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Stony Brook

SBU Journalism Newsroom

Stony Brook University recently announced that the School of Journalism will be renamed to the School of Communication and Journalism. The School is the first, and only, in the 64-campus SUNY system that is accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC).

The new name aligns more closely with the School’s expanding undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and with the increased demand for professionals with backgrounds and experience in different communication-related disciplines.

“Communication goes beyond journalism, and Stony Brook’s School of Communication and Journalism will offer new opportunities for our students to explore important fields in science communication, health communication and mass communication, in addition to journalism,” Fotis Sotiropoulos, interim university provost and dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences said.

In the past year, the School has begun to offer graduate programs in science communication, in collaboration with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and in public health, in collaboration with the Stony Brook Program in Public Health. Additional programs are in development.

“Faculty at the School and the Alda Center work closely on communication research, particularly in the field of science communication, and by renaming the School, we will be able to foster additional communication research,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School, executive director of the Alda Center, and vice provost for academic strategy and planning at Stony Brook. “Effective communication builds trust among people, enhances mutual understanding, and creates opportunities for collaboration. Now more than ever, we need effective communicators, and Stony Brook is eager to help fill that need.”

The School of Journalism was founded in 2006 and enrolls approximately 250 students. Its faculty include Pulitzer Prize winners, award-winning international and foreign correspondents, and experts in digital innovation. Graduates have gone on to work as reporters and media professionals at organizations around the country, including the New York Times, Buzzfeed, Moth Radio Hour, Council of Foreign Relations, Major League Baseball, and Nieman Lab.

The School is home to the Alda Center, the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting and the Center for News Literacy. It also offers the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists, a one-week intensive program designed to introduce students from across Long Island and New York City to the possibilities of journalism as a career.

Learn more about the School of Communication and Journalism at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/journalism/

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Three Village Civic Association president and school district board trustee Jonathan Kornreich announced he is running for Brookhaven Town Council in a special election in March. Photo from candidate

One of the names on the ballot for a special election in Brookhaven March 23 is a familiar one to many Three Village residents.

Kornreich, left, with former Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and town Supervisor Ed Romaine at a 2017 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

With the Town of Brookhaven Council District 1 seat vacant, after Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) won her run as a judge for the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the town called for a special election. While the Republican candidate has not yet been officially named, Jonathan Kornreich has been announced as the Democrat in the race. Kornreich has been a Three Village Central School District trustee for more than a dozen years and is president of the Three Village Civic Association.

When he first heard Cartright was vacating the seat, he said he didn’t even think of running.

“A few people contacted me, and they were like, ‘What are you doing?’ Kornreich said. “So, I agreed to think it over.”

He added the argument many made to him was that it would allow him to continue doing the work he has been doing through the years, but more effectively. Although he had considered a run for the seat in the past, it had been many years since he had considered entering politics.

“I just have been focused on doing the work,” he said.

Kornreich said he feels his experience as both a board of education trustee and a civic president will be an asset to the position as he regularly interacts with residents and listens to their concerns.

“Over the years, having been a civic president for so many years and being involved in the community as a school board member, I’ve just learned how to serve the public, and how to listen, so it’s not going to be a hard adjustment for me,” he said. “I’m used to hearing from people.”

The 51-year-old, who lives in Stony Brook with his wife, Linda, and his two daughters, first became involved with school boards when his children attended the North Shore Montessori School in Stony Brook.

“It was important for me to be involved in their education so I got very active in their school, and eventually I joined the board of the Montessori school,” he said. “Soon after that I became the president of that board, and that’s where I really got my start in civic involvement.”

When his children left to attend school in the Three Village district, Kornreich said he decided to run for its school board in 2008. While he will take a leave of absence from his role in the Three Village Civic Association, he plans to continue with the school board.

A lifetime Long Islander, he grew up in Hauppauge and graduated from the local high school in 1987. He went on to study at SUNY Albany where he majored in English and minored in philosophy. After graduating from college, he developed an entrepreneurial spirit and started up a pool business that he ran for 20 years before selling it. He then transitioned into construction and real estate. Through the years, in addition to the pool business, he has started a computer company, an importing company and has invested in a restaurant in Thailand and a farm in Cambodia.

