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Nov 3, 2010 10:35 AM

Apna Bazaar in Floral Park - The Worst Treatment I've Received Since Best Fuhzou Restaurant

Well I was frequenting Apna Bazaar as my Indian grocery of choice for basically the whole of this last summer and since. It's a decent supermarket and since it's now open 24 hrs it was open a lot later than Patel Brothers and can allow you to get basically any spice you need to randomly cook Gujarati food at 2am as I sometimes do... If anyone's followed my posting history on here you'll know that I know a thing or two about South Asian food. I'm no expert by any means, but I cook it, eat it and pretty much live it in general. Apna Bazaar is actually a rather good supermarket with a fully stocked selection of South Asian items including about 5 different brands of mustard oil (which makes me happy) and it's generally got a wider selection than the nearby Patel Brothers which is also on Hillside Avenue.

So a vegetarian friend of mine recently bought a Tarla Dalal cookbook and I took him over to Apna Bazaar to get kitted out with South Asian items. We were keeping it to a 20 dollar limit for a start up kit and so we took two bags of dal to begin with but decided we might put them back before leaving as it was quite expensive for the smaller bags (4.00 each.)

As we're doing this one of the employees comes up and gives us a little speech of "You people come in here all the time and takes things but never buy it. You just take things and look and then put them back everywhere. Please, it's a store." We pretty much brushed it off at that point and figured that confused white people have gone half-shopping in this place before but would end up not buying stuff; we, however, would be different. After that the same man proceeded to follow us and stand literally 3-4 feet away from us at all times for the next 10 minutes. Spice aisle? He's there! Getting a jar of achar? Got my good buddy right next to me for that! Fresh produce? There he is! Finally when we went back to the original aisle to put back the two bags of dal which we deemed to be overpriced our good buddy came over for another friendly and jovial chat regarding our ignorance to all things Apna Bazaar. We got something along the lines of "You people don't even know what these things are. You don't need them. You're just taking things and you're not going to buy them." We were literally about 30 seconds away from making a purchase. At this point he literally took the basket from our hands a little bit forcefully and stormed off to put everything back. We stood there in awe of what happened for a good 10 minutes discussing what happened and where we could still go at that hour (about 10pm.)

Thankfully a wonderful new 24 hour Pakistani grocery store has opened only a few blocks down Hillside near Little Neck Parkway! The prices are cheaper, the service is infinitely better (obviously) and they have almost as much as Apna Bazaar. Still, I'm never shopping at Apna Bazaar again and I'm filing a BBB claim against them. To end on a good note I do highly recommend the new store down the road. It's called something halal meat, but it's not just a butcher (though your question as to where you can buy a whole leg of baby lamb at 3am in far eastern Queens has now been answered.)

Patel Brothers
37-27 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

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  1. That is a mindboggler indeed!

    1. can you describe your treatment at best fuzhou?

      10 Replies
      1. re: AubWah

        LOL, that was my thought as well.

        JFores, I'd have asked to speak to a manager (and if he WAS the manager, I'd have pointed out - just before stalking out - that you'd given him $xxx worth of your biz this year, and that if we're all homogenous tribes deserving of stereotype and offhanded dismissal then he has no reason to complain when racist American assholes do the same to him).

        But while this dude was nine kinds of crazy and innappropriate, there's one thing you did which I just absolutely can't for my life understand: you put the dal back. I would not have put the dal back. I'd have paid the eight bucks and gifted it to your friend.

        I don't know what race you happen to be, but if you're a black guy, and find yourself at a picnic among white racist idiots, you just do not start slurping down multiple slices of watermelon...even if you happen to love watermelon. You just don't do that thing (unless you do so as an ironic display or a "taking back", which doesn't fit the current example). Not 'cuz you care what they think, but just because you don't want to fuel their assholery. You want to offer a strongly contrary data point. You want to pull away their justification, not amplify it.

        Or, better example. I'll let you in on a secret: my tolerance to Thai-level of spice is actually fairly low. So low that I would never eat in any restaurant that served food suiting my spice tolerance. But given that I expect (and even demand) to be treated like a Thai customer, if a dish is too spicy, I eat every frigging bite, and I ice down my tongue or do whatever I need to do to get it down. I manage my data point!

