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American Dream

Pixabay photo

By Emma Gutmann

First-time homebuyers in the Suffolk County Home Consortium have until this coming Friday, March 1, to apply for the Down Payment Assistance Program. If approved, an essentially zero-interest deferred loan of up to $30,000 will be provided toward the down payment of an owner-occupied, single-family residence. According to the program guidelines, deferred loans “are forgiven after 10 years.” 

The Down Payment Assistance Program is designed to combat a recurring and ever-so-prevalent theme Long Islanders are facing — affordability. As an island with limited space that’s adjacent to the high-cost major metropolis of New York City, it stands as one of the highest taxed regions in the nation, making it challenging for young people, retired people and others to live comfortably and own property.

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) announced Feb. 21 that the assistance fund still has $167,000 left, and there is about $2 million in additional U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding that could be partially funneled into the program as needed. Romaine encourages prospective homebuyers to apply and touts the down payment assistance as an auxiliary toward the American Dream.

 “I am enthusiastic about the prospect of assisting many more individuals and families in Suffolk County achieve the American Dream of home ownership,” Romaine said. “Previously we were able to offer up to $14,000 per homeowner, and this year I am proud to say that we were able to increase that amount to $30,000 per homeowner. Together let us build a brighter future for our communities through the power of homeownership.”

Even with the smaller grants of previous years, the program has been able to bring many families and homes together following its launch in 1993. Since January 2018, a total of $630,000 has been paid out on 48 closings.

In order to be eligible, applicants must be first-time homebuyers, meaning that the household has not owned a home during the three years prior to the purchase of a primary residence. This requirement will be waived for U.S. military veterans with a DD-214. 

It is also necessary that the household income is low to moderate, with a minimum allowable income of $40,000 and a maximum dependent on the household size and the area median annual household income. A chart laying out the 2023 HUD income guidelines can be found on the application (at scdownpayment.com).

Residences must be single-family homes, condominiums or cooperative apartments to be deemed eligible. The maximum appraised value of an existing home cannot exceed $532,000 and a newly constructed home cannot exceed $555,000. 

Finally, the applicant must agree to occupy this property as their principal residence for at least 10 years and have sufficient financial resources and credit to qualify for a mortgage. Each individual named on the mortgage must attend a mortgage counseling session at a HUD-certified not-for-profit housing agency. 

The funds will be provided to the recipient by Suffolk County at the closing, and the buyer will be responsible for the rest of the down payment as well as closing costs.

Rosanne D’Agostino, associate broker at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, asserts that down payment assistance can be very beneficial to the buyer both before and after closing. In an email interview, she explained that this tool can help buyers get into a property and possibly even afford renovations with the money saved. This opportunity is especially fortuitous considering that the prices of Long Island homes have increased significantly over the past few years.

“The only downside is that it can be more time-consuming, potentially adding a few weeks to the sale process. However, in the end, buyers are able to receive monies they would not have otherwise had and extend their budgets,” D’Agostino said.

The associate broker mentioned that much of the inventory on the Island exceeds the maximum appraised home values aforementioned in the guidelines. As a result, the program serves as a boon to many but not a given for all cases. “I do hope that grants like this continue to be options, so that it can open more possibilities for people who hold the goal of being homeowners,” she added.

According to the program guidelines, “Applicants must purchase a home within the Suffolk County Consortium HOME Selection Area.” This includes the townships of Huntington and Smithtown, but not Brookhaven, which “does not participate in the Suffolk County HOME Consortium of municipalities.” 

For a chance at a smoother path to the American Dream, visit scdownpayment.com to download an application and submit to the portal by March 1.

File photo by Raymond Janis


We welcome your letters, especially those responding to our local coverage, replying to other letter writers’ comments and speaking mainly to local themes. Letters should be no longer than 400 words and may be edited for length, libel, style, good taste and uncivil language. They will also be published on our website. We do not publish anonymous letters. Please include an address and phone number for confirmation.

Email letters to: [email protected] or mail them to TBR News Media, P.O. Box 707, Setauket, NY 11733

Democracy at work

The proudest day of my life was when my parents and I took the oath to become citizens of the United States. I was 8 years old. 

As a Russian emigrant, my father applied for and received a Tolstoy grant, which sponsored our family’s journey to America. They arrived on these shores with a baby, a box of books and dreams for a brighter future.

This election season in Port Jefferson brought back the feeling of pride I experienced at becoming a citizen of this great nation.

I went to meet-and-greets for all the candidates and attended the debates. I observed as people of varied and even opposing political leanings coalesced around the candidate they thought best represented their vision for our village. I participated in putting up signs, knocking on doors and engaging in spirited discourse with my neighbors.

This was democracy at work, and it renewed my faith in the American spirit. All of us were motivated by the love we have for this beautiful harborfront village we call home and a desire to help steer it toward a better tomorrow.

I, for one, am honored to help us paddle.

Xena Ugrinsky

Port Jefferson

Personal attacks are not helpful

I’m deeply disappointed with the editor’s decision to print a letter that seeks to contrast me with the wonderful couple who own Kai Li Kitchen in East Setauket [subjects in our “American Dream” series, May 25]. 