Kornreich said during his years of community involvement he has worked with Cartright regularly.

“What I admire was her ability to bring stakeholders together, and just make sure that everyone was heard,” Kornreich said. “Even if she didn’t agree with them, she always made sure that everyone felt heard.”

He added he never wants constituents to be frustrated with their representation, and he feels it’s important for all residents to be given the opportunity to be heard as Cartright did.

“I think that a lot of the issues that we face in the town, there’s no Republican or Democrat way to conduct town business. And I think that a lot of those national issues don’t really come into play — they don’t apply.”

— Jonathan Kornreich

“It’s time consuming and it can be difficult, but you have to go slowly and give people a chance to weigh in on things,” he said.

Kornreich said it’s important to continue the work that Cartright started including making sure the ideas gathered from area residents a few years ago for the Route 25A Three Village Area Visioning Report are implemented, and a similar study for redeveloping Upper Port Jefferson is continued. He said planning is important for the future of the district, especially regarding keeping each area’s personality.

“To maintain that sense of place is a result of planning,” he said. “In the Three Village area, for example, the 25A area is clearly in need of redevelopment. It’s not all that it could be, and I think it doesn’t have the kind of amenities that people in this community expect.”

He gave the example of the East Setauket Pond Park area, which once was a traditional waterfront where residents could see boats.

“But now it’s all overgrown with weeds, and in that park, you can’t really see out,” he said. “There’s buildings there that are vacant and have been vacant for years, and that’s an area that really needs to be redeveloped. And, I don’t mean to build buildings, I mean that’s a good place for public spaces, for parks, for preservation.”

He said Upper Port, with access to Route 347 and having a Long Island Rail Road station, is an example of where a vibrant, walkable downtown area can be developed.

“That’s a place where it’s OK to build buildings and have a nice walkable downtown area with affordable housing,” he said. “A place where young people can live and seniors, and have shops and that feeling of being in a place. There’s a lot of opportunities for that in the Upper Port Jefferson Station area.”

If elected, Kornreich — as with Cartright — will be the only Democrat on the Town Board, but he said with his work with the civic and school district, he has worked with elected officials from different parties.

“I think that a lot of the issues that we face in the town, there’s no Republican or Democrat way to conduct town business,” he said. “And I think that a lot of those national issues don’t really come into play — they don’t apply.”

He said he’s worked frequently with town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), and he admires Romaine’s respect for the environment.

“From what I’ve seen of the other people on the Town Council, their hearts are in the right place,” the candidate said.

In addition to working with those on the town level through the years, Kornreich has worked with elected officials on the county, state and federal levels, and said he has a good working relationship with many of them. He said when residents come into an elected official’s office, many don’t know if the issue falls under town, county or state jurisdiction.

“They don’t need to, because as an elected official, if someone has a problem with their road or with this or that, they don’t care,” Kornreich said. … “They want to know: ‘Who do I talk to, how do I get this problem fixed?’ … So, having those relationships — I just want to be able to help people solve problems.”

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File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested a man Tuesday night after he allegedly shot a housemate with a crossbow in Stony Brook.

Police said James Nicosia was involved in a discussion with his landlord at his residence, located at 269 Hallock Road, when Xiaonan Sun, who is the landlord’s son and one of Nicosia’s housemates, allegedly shot him with a crossbow at around 6:55 p.m. Police did not give motive for the shooting.

Nicosia, 41, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital in serious, but stable condition.

Police charged Sun, 36, with assault in the 2nd degree. He was held overnight at the 6th Precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Dec. 30.

File photo

Suffolk County Police detectives are continuing to investigate a car crash that killed a pedestrian in Stony Brook Tuesday night.

Police said Kimani R. Porter was driving a 2017 Dodge truck southbound on Nicolls Road, at the intersection of Shirley Kenny Drive, when the vehicle struck Kenneth Rott who was crossing the street at approximately 6:45 p.m Dec. 29. Rott, 60, of Kings Park was pronounced dead at the scene. Porter, 31, of Brooklyn was not injured.

The Dodge was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to contact the 6th Squad at 631-856-8652.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Celebrates 10 Years with Long Island Aquarium Show. Photo from SBHU

For 40 years, Stony Brook University Hospital has been caring for kids, but 2020 holds an even more notable moment for Suffolk County’s sole children’s hospital. 

