I like to go grocery shopping, especially ”exotic” grocery shopping, and over the years have racked up hundreds of hours in my favorite haunts — Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue, and Kalustyan’s on Lexington, among others. I recently discovered a new favorite, Sinha Trading Co., right next door to Kalustyan’s: the prices are fabulously low, and the store is appealingly low-key and immaculately clean. I’d overlooked it, literally, for years; it is down a few steps below street level, and never quite registered until a couple of months ago.
But the real thrill at Sinha is what I’ve learned about its owners, the brothers Sinha. One day, with more than the usual amount of time on my hands, I dawdled by the shop’s entrance and noticed a group of text-heavy posters over the door. One described the “Champagne Memorial Pet Hospital” in Delhi. Another featured a large photo of Champagne himself, a handsome palomino-colored Cocker Spaniel, displayed over a pile of 10-pound bags of “Champagne Basmati rice.” I was hooked. Reading on I learned that Anil Sinha, the eldest of six brothers from Delhi, had founded the hospital as a tribute to his beloved dog,
Champagne, in an attempt to bring modern veterinary care to the underserved dogs of India.
Speaking with his brother, Arun, who was behind the register, I learned that the food shop was but one branch of the Sinha family enterprises. In the mid-60s his elder brother had arrived in this city and married a woman with a teaching degree. She’d been working at a Montessori school, and hoped to someday open her own. On a whim the two went one day to look at an old building in Brooklyn: with little money they had no hope of buying, but felt compelled to check it out. When the building’s owner found out they were looking to open a school, he offered them the place at a reduced price, and helped them to secure a mortgage, on the condition that his children could enroll once the school was up and running. Schools in Manhattan and Queens followed, as did the grocery, which was opened in 1970.
Apparently needing something more to fill his time, Mr. Anil Sinha opened several Montessori schools in India, and the pet hospital, which boasts computerized record-keeping, a state-of-the-art Whelping Section for the care of pregnant dogs and their pups, and a Holiday Home for the dogs of travelers. The Champagne rice is his own “house brand” (and it is good!). His brother, in addition to running the grocery, is a student of religion, a great reader, and a devotee of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, whose picture holds a place of honor in the shop. Where I’ll be spending hundreds more hours, hoping for more stories of the fabulous Sinha juggernaut.