This letter continues a false narrative that aims to distinguish between good and bad immigrants, painting me as a complaining socialist who doesn’t work hard. That is an unfair and unsubstantiated personal attack. I am an immigrant to this country, the first of my family to grow up and attend college here. I have been an educator for almost a quarter of a century in public and higher education. I am an advocate for a range of issues as both a volunteer and in my paid professional work. 

As a citizen of this country, I have my First Amendment rights, and I use them eloquently and fully with no apology. I love this country deeply, so deeply that I am willing to do the work of improving it. It is why I have advocated for economic, environmental, social and racial justice at all levels of government. What [letter writer] Mr. Graziano calls “complaining,” I call the work of citizenship. The progress that happens in this nation has occurred because of people who would not accept the status quo as the final product.

As someone who has written in this paper for years, I’m disappointed to see the decline in quality in recent months. It seems that the editors of TBR News Media have turned the letters-to-the-editor page into a venue where personal attacks on residents are fair game. Residents and subscribers deserve better from local journalism than this.

Shoshana Hershkowitz

South Setauket

My heart is breaking for Port Jeff

It’s a sad day in the Village of Port Jefferson today. The election is over and to the surprise of many, Kathianne Snaden did not get enough of her supporters out to vote for her. This paper called the results an “upset.”

The reason I feel compelled to write is many residents don’t realize that as a result of the vote, Kathianne is now off the Board of Trustees completely, as her term expires in a short few days. What a huge loss for this village. Four years of village government knowledge and proven results are literally out the window now. You may not fully know all Kathianne did and was responsible for, which we have now lost. And after you read this you should be “upset” as well.

As our commissioner of public safety and liaison to code, Kathianne worked with the Suffolk County Police Department and brought increased enforcement and specialized SCPD units here to Port Jeff that other villages don’t get and in doing so lowered crime numbers in the village drastically. That relationship is gone now.

As liaison to parking, Kathianne worked to build the first new parking lot in 40 years in Port Jeff to address our chronic parking problems.

Kathianne worked tirelessly to beautify this village, creating parks, cleaning up dilapidated overgrown areas and instead creating small pocket parks and green spaces. The flowers you see in this village are a direct result of Kathianne’s efforts, saving you money instead of paying a gardener to do this. That eye for keeping the village sharp looking is now gone.

As commissioner of building and planning, Kathianne worked to streamline that department and helped create housing solutions that could bring more families into the village — benefiting our schools and businesses alike. Gone.

Speaking of families, we have lost the only Board of Trustees member that has kids in the school district. Kathianne worked with the district to create a positive relationship where both the schools and the village benefited as well as every one of your kids. Parents: Kathianne was your pro-schools voice in village government. That voice is gone now, leaving louder voices intent on trying to close the schools.

The loss to this village is immense. My heart breaks for this village and for my wife. She’s being prevented from doing what she loves to do and what she excels at: Making a difference in the daily lives of all Port Jeff residents.

William Snaden

Port Jefferson

Maureen Manyasa-Zangrillo near the hole where children used to fetch drinking water before a well project.. Photo from Manyasa-Zangrillo

As a child in Kenya, Maureen Nabwire Manyasa-Zangrillo, now 35, loved learning about the world, but never dreamed she’d wind up living in the United States more than 7,000 miles away.

Maureen Nabwire Manyasa-Zangrillo with her husband, Joey. Photo from Manyasa-Zangrillo

She lived several different lifestyles moving around Kenya as a child, she said, following her father’s developing career as an agricultural scientist to cities and villages and back again, fostering her love of new places and different kinds of people. As she grew up, so did that passion, expanding outward from her region and continent to encompass the entire world atlas she loved to study.

So when a serendipitous meeting over a charity project gave her a chance to travel to the other side of the world to make a new life on the North Shore of Long Island, she was ready. Now married to Joey Zangrillo, owner of Joey Z’s Restaurant in Port Jefferson, she is in the perfect setting to keep learning. “My love for geography and reading maps really helps when I meet people,” she said. “I have a clue about almost every corner of the globe.”

Growing up in Kenya

Before she even started primary school, Manyasa-Zangrillo had lived in Nakuru, the fourth largest urban area in the nation; her family’s village in Busia near the Ugandan border; a remote agricultural field station outside of Kenya’s capital Nairobi; and finally the thriving urban capital itself.

When it was time to start school, Manyasa-Zangrillo’s parents moved her and her younger sisters back to the quieter Busia, where they stayed with an aunt in a circular mud hut built in the traditional manner of their ethnic group, the Luhya tribe, while her father started the long process of coordinating construction of a modern brick house.

It was common in Kenya for breadwinners to work in the cities but keep their families back home in the villages, and such was the case for Manyasa-Zangrillo’s father. So building the house was slow progress over the next four or five years, with her father coordinating the work whenever he could make time to be home from Nairobi. Her mother, a primary school teacher, was gone awhile also to advance her training at teachers college.

Both parents made sure to stay connected to the girls. The father would send letters and packages to his daughters through the local bus company’s courier service, and — since landlines were rare — would schedule times to talk. Manyasa-Zangrillo remembered friends with landline telephones in their offices coming to tell the family what time to wait at the local payphone booth. She and her sisters would crowd around. “You’d find all of us at the booth — he’d talk to us turn by turn,” she said. “That’s how we found ways to connect.” Once the house was finished, the family finally had a landline of their own. 