        And, I should note, when I first went to Sripraphai (shortly after it opened), and all the diners were Thai, and the owner took one look at me, wagged his head, and said "you people have a million Thai restaurants cooking for you, please kindly leave us alone in here", I stormed the palace and I bucked the bronco, and that place is now staunchly pro-gringo (I can't take all the credit, but I added my data point very early-on). I didn't smirk at his lecture about Americans not appreciating Thai food and then REFUSE TO EAT WHAT THEY SERVED ME! They could have served me rat eyes and I'd have choked them down!

        This guy couldn't have been won over, of course. But you could have managed your data point much, much better.

        Again, I just can't believe you put the dal back. I'm literally pounding my forehead with my outstretched palm.

        64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Well, since I am already on the board this morning, I have to respond here.
          I respectfully and totally disagree with you.
          They were planning to put back the dal before the guy came up and harassed them. Why should they let some closed-minded bigot affect their decisions and cause them to spend money when they didn't want to? That just doesn't make any sense to me.
          To use your thai food analogy, if i went into a thai restaurant really craving some chicken sate (which would never happen, but let's just say, for the sake of argument, that it could) and the waiter made some comment about how all farangs like to eat is sate because they can't handle spicy food, i wouldn't be moved to order the southern curry and suffer through my meal. If I wanted sate, I would order sate. Life's too short to waste a meal if I don't have to. Similarly, unless JFores and friend are rolling in dough, why should they let some guy's comment and actions force them into spending money they didn't want to?
          Maybe I don't get it because I'm not a guy. I do have plenty of guy friends, who, in the "thai restaurant sate situation" would immediately order the hottest thing on the menu after the waiter's comment.
          I feel like you are taking JFores and friend to task for not standing up for all non-indians. I don't think that's their job, especially if it's going to cost them money.

          1. re: missmasala

            If he'd bought the dal, he would have undermined this guy's preconception, he'd have successfully made his purchase, his day would have only been semi-ruined, and the next gringo through the door might have been treated very-slightly less shmuckily. Instead, a horrid scene ensued, he didn't get what he wanted, he can never shop there again, he cemented a prejudice, and the atmosphere was made even more toxic for the next gringo who comes along.

            The marginal cost between those two scenarios was a mere $8. Yet you're in "total disagreement" with the former?

            1. re: Jim Leff

              I disagree. If he'd bought the other groceries (as he fully planned to do) THEN he'd have undermined this guys's preconceptions. Who would have ever thought that sort of thing would happen, prompted only by them putting back the overpriced dal (in the right place, not "everywhere" as the guy said)?

              Frankly, even if he'd kept the dal in the basket, based on this story, I think the guy wouldn't have let them buy anything anyway.

              1. re: Chris VR

                "Frankly, even if he'd kept the dal in the basket, based on this story, I think the guy wouldn't have let them buy anything anyway."

                If we could replay the scene I'd offer you 500-to-1 odds on that bet.

                "Who would have ever thought that sort of thing would happen"

                Me. I wouldn't have even imagined putting the dal back under those circumstances. Not because I'm a subservient, passive sheep, but just to defy this guy's expectations. Instead, he made the guy correct.

                1. re: Jim Leff

                  Just a note to the thread; I've made my point as clearly as I can. So at this point, I'll bow out and let others discuss if they'd like.

                2. re: Chris VR

                  He couldn't buy the other groceries, the shopkeeper took the basket holding them and proceeded to re-selve them. The shopkeeper had a closed mind, reasoning with him at this point would have been futile and probably would have escalated in to something else.

                  With an attitude like that, the shopkeeper will never achieve great success in business, which will be his just reward.

                3. re: Jim Leff

                  "f he'd bought the dal, he would have undermined this guy's preconception,..."
                  He wasn't there to undermine the guy's preconception. He was there to shop for food. Putting things back is what people do when they shop. When you're shopping for food - or dining out for that matter - you shouldn't worry yourself with other peoples' expectations.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    In this economy, i don't think of $8 as mere. That's 3-4 delicious trini doubles or nice cocktail at a fairly fancy bar.
                    and his day was ruined by the guy's behavior, not by not getting the groceries, since they went down the street and bought their groceries for less.
                    So yeah, I guess I'm in "total disagreement" with the former.

                  2. re: missmasala

                    The irritating thing about the daal is that we noted the price immediately and were going to put it back immediately but we only did not do so because he came up to us to tell us not to put stuff back "everywhere."

              2. The guy was clearly nuts. You got caught flatfooted by him taking the basket away. It was definitely an occasion to fight back or complain..Without a complaint, its not fair to judge the store.