The outside of Stony Brook University Children’s Hospital. Photo from SBUH

Dr. Carolyn Milana, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said this year is a very special one. 

The children’s hospital is celebrating its 10-year anniversary as a standalone hospital, after opening its new building last year. 

“Our brand-new facility allows us to continue to provide the same expert care to the children and adolescents of Suffolk County in a state-of-the-art environment designed to promote healing,” she said. “All of the space within the children’s hospital, and the programs we offer, are designed to support both the child and their family throughout their hospital stay.”

At the new building, live feeds from the Long Island Aquarium are shown in the lobby and throughout the pediatric floors.

An inside look at the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from SBUH

To celebrate its decade-long care, the children’s hospital teamed up with the Riverhead-based aquarium for a sea lion show virtually shown to supporters, patients and their families. On Dec. 9, viewers tuned in as the sea lion balanced balls, did tricks and posed in a delightful routine that kids and adults enjoyed.

Steven Klipstein, who taught at Suffolk County Community College for 49 years, is also the academic lead for the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. Photo from SCCC

Stony Brook resident Steven Klipstein may be retired from his college post, but it seems hard to stop him from teaching.

Klipstein spent one year shy of five decades at Suffolk County Community College, where he taught in the English department, though he is much more widely known for his course on the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II. 

Steven Klipstein continues as the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding at SCCC despite being retired. Photo from SCCC

He talks with a soft urgency about his passions, whether it’s teaching, his time as adviser to the college newspaper, or his work with the college’s Holocaust center, which is now called the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. For those students who knew him, that demeanor bled into his lectures, especially in the Holocaust class. He has taught that course for well over 30 years, and even now after he is a professor emeritus at SCCC, he still tries to teach young people about the massacre of over 6 million Jews.

And as people of the Jewish faith reach the end of Hanukkah this year and looking back to last year where New York was the site of multiple anti-Semitic attacks at the end of the Jewish holiday, such understanding becomes ever more important.

“At least New York mandates a day in high school, a mention of the Holocaust, so at least most New York kids know that it happened,” he said. “But most of the country doesn’t, so they have no idea what it is.”

It’s because the point Klipstein makes is while too many people see the Holocaust as a distant event, a pothole in the historical timeline, the reality is that it was not some kind of aberration, but the culmination of years of anti-Semitism both in Europe and in America. The U.S., while touting its role in defeating the Third Reich, was also the home to much of the time’s leading anti-Semites, such as Henry Ford, who in 1938 received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.

But even closer to home, Long Island was one of the few places to have a real Nazi element in its backyard. In 1935, Camp Siegfried, a Nazi youth camp, opened in Yaphank. Though back then it may have seemed more like a camp to celebrate German heritage, even with the young men in brown shirts marching down roads named Hitler Street with arms outstretched in the classic Nazi salute. Klipstein talked about that camp, among other topics, in a recent six-hour American Heroes Channel documentary, “Hitler’s Empire.”

Although it is common knowledge today, Klipstein said it took decades for a common understanding of those events to take root, both in Germany and in the U.S. But now, he said, he’s seeing some of that understanding slip away.

Though occasionally he received critical glances from students about some point in his lectures, he has never encountered a Holocaust denier in his academic history. Still they are out there. The professor emeritus cited a tale told by Ruth Minsky Senderowicz, a Holocaust survivor from Commack, who has said a denier called to get her to say her story — of her mother being taken from her at the Lodz Ghetto in Poland and the daughter being sent to Auschwitz — was a lie.

“It takes a lot of courage to fight them, because they’re not really scholars, they’re provocateurs,” Klipstein said.  

Though the issue is now in getting more students to volunteer to learn about those horrific events. He continues to teach the Holocaust class, but said his lecture is down to small numbers. He stressed how important it is for people to not only learn about those days in the death camps but come to see the world differently through that understanding.

“I think for a lot of students, it’s eye opening,” he said. “And if you’re in tune to it, you learn and you will think about it in different philosophical terms than what you’ve been thinking before about the nature of the world and humanity — the Holocaust can can’t help but make you face those realities.”