At age 10, Manyasa-Zangrillo’s lifestyle changed yet again, when she went to a Catholic boarding school, run by a very strict nun. “She was tough on us,” Manyasa-Zangrillo said, recalling that after parents visited, the staff would check the students to make sure they weren’t bringing in any outside food, drinks or treats.

 Amid the rigid schedule and lack of comfort food, Manyasa-Zangrillo discovered bright spots: literature and geography. The curriculum included many storybooks, in both English and Swahili. For Manyasa-Zangrillo, reading was a beautiful escape. “It was a way of distracting myself from all the craziness and strictness that was going around,” she said.

Her beloved geography also gave her mind space to travel. “They would teach us about different areas — you learn about the geography, the weather of all these places, the planting, cultivation, commerce structures and all those things,” she said. “I was just curious about places.”

As she was growing up, she saw her parents rise in their education and careers. Her father obtained his university degree, a master’s and eventually a doctorate in plant breeding for arid and semi-arid regions, and her mother earned a bachelor’s in special education. “I’d see how strong willed they are,” the daughter said. “It was really motivating to see.”

Manyasa-Zangrillo, right, with her parents and a cousin in Kenya. Photo from Manyasa-Zangrillo

This motivation helped Manyasa-Zangrillo succeed in her own education, earning a government scholarship to university herself. She struggled, though, to know what to study. In the end, she settled on law. “I wasn’t crazy about it,” she said, remembering she looked into other options like English linguistics, but her dad was even less crazy about that idea. “You have good grades — a top performance,” he told her, encouraging her to choose a major he saw as more serious.

After completing her education, she was admitted to the Kenyan bar and landed a job at the firm where she had carried out her required internship. She found ways to enjoy it. Serving documents or filing petitions, for example, took her all around the region. “I liked it because I love traveling, and I love seeing and exploring,” she said. “It was fulfilling my adventurous self because I’m going to new towns, new places.”

Charitable deeds

Another thing that helped fulfill her curiosity were opportunities to serve. Along with her sisters and other neighbors in Nairobi, where her family had relocated, Manyasa-Zangrillo had started a group called Youth for Change as a means to serve underprivileged children. So when her close friend from law school, Annette Kawira, invited her to volunteer at Bethsaida Community Foundation’s home for orphans, vulnerable children and children who had been living on the streets, she was happy to go along.

By 2016, Kawira had moved to the United States and found herself, of all places, in Joey Zangrillo’s Port Jefferson restaurant, then called Z Pita. Zangrillo had started a nonprofit organization and apparel company promoting racial reconciliation, and he was also donating 10% of his profits to charity. When Kawira saw a sign about the restaurant owner’s philanthropy, she remembered the Bethsaida orphanage and made a fast friendship and partnership with Zangrillo.

As the two organized fundraising on Long Island, Manyasa-Zangrillo served as the woman on the ground in Kenya, liaising between them and the children’s home. Logistical texts and FaceTime interactions between her and Zangrillo blossomed into friendship — she enjoyed his sense of humor — then took on a flirtatious air. Interest sparked. 

By the time he planned to take a trip to Kenya to visit Bethsaida and meet the children in 2017, he was also looking forward to meeting her. She remembered being nervous about what he would be like in person, but after she opened her door to him, she said, “he just busted in with so much energy, and I was like, OK, we’re going to get along.”

For his part, Zangrillo was drawn to her compassion. “What made me fall in love with my wife is when I saw the love in her eyes for the children in the orphanage,” he said. “That second, I knew.”

To Long Island and marriage

The trip was a success and plans to install a well at the orphanage moved forward, as did plans for Manyasa-Zangrillo to visit Long Island, which she did that fall. Joey Zangrillo sent Kawira and another Kenyan friend in a limo to pick her up from the airport, and she was charmed. Manhattan charmed her, too — it was larger than life, just like the movies. She even sat in the audience at “The Daily Show” to see the comic Trevor Noah she’d watched back in Africa.

Manyasa-Zangrillo found the Port Jefferson community and Zangrillo’s friends welcoming and warm, but the weather less so. “The drastic hot to cold — I felt like my ears were going to fall off,” she said. 

The weather wasn’t enough to keep her away. After a couple months back in the more temperate climate of Kenya, she kept thinking about New York, Zangrillo and the possibilities. “In my legal profession, I was wallowing a bit,” she said. “Am I going to do this for the rest of my life, yet I’m feeling like this is not what I really wanted to do.”

So she took a risk and came back in early 2018, still unsure what the future would hold. Zangrillo was more certain. “He was like, ‘You know what? I would like you to stay.’”

They married that summer. “There’s no need to overthink something that is good,” she said of the quick timeline, adding that where immigration law is involved, “you date through the marriage because you don’t have a long courtship.”

She found her transition to New York easy, partly because of Kawira and other Kenyan connections, but also because of her new husband. He’d told so many people about her and about the orphanage that restaurantgoers and friends were thrilled to meet her, and to learn more about her. “It’s so refreshing because when I walk in, people say, ‘You must be Maureen,’” she said. “Through the restaurant, I’m meeting people every day.”

For Zangrillo, having her in town is “a godsend,” he said. “It changed my life — I’m a happy man, with a happy life.”