                Have shopped in any number of Indian stores in the tristate area, without having this happen, altho there can be an assumption that we gringos dont know what were are doing (as in many other ethnic stores) I will normally persist if its in my interest to do so because I want the stuff or the store is convenient. Over time, they get me... However I have now permanently banned the Indian Store to the right of Kalustyan after 30 years of on and off patronage due to a series of incidents where they were rude and disrespectful.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jen kalb

                  The Srip anecdote is very interesting to hear especially as I've done something similar like that with Chao Thai recently. Their spicing has really decreased and the quality of a lot of their stuff has gone down hill in general so I recently told the main waitress that she constantly white person spices my food and that I think the change in spicing effects the overall quality of some dishes. It actually led to a much improved batch of tom yum soup, jungle curry and laab! I haven't been back since, but we'll see.

                  The 8 dollars was a serious issue as the words "financially turmoil" do not adequately summarize my situation until I can get to the UK to get a bank card of mine back. If I had the money it would've probably gone a bit like that, but even the KGB-like tailing of us throughout the store had us pretty annoyed.

                  The most awkward part of the entire situation is the fact that I gave a perfectly reasoned explanation regarding the cookbook and the guy had absolutely none of it. Went 110% over his head. Furthermore when he said that we didn't even know what any of the ingredients were I started naming every spice, dal and other item we had in either Hindi, Bangla or Gujarati until I named the entire cart. That also went completely over his head. It was an extremely strange situation and we should have asked to speak to a manager, but we really didn't feel like giving them our money. If it was a restaurant I'd probably have a different attitude. When Best Fuhzou (after having gone there a few times) had a waitress who was doggedly insisting they were having a "Chinese party" after I left and came back twice to find virtually all of the customers to have changed we just sat down at a table with them telling us that it was a "Chinese party." We went back with a Mandarin speaker about a month later and all was well. I have to put this sort of effort in a lot more in England sometimes. Not with South Asian food, but with the Chinese menus. England is still at the stage where 90% of the good stuff is on untranslated Chinese menus on white boards or behind the counter so you have to go in and then doggedly press for that menu AND THEN you have to poke at them for translations of anything you don't know.

                  Frankly, Apna Bazaar isn't worth the effort. The halal market down Hillside is about 30 percent cheaper on most items and the staff are very friendly. If the staff at Apna spoke Bangla we would've had serious words but since that's the only South Asian language that I can release torrents of pirate like swearing with I sort of gave up after my reasoned explanations fell on deaf ears and after I became sick of him tugging on the bloody basket.

                  We were just extremely lucky to find the other grocery store so quickly; we thought we'd have to drive to Bengali Jamaica. In the end we did but that was for an insanely cheap meal at Ghoroa. 3 rice, 2 dal, 1 mixed veg, 1 okra and 1 shutki for 9 dollars. Also found an underground paan stall so the night rounded off nicely.

                  168-41 Hillside Ave, Queens, NY 11432

                  Chao Thai
                  85-03 Whitney Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I've recently dropped Charlie's Paan Shop altogether after years of going there for similar reasons. Thankfully there's an awesome paan place on 28th St off of Lexington within eye shot of Curry in a Hurry. Every time I go in there and order tobacco paan I have to either go into a 3 minute rant about my knowledge of South Asia or I'm refused service. The last time a new guy just wasn't having it and after about 2 minutes of "No, we're not serving tobacco paan right now" I opened up the exact tobacco I use to show him it was virtually full and he still stuck to his guns. So now I've stopped needlessly paying them 2 dollars a paan and I've gone elsewhere.

                    I sort of feel like this is on the rise? It's very odd because it's not like it's due to a growing population; London has by far the larger South Asian population and in parts they are far worse off, far more ghettoized and far more likely to discriminate against you in a business setting... but they don't.

                  2. Oops. Total brain fart. Wrong store. For what it's worth, I've never seen anything this bad at the store in Jackson Heights, but they're generally quite unfriendly there as well. They're surly to everyone, not just perceived "foreigners."

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MikeG

                      I've never had a problem at the JH one. I used to do my shopping there pretty often when I was staying in Woodside for a summer. That actually made me more excited that this one went 24 hrs recently. Also, I know they're not always so friendly in South Asian supermarkets but this case included "you people" being dropped a good five or six times in our two encounters.

                      1. re: JFores

                        Yeah, that guy sounds truly borderline, particularly actually grabbing the basket right out of your hand. I'm really a little surprised they let someone that bad run around loose in a big "corporate" store like Apna Bazaar in the first place...