Legacy at SCCC

The venerable educator got started at 25 years old, back when academia was coming into its own in Suffolk. Stony Brook University was growing at a rapid rate, and places like SCCC were attracting new blood into its ranks. Klipstein had a good interview and “got lucky,” and was hired on the spot.

That hire would come to bite a few campus administrators in the proverbial butts later down the line. Years later, when he was assistant head of the English department, effectively also the head of the college’s journalism department, he said the campus newspaper, The Compass, was “moribund,” effectively on the brink of death. He came in after there was a reported brawl inside the paper’s office.

“I told the other administrators that something’s got to be done, and they said, ‘Well, OK, do it,’” Klipstein said.

Cutting out the rougher parts of the staff, and just with two or three young people, he revitalized the paper. With the help of new editorial staff, they were putting out a good-sized, 20-page campus newspaper that won awards from the likes of Newsday. The paper also did not shy from getting involved in campus controversy. They went after administrators for nepotism in hiring family members for dead-end jobs or highlighting discrepancies with the college budget.

“It was really kind of enervating and exciting being the troublemakers on campus,” he said. “And we embarrassed them more than once, you know, which I confess that I loved.”

While administration couldn’t fire Klipstein as a tenured professor, he said it would regularly threaten his position as adviser to the paper. He would hold that position at the paper for 13 years.

Of his near 50-years at Suffolk, there are several things that Klipstein said he takes pride in. The paper, for one, was an act of helping to build something from effectively nothing. Though now that he’s stepped back from a full-time role in academia, the professor can’t help but see what he called a decline of people’s appreciation for arts or culture, which breaks down into a decline in appreciation for history or even today’s current events.

“A lot of our problems come from the fact that we have completely denuded the liberal arts,” he said. “I said, so many times, it’s going to start creeping into our politics — we are going to elect someone who is just basically from image, no substance, just image. And that person is going to get us into a lot of trouble. I swear I said it so many times, it was coming out of my ears, and sure enough, there he is.”

Though Suffolk has not cut any of its liberal arts programs, he said there has been a steady decline in the number of students taking those kinds of classes. Less degrees are requiring liberal arts classes as well. He points to places like Stony Brook University which in 2018 suspended admission into its theater arts, comparative literature and cinema arts programs.. The backlash led to the then-College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sacha Kopp stepping down.

“A university can’t do that, that’s not thinking in the long run … that basically what students really need to learn, more than anything, is how to critically think,” Klipstein said. “I think without the ability to think, without the ability to understand the classic structure of your society, both politically and culturally, you lose what you have.”

Editor’s note: The author of this article was a student of Klipstein when the educator still taught full time at SCCC.

Michael Johnston has been decking his car with holiday cheer since he was 16. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Driving along Route 25A, you might have seen a boxy vehicle decked out in lights. Candy canes stick out from its top alongside green garland. 

The Long Island Holiday Jeep has been seen throughout Port Jefferson, near Stony Brook University, and even out into Huntington. Every holiday season, Michael Johnston joins dozens of other people on the road, decorating their vehicles as part of a group called The Christmas Convoy.

The 19-year-old Setauket resident said he began decorating cars before he was even able to drive, at age 16 with his father. 

“This year I went all out because it was such a depressing year,” he said. 

Usually his Jeep Renegade has about 2,000 lights on it, he said. This year he added 3,000 more. 

“It’s just fun to do,” he said. “It’s fun to get reactions from people and everyone loves it … other than some cops.”

The Holiday Jeep lit up at night. Photo from Michael Johnston

Unlike some his Convoy-counterparts, Johnston decorates for most holidays. He’s been at the Huntington St. Patrick’s Day Parade adorning green, dazzled with hearts for Valentine’s Day and with Easter Bunny ears placed at his car’s top in the spring. He’s decorated for Thanksgiving and Halloween, but nothing compares to Christmas. 

Johnston is a delivery driver for DoorDash, so he’s always out and about.

“Everyone has a way different reaction,” he said. “Some people scream, they wave, and they ask me questions about it.”

He said he hopes that the bright lights on the road spread some holiday cheer during a rather bleak time. 

For now, he and his holiday Jeep can be spotted all across the North Shore, and eventually, the young man hopes, it might be another vehicle. 