Careerwise, the future is still open for Manyasa-Zangrillo. She has taken a paralegal class and is studying the American legal system in case she wants to return to her original career path. She helps at the restaurant and has introduced a top-selling menu item — the lemon potatoes. The couple are continuing their charity work, as well, with hopes to install a school library for students in a Nairobi slum settlement.

Now living in Setauket, Manyasa-Zangrillo has come to appreciate the North Shore’s feel and location, not too close and not too far from the city. “My life dream when I was younger was just to be somewhere that is full of nature and very serene, and the environment is cool,” she said. “I’d say I got it here.”


We welcome your letters, especially those responding to our local coverage, replying to other letter writers’ comments and speaking mainly to local themes. Letters should be no longer than 400 words and may be edited for length, libel, style, good taste and uncivil language. They will also be published on our website. We do not publish anonymous letters. Please include an address and phone number for confirmation.

Email letters to: [email protected] or mail them to TBR News Media, P.O. Box 707, Setauket, NY 11733

Credit where credit is due

We would like to thank the staff at The Port Times Record for their June 15 editorial [“Election Day is only the beginning”], in which they acknowledged some of the contributions the Port Jefferson Civic Association has made.

There was one item, however, that was incorrectly attributed to us: the formation of a tree committee.

While our membership fully supports the preservation of our village tree canopy, and several PJCA members volunteered to staff the committee, the primary credit for developing it belongs to Village of Port Jefferson trustee Rebecca Kassay.

PJCA member Kelly DeVine initially brought the idea to trustee Kassay, who followed up on it with extensive research on tree-related efforts in various villages within New York state and beyond. She discovered many municipalities have dedicated committees to assist staff and board members in managing a village’s canopy.

Trustee Kassay further consulted with chairs and founders of other tree committees to gather insights and information. These findings were presented to Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, who expressed support for the creation and development of the Port Jefferson Village Tree Committee.

We just wanted to make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Ana Hozyainova, President

Kathleen McLane, Outreach Officer

Port Jefferson Civic Association

American dreams for some, not all

What a beautiful story in The Village Times Herald May 25 [“American Dream” series] on page A7 about the Huangs legal journey from China to the United States and how they worked hard and sent money home to bring other family members here.

Their hard work, sacrifice and ultimate success at their Kai Li Kitchen in East Setauket is a true American Dream story. I have many Chinese friends who did the same, as well as my four Italian grandparents. 

It’s too bad that the May 25 letter by Shoshana Hershkowitz [“Words matter in immigration dialogue”] could not have been on page A8. What a dichotomy. Almost every week she is complaining about something in this country. She belongs to Citizen Action of New York (website: citizenactionny.org), that is, progressives like AOC, Warren and Sanders. They bash Republicans, Conservatives and corporations. The problem with socialism is that it needs capitalism to survive. Thus, the ironic hypocrisy.

There is a legal way to become a citizen and an illegal way to play the system. The new “messaging” from the “left” is that “everyone” entering the country illegally is an asylum seeker (see Newsday, June 19). According to Ms. Hershkowitz’s statement, “Asylum seekers are fleeing their countries because of climate change, poverty and political violence.” If that’s true, the whole world can move here. We have the same issues: climate change, antifa (who the left were silent about as the group destroyed federal buildings and businesses in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington), Proud Boys and millions of our own citizens who live in poverty.

So when these “illegal asylum seekers” arrive we are supposed to just let them in, while the people who are legally emigrating from their countries wait to gain citizenship and get penalized by following the law? And I suppose it’s OK for the citizens in Texas, Arizona and California to bear the brunt of the huge, intentional failure at the border by Biden, Harris and Mayorkas. 

According to the House Committee on Homeland Security, as of Jan. 23 there have been over 4.5 million encounters at the Southwest border in addition to over 1.2 million “gotaways.” When the illegal immigrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, I don’t recall the vice president commenting on their next-day overnight extradition to mainland Massachusetts by the NIMBYs. 

The hypocrisy of these elites and socialists is obvious. It’s all about future voters and power at the expense of the citizens of this country. 

To the Huangs and Kai Li Kitchen (Chinese translation, “triumphant victory forever”), well done.

Rocky Graziano


Two points of view

As an avid reader of the letters section of your paper, I felt compelled to write about the recent exchange of views on the issue of language and the words we use to describe the immigrants who are coming to the United States.

I know both writers personally and know them to be good people who are community-minded and who have worked to make our Three Villages a better place. I think both made good arguments about the current debate, and considering other points is what the American experiment in democracy requires its citizens to do in the pursuit of consensus.

We all know that our recent political discourse has changed, and not for the better. It seems now that we only want to hear one point of view, and criticize or discredit others whose points of view differ from our own.

Local newspapers play an important role in letting the community know about important issues and the various opinions of the people who live here, and I appreciate that.

We can learn a lot by being open to our differing views and maybe even find better solutions for the problems and challenges that we face as a community.

Thank you TBR News Media and to both writers for sharing your thoughts on a very heated and controversial subject.

George Hoffman


Pixabay photo

In an all too familiar saga, Suffolk County officials have been decrying the notion of welcoming migrants seeking asylum. Since New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced that he would be sending migrants to neighboring counties last month, the Suffolk County Legislature has been doing all it can, including hiring special counsel, to make sure it’s not this county that has to welcome them.

