. Vinnie and his dad came to the U.S. in 2007, from Punjab. They both worked for Subway from that time until now. In 2016, Vinnie went to visit his mom for four months, when he was 29. His mom told him to come home because she knew a girl, then 25, who she thought he should meet. He was introduced to Ash by a friend of his mom’s. Vinnie thought she was beautiful and would make a great wife. Ash thought Vinnie was cute but awfully shy. They married after a month of family gatherings and parties. Two months later, after a honeymoon and two months of visiting family, Vinnie returned to the U.S. alone. It took almost two years to wade through immigration law and red tape before it was possible for Ash to join Vinnie. The long wait was tough and frustrating for both of them, but finally, Ash came to the U.S. and was happy to be here.
They are both glad to be in America, but they admit that they miss their social lives in India. Life is imperfect in either place, they say — more relaxed in India, but with less chance for economic success. Work is more all-consuming in the U.S. but a much better opportunity to make money. They are happy to be on Vashon, with their business prospects improving every day, after the first very hard first few months of the pandemic.
Currently, safety protocols in effect at the shop include constant cleaning, distance measures to add space between other customers and the workers when ordering and standing in line to order sandwiches, and plexiglass at the check-out.
Pearson, to the Dhir family: What’s on special at Subway now and when are you open?
Vinnie: Subway has a special every day. Each day a different sandwich meal is featured, sold for a price about $2.50 less than it would regularly cost. The price is $6.69 for the sandwich of the day plus chips plus drink. So, on Monday the “meal” would feature, say, a turkey breast sandwich on Italian bread, on Tuesday it might be the sweet onion chicken teriyaki sandwich. We’re open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Pearson: How many are on your staff now?
Vinnie: The staff is me, Ashand Micky, and two new staff members.
Pearson: If someone hasn’t tried Subway yet, what should they know about the food?
Vinnie: We have the healthiest, freshest and least expensive restaurant food on Vashon. The food from Subway, delivered once a week, stays fresh because we cut vegetables fresh every day, and prep the various meats that will be used for that day only. We bake bread and cookies fresh every day. Any bread that isn’t used on the day it is made cannot be used the following day.
Pearson: What’s your current favorite thing to cook for yourself at home?
Vinnie: We eat all kinds of food, but mostly Indian — curries of some sort. We also enjoy Mexican and Italian food.
Pearson: If you’d be willing to share one secret ingredient or simple cooking tip, what would it be?
Ash: Asafoetida is the common ingredient for Indian cooking. That’s our secret ingredient that makes our food tasty and smells great.
Pearson: What keeps you going in this era?
Vinnie: I’m an immigrant to this country, and my family has been so lucky to own our own business, which is the immigrant’s dream. I want to do everything I can to make it succeed.”
Pearson: What has made you happy in recent months?
Vinnie: Keeping my own business, and seeing it get better day by day.
Pearson: What are your hopes and dreams for Vashon, as the community navigates the time of coronavirus?
Vinnie: We moved here, shortly after the virus came along. We love this community and we want to be part of it in every way. We’re seeing a bright future for this community and are hopeful and confident that we’ll get past these virus days sometime soon.