“I actually want to get a new car,” he said. “A Cadillac Escalade.”

Rena Sylvester along with dozens of volunteers prepare and deliver meals to Suffolk County veterans. Photo from Rena Sylvester

Helping veterans is something one Stony Brook resident does all year long.

Volunteer Michelle Hahn and her daughters deliver to veterans in their neighborhood. Photo from Michelle Hahn

Rena Sylvester, 55, has been cooking and preparing meals in her home for local veterans since earlier this year, and the volunteer effort has become known as Cooking for Long Island Veterans. Sylvester said she recently filed for CFLIV to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which should be finalized this month.

For Sylvester, building a nonprofit organization that helps vets through providing meals came naturally. She said she’s always had a soft spot for veterans and is proud of those in her family tree, which include a grandfather who was in the Spanish-American War, and a great-great-grandfather who fought for the North in the Civil War. She said she remembers bringing her great-great-grandfather’s photo into school in seventh grade and has a steamer trunk from a great uncle who fought in World War I.

She first started cooking for Marine Corps League Detachment #247 in Bay Shore while she was a home economics teacher in the East Islip school district. After her retirement from teaching a couple of years ago, she said she continued to cook for the group and other veterans organizations.

Earlier in the year, a few vets reached out to Sylvester to see if she knew what happened to a woman who started a GoFundMe page to deliver meals to veterans. Sylvester contacted the woman, who told her she was unable to keep up. That’s when Sylvester rose to the occasion and started cooking in her own kitchen.

What started as cooking for a few vets has turned into delivering meals to more than 50 throughout Suffolk County. Through Sylvester’s previous connections with vets and veterans organizations, many reached out to her during the pandemic and the number of vets receiving meals increased. Currently, CFLIV has a waiting list.

“We are totally experiencing growing pains,” she said.

Rena Sylvester delivers meals to a veteran. Photo from Rena Sylvester

Fortunately, she said the number of volunteers who make up Cooking for Long Island Veterans has grown from a few to around 40, many of whom live in the Three Village area or Islip. Sylvester said it’s not only cooks she needs. Those who have offered to drive have also been a big help. She is now looking for people who can create a website, make copies and do some light housekeeping. Also, with a garage renovation underway to create cooking space, the organization can use help with lighting fixtures, electric hot water heaters, flooring and shelving.

Sylvester said every bit helps. She has a few volunteers who commit to a certain amount of time each month or a set amount of money. She said one volunteer is at her home every Thursday without fail and every month she can count on one local couple to spend $100 on CFLIV. There is also one volunteer who comes from Manhasset once a month to pick up food from Sylvester and then deliver to homes west of Stony Brook.

Some volunteers even get their families involved like Michelle Hahn. She and her two daughters, Anna, 7, and Gabriella, 5, have been delivering food to vets near her Stony Brook home for about a year.

“My girls love the idea of helping those who keep us safe and free,” Hahn said.

The mother said there are several senior veterans in her neighborhood, and when she and her family discovered Sylvester and volunteers were preparing and delivering meals to them, they wanted to get involved.

“We donate time when we can by cooking meals, making deliveries, recruiting volunteers or helping Rena in her busy house,” she said.

Sylvester said one way she increased the number of volunteers was reaching out to Three Village Wine Fairies, a Facebook group where people deliver wine to strangers after hearing about it from Bobby Hebert who owns Hamlet Wines & Liquors in East Setauket. She realized if they were willing to spend money on and deliver wine to strangers, maybe they would be open to helping out veterans. She reached out to the members and was right, gaining a few more volunteers.

Vets receive three each of breakfast, lunch and dinner per visit, according to Sylvester, sometimes more but never less. Each veteran receives the names and contact information of those who cooked the meals and delivered them to give the ex-servicemembers the opportunity to thank them. Sylvester said the ‘thank yous’ are important to let the volunteers know they are appreciated.

Hahn said she appreciated the calls of appreciation.

“I once had a senior vet call me and say, ‘My own family doesn’t help me out the way you all do,’” she said. “[It] melted my heart.”

In addition to volunteers, CFLIV accepts financial donations, gift cards and food donations from restaurants and supermarkets. Sylvester said she’s received help from businesses such as Panico’s Community Market in Smithtown, Rolling Pin in East Setauket, Rocco’s Pizza in St. James and others.