We respect those who feel concerned about the traditional anti-immigration talking points, such as fears of drugs and crime. It’s important to remember that the data says the opposite. A study done by the U.S. Department of Justice in December 2020 found that “relative to undocumented immigrants, U.S.-born citizens are over two times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, two and a half times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over four times more likely to be arrested for property crimes.”

In essence, the vast majority of migrants, who are usually coming from desperate circumstances, are doing nothing more than trying to stabilize their lives and protect their families. Asylum is a legal process, and those seeking asylum have the right to have their cases heard.

We have all seen the footage on the news media of the often-brutal journeys migrants make from their home countries to land in the United States. If we put ourselves in their shoes, it wouldn’t be the first choice for most of us to, in some cases, walk hundreds of miles from our homes. These people are desperate.

It’s been proven time and time again immigrants benefit this country, state and county. Here at TBR News Media, our ongoing “American Dream” series highlights just a few local business owners, community leaders and neighbors who are immigrants themselves, making stellar and invaluable contributions to our towns and villages each and every day.

This debate also comes at a time when we have a labor shortage. Elderly residents are struggling to find quality home care, and parents quality child care. Since the pandemic, a number of teachers and health care workers have left their professions. Restaurants need helpers, farmers need agricultural workers and so on.

Local politicians have expressed their concerns about the ability to house migrants and provide for them. While we acknowledge these are real, practical concerns, we have found that most asylum seekers are not looking for handouts. Once we give them the tools to work, they will become assets, not burdens to the local economy.

Suffolk County could receive hundreds of people, able and willing to work. This would give us an incredible opportunity to harness new talents and ideas.

The Huangs celebrate 30 years in business with their children Jason and Amy. Photo from the Huang family

By Mallie Kim

Xin Tian Huang came to Long Island with a couple changes of clothes and a clear goal: to learn English and send money back home to his family in Fujian, a province in southeastern China. Huang, now co-owner with his wife Zhi Dan Huang of Kai Li Kitchen in East Setauket, was 18 in 1981 when he landed at John F. Kennedy Airport on an early, frozen January morning. He was shocked and delighted to experience knee-deep snow for the first time, and another discovery soon followed: American soda. “The first day, I drank Coca Cola — ‘What is that?’” he remembered thinking. At the time he’d never even seen Coke advertised in China. “It surprised me,” he said.

The Huangs on their wedding day. Photo from the Huang family

This sense of adventure and enthusiasm would serve Huang well over the next four decades as he and Zhi Dan worked hard toward the classic American Dream: support family back home, provide a better life for the next generation and find success along the way.

China and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1979, opening the door for families like Huang’s to send their children to the United States to study and work. So in New York, Huang trekked from his uncle’s home in Hauppauge to the language school at Hunter College in Manhattan several days a week, leveraging the long train ride to practice English while making friends with other commuters. He spent the rest of his time working in his uncle’s restaurant Hau Po, all while sending money back to his family’s farming village.

In 1990, as he began preparing to open Kai Li Kitchen, Huang took a trip back to China, where his cousin introduced him to a classmate at a party, a young woman named Zhi Dan. The two dated briefly, saw their values aligned, and married within three months. We were “just attracted, and 1, 2, 3!” he said. “Marry first, and then talk later!”

After three years of letters and once-a-month international phone calls, Zhi Dan was finally able to immigrate to Long Island and join him at the new Kai Li Kitchen. Huang said he chose the name because Kai Li is easy to remember, and the Chinese characters translate to “triumphant victory forever,” an auspicious motto for starting a new life with his new wife.

Huang called himself Steve and his wife Gina, to simplify communication with customers, and the newly christened Gina was just as goal oriented as her husband. She made time to learn some English with a volunteer tutor at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library but otherwise spent the years juggling the restaurant and motherhood. “I worked 30 years. I made wontons — 30 years,” she said. “We had six years with no days off.”

The Huangs celebrate 30 years in business with their children Jason and Amy. Photo from the Huang family

Their children Jason and Amy, now 31 and 24, simply came along for the ride, sleeping under the counter during the 5 p.m. rush or standing on small chairs to help take orders once they were tall enough. “It was very, very difficult when we came here,” she said, pointing to the large age gap between Jason and Amy. “That’s why we had seven years with no children, because [it was a] difficult life.”

They pressed on, determined to accomplish their goals, falling in love not only with each other but also their North Shore community.

Regular customers knew the children and watched them grow. Jason would ride a small bike around the restaurant lobby or sit and draw with a stubby pencil. One day, a customer brought in a full box of colored pencils for him. It meant the world to Zhi Dan. “My son right now still saves this box because he says, ‘This is my first gift,’” Zhi Dan said, adding that to this day, she brings up this story whenever that customer drops by for a meal.

By the late 90s, the U.S. economy was riding high, and people ate out more. Kai Li Kitchen started to thrive. The Huangs, by then American citizens, were able to pay off the money they’d borrowed to start the restaurant. Eventually, Jason and Amy earned degrees and started successful careers — Jason as a financial advisor, and Amy as a software engineer at HBO Max. For the Haungs, it meant their hard work had paid off. “This is my goal — this is my dream,” Zhi Dan said. “My husband and I didn’t go to college.”

