Columbus chef takes downturn in business as opportunity to give back

Pandemic Postcards

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life but what we give.”

Sangeeta Lakhani made her living as a chef and restaurant owner in several places in Columbus including Hound Dog Pizza, Bodega, and The Table. That is, until the pandemic hit and her “living” went away, and “giving’ was all she could think to do.

“We used old china,” Sangeeta said of The Table.

“’Oh, you’re a restaurant owner. Clearly, you’re driving a Rolls Royce out of this parking lot and onto your four mile driveway to your mansion,’” Sangeeta mused. “Reality is this is a day-to-day business.”

Sangeeta came to Ohio from India, went to school to become a chef and opened Hound Dog Pizza 28 years ago. It’s still there. She sold that and bought Bodega, and it’s still there, then sold it and opened The Table 8 years ago on Fifth Avenue.

“It’s like somebody telling you your parent or your child died,” Sangeeta said about the statewide restaurant shutdown earlier this year. “I had a complete breakdown. I was like hysterically, like my husband had to take the phone from me. I just couldn’t get out another word, I was in full breakdown.”

Like more than 50 percent of small restaurants in the pandemic,The Table couldn’t come back. So, when Sangeeta and other owners were getting nothing, they decided to give.

“Within two weeks of restaurants shutting down, the world’s fastest non-profit was created,” Sangeeta laughed.

They began fundraising and starting April 4, she and other restaurateurs served 200 meals a day7 days a week for out-of-work servers and bartenders.

The non-profit then moved to Phase 2.

“We gave 25 micro-grants for 8 weeks for people who needed to keep their lights on or pay rent,” Sangeeta said.  The grants were for $250 each.

Phase 3 started Monday – 100 turkey dinners with side dishes.

“It’s not enough,” Sangeeta said, “It’s not even a fraction.”

After being shuttered for eight months, The Table has a potential buyer. But while it sits, Sangeeta lets two other women fix and deliver food, trying to stay afloat while searching for what’s next.

“I love being a part of something bigger and being able to give back,” she said. “I’m learning who I am all over again, trying to figure out who I am without the only thing I’ve ever known.”

If the sale goes through, maybe she’ll “get” another restaurant. But, “giving” will never again be a maybe.

“Who do I want to see on the other side of this?” Sangeeta asked. “Will I be able to look at myself on the other side of this?”

“And will you?” she was asked.

“Very proudly!” Sangeeta responded.

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