“We aren’t looking for anyone to give us 80 meals a week or anything,” she said. “We’re looking for a little help.”

Rena Sylvester, right, picks up donations from Panico’s Community Market in Smithtown. Photo from Rena Sylvester

On Nov. 10, Bliss restaurant in East Setauket held a fundraiser event for the organization. For every to-go dinner, the restaurant gave CFLIV 25% of the sale.

Christine Reardon said her parents, Frank and Eleanor, who live in Stony Brook have received meals from the volunteers. She called the service “a godsend.”

“It is just amazing to know that an abundance of food arrives weekly at their doorstep,” Reardon said. “Mom and dad, who is a Korean War vet, are both in failing health and to have this for my parents is appreciated beyond words.”

Richard Ehrlich, an 89-year-old Korean War vet who lives in Stony Brook, said he enjoys the meals. When he heard the organization could use more funds, he said he decided to donate what he could once a month.

“It helps me from running around a lot and shopping,” he said.

Sylvester said they are open to helping veterans who may not need financial assistance, but who may have physical limitations or are hesitant to shop during the pandemic. They are asked for a donation of whatever they could afford toward the cause.

“We are here to serve the needy veterans,” she said. “If a veteran is physically needy — but not financially — we need their financial support to keep running. Without financial support we will not be able to keep up with the demand.”

Those who are interested in volunteering for Cooking for Long Island Veterans or donating, can email Sylvester at [email protected]

The family behind Druthers Coffee in Stony Brook Square. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Many stores, shops and restaurants had to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide. Sustaining a business was just too hard, especially during the unprecedented times of the virus spread then government-mandated shutdowns of most venues and shops. 

Despite these massive hardships, several so-called COVIDpreneurs, or people who opened up shop during the pandemic, decided to take a risk during a rather bleak time, some putting their livelihoods on the line for the sake of their passions as well as for the community.

While it’s hard to know the future of these new businesses, most owners said not even a pandemic could stop them from realizing their dreams.

SāGhar: 111 W. Broadway, Port Jefferson

Kiran Wadhwa and Indu Kaur inside their family’s new restaurant, SāGhar in Port Jefferson. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The family behind SāGhar officially took over the former Harbor Grill in January. With plans to open up a brand-new fine dining experience with Indian cuisine on the water in March, their first day open was also the day they closed, with no real way to prepare for what was going to happen on the horizon.

“Our main attention was, ‘How are we going to survive’?” co-owner Indu Kaur said. Since their concept was more upscale, they didn’t initially incorporate takeout or delivery options.

“We had to sit and brainstorm: ‘How are we going to handle not having any of those things and still be functioning and operating?’” co-owner Kiran Wadhwa said. 

They decided to spend their time helping essential workers while they waited for state restaurant guidelines to change. During the height of the pandemic, they donated over $30,000 worth of food and more than
2,500 meals.

“Instead of thinking about our own business and menu and takeout, we came up with the idea to donate food to hospitals from Riverhead to New York City.” 

During the summer, indoor dining was finally allowed and in just one week the family moved quickly to set up SāGhar, but it was tough. Since their original plans of opening were halted months before, they had to complete their menu, renovate the kitchen to accommodate Indian cooking and train their new staff under social-distancing rules. 

It was hard on the family financially as well. On top of typical expenses that would be spent during a new opening, they had to add masks, shields and signs on top of a budget that was already depleted. 

Kaur said her family began using personal savings and personal savings just to pay bills and make their dream restaurant a reality. Although customers were flocking to SāGhar during the summer and since their grand opening, now that the cooler weather is here, they’re getting worried again.

“We were able to recoup a little bit during the summer, but now it’s that same feeling of stress, because people aren’t walking in and going out as much,” Wadhwa said. “We’re just hoping that things normalize … I think now I’m feeling it more, because now that we’re settled from the summer, it’s just so draining. … You feel so down from it.”

Although it has been tough, the family is still fighting to keep their restaurant afloat because they believe in their brand and want to share good food with the community. “Breaking even would be ideal for the next year,” Wadhwa said. 