Zhi Dan loves that her children have integrated so well into American culture, she said, partly because of the discrimination she felt upon moving to the United States — of people seeing her “with different eyes.” She doesn’t want that for them. Though the kids know Chinese celebrations, food and traditions well, she said, “they have American friends; they know American history. They know American culture.”

Other dreams have also come true, thanks to the Huangs’ hard work at Kai Li Kitchen: They paid off their home loan, and they helped other relatives immigrate to the United States as well. The Huangs also made a point to give back to the community they’ve grown to love. Over the years, they said, they have donated food to community events and the fire department, raised money for St. Jude’s Children’s cancer center and even supported a Chinese cultural festival at Emma Clark library — the same place a volunteer tutored Zhi Dan years before.

The Huangs in their restaurant. Photo from the Huang family

Zhi Dan said she no longer feels seen “with different eyes” and credits the Setauket community with that. “I know location is very important,” she said, highlighting the school district and the kindness of neighbors and customers as a few of the area’s assets. “That’s why we’re here 30 years. This location is so good.”

Huang says there is much less snow during Long Island winters these days, but still plenty of Coca Cola — they sell cans of it in their restaurant. And it’s obvious the optimism has remained as well. After more than 30 years cooking sesame chicken, pork fried rice and wonton soup in Setauket, he shares nothing but love for his community. “The thing is, we love this town,” he said with his characteristic enthusiasm. “I tell everybody: This is my home town!”

The hard work doesn’t stop now that the Huangs have achieved their original goals. Now they have new targets in mind: Someday Zhi Dan would like to take more English classes and study real estate, and Huang dreams of driving an RV all the way to California, to see more of this country they are so proud to call home.

And if the past is any indicator, these dreams are just around the corner. “If you have a goal, keep going,” Zhi Dan said. “It can come true.”

Kai Li Kitchen is located at 207 Main St. in East Setauket.

A scene from Minari. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In the opening shot of director-writer Lee Isaac Chung’s engrossing Minari, the Yi family arrives at the Arkansas land that the father Jacob (an extraordinary Steven Yeun) purchased. Jacob drives the truck with the family’s possessions. His wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri, simultaneously heartbreaking and a pillar of strength), follows in their car. A small crack in the windshield is almost indiscernible. But this fissure reflects the slow fracturing of the couple’s relationship.

Minari is a thoughtful film, both delicate and tense. And while the story is intimate, it is not small. It deals with the clash of family responsibility and the desire to follow a dream. 

A scene from the film

Initially, Chung wanted to adapt Willa Cather’s My Antonia, but he discovered the late author’s wishes blocked any screen adaptations. Still wanting to create a tale of rural life, he turned inwards and created a semi-autobiographical work inspired by his upbringing. He begins with a list of eighty childhood memories and guidance from Cather’s words: “Life began for me, when I ceased to admire and began to remember.” From this unusual start, Chung fashioned the wholly personal screenplay for Minari.

Jacob Yi has brought his family from California to Arkansas to start a farm — his own “Garden of Eden.” It is 1983, and 30,000 Korean immigrants were entering the United States annually. Jacob plans to grow Korean produce for sale to stores in Dallas. The Yis take-up residence in a single-wide, fourteen-foot trailer on the plot, and Jacob begins to farm. Monica’s stoicism cracks with their change in life: “It just gets worse and worse.”

In the meantime, Jacob and Monica continue the work they had done in California, sexing chickens in a hatchery. To watch their two children, they bring Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung, brilliantly eschewing any caricature of a grandmother), over from Korea.

While the family has come for a new start, the marriage shows signs of deep trouble. There are disagreements about where to live and how to spend their money; they don’t fully agree on dealing with their son’s heart murmur. They live in a cold distance, with anger always brewing under the brittle surface. Moments of affection are severed by the movement of a hand, the turning of a head, or the shrugging of a shoulder. The children’s stress reflects their parents’ inability to communicate. Soon-ja observes, “You two will fight over anything.” The daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho, mature beyond her years), is more parent than child, running interference and caring for her younger brother, David (Alan Kim, real, honest, and very funny).

Two pieces become central to the story. The first is water, the essential element of farming. Its importance in its presence and absence threads through the entire film. The need for water comes full circle, almost as a washing away of mistakes that have come before. The water allows for a fresh beginning.

The second is the connection between David and his grandmother. Forced to share a room, he dislikes her for not being what his idea of a grandparent should be. His concept is the cookie-baking, non-swearing elder of American media. But from her, he draws strength and begins to leave the fear of illness behind. The bond is a real one; there is nothing precious or sentimental. The grandmother takes him to plant the titular minari (a sort of wild celery). For her, minari represents all that is wonderful: it protects and heals; it grows wild and yet nurtures. It is perhaps not the subtlest part of the film, but it perfectly defines the grandmother-grandson link.

Elements of Korean culture — in food, discipline, and family — are carefully woven into the film, present without being “presented.” There is a yearning for their homeland but also the shadow of the Korean War. The parents predominantly speak Korean to each other and the children. The children respond in kind. However, between them, Anne and David speak English. Language is both communication and barrier, constantly floating and shifting. American culture appears in some of the most unlikely places. The obsession with Mountain Dew is both amusing and telling.

A scene from ‘Minari’

The film lives in the beats and the silences. Whether it is a shot of the idyllic verdant landscape or the dark, cramped trailer, life unfolds. While beautifully cinematic, there is no artifice. In an unusual and exquisite performance, Will Patton plays Paul, a Korean War veteran who works side-by-side with Jacob. Paul, who is a bit of a religious fanatic, chatters and blesses. But he is kind, and, even in his eccentricity, Paul is grounded in the established world. 

When the family attends church, the citizens of the nearby town welcome them. They are not a hillbilly send-up, with a reception that is kind if a bit awkward. While Monica was the motivating force to attend, she decides not to return but sends the children each week. The Yis face curiosity, subjected to the occasional peculiar question or comment. But they are not ostracized or mistreated. Chung offers human beings and not archetypes. 

Discussions about religion and heaven, many of them directed towards David, swirl about the characters. But in the end, Minari is about a different kind of belief. With its flawless cast and sensitive writing and direction, the film illustrates the ability to overcoming obstacles. It shows faith in self, growth, and the love of family. In short, Minari is about life.

Rated PG-13, Minari is now streaming on Amazon Video

Photos courtesy of A24


METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

America was reluctant to enter both World Wars and yet we won them both, at a tremendous cost to previous generations.

Today, as we continue to battle through the coronavirus, I’d like to think we will persevere. We don’t need political spin. We have plenty of that from both sides.

We need a sense of optimism, of shared purpose and of a keen belief that we will prevail through hard work and a readiness to innovate and adapt. We see so many horrific headlines about the number of people who test positive and who are threatening the capacity of health care systems in Florida and Texas, among others.

Even as we do everything we can to protect our health and the safety of our friends and family, we need to believe in ourselves and in our ability to work together. Defeating the virus takes more than ignoring it or claiming victory for political expediency.

Whoever wins this presidential election in this incredibly challenging year will have enormous work to do. 

Even a vaccine that is tested and produced in mass quantities by the early part of next year, which seems spectacularly optimistic but is still possible, doesn’t automatically put us back on the path to the world of 2019.

After all, the flu vaccine doesn’t eradicate the illness. It comes back with a vengeance some years. Some people who receive the shot still get sick, oftentimes with less severe symptoms.

We need to recognize that the world has changed. We’ve had time to process it and to adjust, even if we’re sick of the new rules. We need to use all the space we have to turn what seems like a nuisance and an inconvenience into a modern triumph.

The country can and should rethink everything from ways to attend sporting events to the specific needs of the home office. Maybe sports stadiums should remove seats, put picnic tables in front of patrons and make the game-time experience for fans look different because, for the foreseeable future, it will be.

Yes, I know, that will cost an incredible amount of money, but it would also give patrons a chance to enjoy their own space, instead of hoping for a time machine that brings us back to an era when we gave strangers a high five when our team scored.

Maybe waiters and waitresses can provide virtual personalized service, connecting through online services that deliver, via conveyor belt beneath those tables, contactless food to guests.

We need to renovate our homes to enjoy the new reality. Maybe we need virtual artwork we can add to our walls, that helps expand our small rooms and that changes at the flick of a switch. Maybe we also can figure out ways to create virtual assembly lines, where workers provide their part of a mechanized process from a distance, in a basement, workspace, or outside in their enclosed yards. It may not be as efficient, because someone might have to transport those parts, but those driving opportunities also create jobs for people who become a part of a new, virtual factory.

We may want to go back to the way things were, but we need to recognize the realities, and the opportunities, that come from moving forward. Moving on will require us to develop new ideas, create new jobs, and believe in ourselves. We have survived and thrived through challenges before, by pulling together, by innovating, and by tapping into the combination of ingenuity and hard work. People are prepared to put in the effort to earn their own version of the American Dream. We need innovations, new businesses, and inspirations that reignite the economy, while protecting our health.

Hugo Fitz and his barista, Vito, at Nautilus Roasting's pop-up shop inside Carl's Candies. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Coffee lovers may find themselves intrigued by a sidewalk sign promising Japanese iced coffee is available inside Carl’s Candies.

Nautilus Roasting Co. owner Hugo Fitz has launched a seasonal pop-up coffee shop off Northport’s Main Street that will offer a variety of hot and iced coffee drinks for sale through Sept. 30. For Fitz, he said he hopes the stand is a first step toward fulfilling a dream.

It’s been at least 12 years of me talking about how I’d love to open up a coffee shop one day.”

— Hugo Fitz

“I have a passion for coffee,” he said. “It’s been at least 12 years of me talking about how I’d love to open up a coffee shop one day.”

A Huntington Station resident, Fitz, 39, has spent the last 13 years working for a New York City advertising agency. Facing lengthy commutes into the city, coffee was not only a passion but a daily necessity.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to experience higher-end coffee when you work in the city,” the entrepreneur said. “There’s where I cut my teeth on being a coffee fan.”

Pourover coffee at Nautilus Roasting’s pop-up shop. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Fitz said he quickly became a hobbyist who “dove down the wormhole” in learning what went into a cup of java starting with four different methods of processing the beans, the hundred or more methods of brewing from standard drip and iced coffee to Japanese iced brew. This Japanese iced brew method at Nautilus uses hot water and a traditional drip to brew the coffee, but then drops onto ice “flash freezing” it to preserve each batch’s unique flavors.

“I have a master’s degree worth of knowledge in coffee, and yet, there’s still so much more I don’t know,” he said. “I think to evangelize good coffee to people, this is a great opportunity.”

Fitz said he wants to help bring “third-wave” coffee, a movement to create high-quality artisanal coffee that’s sourced from individual farmers or locally roasted, out to Long Island. While it’s prevalent in New York City, he claims to know only a handful of shops that offer it locally.

In 2017, the entrepreneur founded Huntington-based Nautilus Roasting Co. and began searching for a storefront. After four failed attempts at negotiating a commercial lease, Fitz said he decided just to focus on what he loved — making a great cup of joe. The entrepreneur began renting time on a Long Island City roasting machine to prepare 25 to 40 pounds of coffee beans at a time — putting him in business as a nanoroaster. His first product, the Signature blend of Columbia, Burundi, Guatemala and Sumatra coffee beans, was sold online. 

There’s a great opportunity to bring the coffee bar up on Long Island.”

— Hugo Fitz

Fitz met with Gina Nisi, owner of Carl’s Candies, looking to rent space before being offered the chance to setup a space of his own. He’s got a small coffee bar set up inside the sweet shop where customers can purchase espresso, hot coffee, hot or cold lattes, cold brew, Japanese iced brew or the potent Red Eye, a choice of hot or Japanese iced brew coffee with two espressos, made from his roasted beans through Sept. 30. Prices range from approximately $2.50 to $4 per serving.

Fitz said he feels like he’s gotten a warm reception in Northport, sometimes finding it difficult to keep growlers of cold brew and cold-brew concentrate in stock due to its popularity.

“There’s a great opportunity to bring the coffee bar up on Long Island,” Fitz said. “There’s no reason if you want great coffee to go to Brooklyn. It’s not grown there. We can make great coffee here too, and get people drinking great coffee.”

Bags of his specialty coffees are available for purchase inside the Carl’s Candies. Learn more about Nautilus Roasting at www.nautilusroasting.com.

Joe Rezvani plans to close 8 Futons after nearly three decades in the community. Photo by Alex Petroski

The furniture store on the corner of Sheep Pasture Road and Main Street in upper Port Jefferson turned its owner’s American Dream into reality, but after 26 years in business, 8 Futons is preparing to close its doors.

Joseph Rezvani, a Port Jeff resident who immigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1960s when he was 18 got his start in the futon business in 1989, back then operating out of the garage of his home, before opening his store in Port Jeff in 1992. He owns the building that houses 8 Futons and said he’s not sure yet if he’ll rent it to a new tenant or if his wife would move her nail salon to the location. He attributed his decision to close to a number of factors — a desire to spend more time with his grandchildren, a decline in business precipitated by more online and chain store options and an ever-growing number of empty storefronts in 8 Futons’ direct vicinity.

“Doing business with Joe is like doing business with your best friend. He’s interested in what I need and what I want.”

— Donna Karol

The store was known for carrying unusual, unique items like furniture and decorative pieces in specific styles, in addition to futon mattresses and frames. The business was also known for Rezvani’s willingness to find and order specific items if they weren’t in the store, helping customers replace damaged items, assisting with assembling pieces and adding a hands-on, personal sales touch from him and his staff. He told TBR News Media in a 2006 interview he always had an interest in design and started making his own frames for the futons before opening the store and offering a wider array of furniture and other home furnishing accessories.

“I have a bond with my customers — I don’t mind spending the time with them,” Rezvani said, adding that interacting regularly with his loyal customers is easily what he will miss most about his business.

Donna Karol, a Port Jeff resident shopping for a new shelfing unit on the afternoon of June 29, said she’d moved around the area several times over the years, and each time she paid Rezvani a visit to help furnish her new home.

“Doing business with Joe is like doing business with your best friend,” Karol said. “He’s interested in what I need and what I want.”

She said she first bought furniture from Rezvani 25 years ago and has even sent furniture with her kids when they went away to college over the years.

“When I saw the sign go up, I was devastated,” she said of her reaction to hearing 8 Futons was closing. “It’s the service, him personally.”

“I have a bond with my customers — I don’t mind spending the time with them.”

— Joe Rezvani

Rezvani said at times during his years uptown he felt neglected by Port Jefferson Village, though he added he appreciates the hard work Mayor Margot Garant and her team do in trying to foster a beneficial environment for businesses. The village is in the process of implementing long-planned revitalization efforts for the uptown business district, expected to get underway in the coming months.

“I understand the mayor is doing a hell of a job, but there is a little bit more that can be done,” he said. “I’ve been struggling for the last two years to stay in business. I just didn’t want to be another statistic, another empty store.”

He said he would like to see some more incentives for landlords to be able to reduce rents imposed on tenants. Rezvani said he is thinking about continuing his business without occupying the physical space on Main Street, offering customers the opportunity to buy inventory online, but only making shipping available locally in an effort to maintain his community-oriented feel.

As an immigrant, Rezvani said he’s sometimes troubled by the political rhetoric surrounding the immigration discussion.

“There’s a lot of people — the majority — that are just looking for a better opportunity, and that makes the country better,” he said. He added that he feels his desire to seek his American Dream paid off.