Taco Island Tex-Mex: 5507 Nesconset Highway, Mount Sinai

Taco Island opened up late this summer despite the fear of COVID-19. Photo by Aman Bhola

Aman Bhola has been in the food truck industry for a few years, owning a popular North Shore Tex-Mex vehicle. But he said in early March, he decided to leave that business endeavor and start anew with a brick-and-mortar location in Mount Sinai in April, even though the COVID-19 virus was spreading fast. 

“My customer base was already a strong motivation for me to come back,” he said. “But nothing in the world would stop me from following my dream.”

Taco Island officially opened up in July after a quick, but hefty, renovation of the space’s former occupant. Bhola, a 27-year-old Indian American knew his customers could use some good, affordable food while riding the pandemic out. 

“I believed in myself and I believe in my brand,” he said. 

Taco Island offers an extensive menu of Mexican options, all made fresh and from scratch with every order. 

“At Taco Island, our main focus is authentic flavor,” he said.

But it wasn’t the easiest task to open during the crisis. 

“It’s been a huge challenge,” he said. “My team has been working above and beyond.”

But to get through the rest of COVID-19, he’s come up with a plan to stabilize his business and “deal with the next wave.”

“We’re not increasing our staff or inventory,” he said. “We’re taking the right precautions.”

The young COVIDpreneur said that although it’s a worrisome time, he still feels motivated and excited to be doing what he loves. 

“For the last three Friday’s we’ve been opened, we’ve had to close early because we sold out,” he said. 

He didn’t fully remove himself from the food truck business, either, which helped out for catering outdoor events. 

Long Island Beer and Burger Experience: South Setauket 

These vehicles conveniently bring the party to you. Photo by Thomas Francis

When COVID-19 hit New York, Thomas Francis, of South Setauket, was worried because March is usually the start of his industry’s season. “My season starts St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “From that time until the end of June it was bad.”

Four years ago, he started a small wedding business, the Long Island Cuban Cigar and Bourbon Experience. His mobile cigar and bourbon lounge sits inside a 32-foot vintage Airstream trailer that can be brought to any type of outside event. 

“It’s the only experience like this in the world,” he said, noting that he has brought his services across the country. 

Since the cigar and bourbon mobile was such a hit, two years ago he began the Long Island Wine and Cheese Experience, featuring wines from local vineyards and cheeses to pair with them.

With his businesses going so well, he began thinking of his next venture featuring burgers and beers. Accordingly, the Long Island Beer and Burger Experience was planned to roll out in April. Using the same model, it would feature craft beers from local breweries and a burger to go with them. 

“In April I had plans to begin the Beer and Burger Experience, but I thought I wasn’t going to open because of COVID,” he said. 

Despite the pandemic, he decided to start up his third vehicle anyway.

When everything shut down and events were canceled, it was hard, he said. But then as outdoor weddings, parties and gatherings became more common, it worked out in his favor. 

“Things really shifted,” he said. “It was the right time and place. … This is where the market is going.” 

His experiences are ideal right now for families planning small, intimate events. 

“It’s a safe, responsible, fully fledged experience,” he said, especially with vineyards and breweries closing during the summer, or not hosting a full capacity of visitors. 

“The Wine and Cheese Experience was the most popular because the vineyards were closed,” he said. “It literally saved me.”

While the pandemic was hard on him and his businesses right at the start of his busy season, he said it worked out and now he’s booked solid for the near future. “During this climate, we can easily have the party of your dreams in your backyard,” he said. 

Druthers Coffee: 1113 North Country Road, Stony Brook

The family behind Druthers Coffee in Stony Brook Square. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kathryne Piazzola, Zachary Russell and Michael Buchholz had their plans to open a local coffee shop set for some time. Their goal was to open Druthers right across from Stony Brook University in a new center being built, Stony Brook Square. 

“We signed the lease three years ago,” Piazzola said. “And we were hoping to open actually in January.” 

But there were some construction delays and then the virus hit Long Island. After a few hurdles, they finally opened officially on Aug. 14. With their opening, they had to change their plans a little to fit into the new state health guidelines, like not allowing guests to bring their own glassware while still trying to be sustainable without many paper cups.

“Nevertheless, we’ve really developed an incredible following of regulars,” Buchholz said. “Everybody who comes by is truly so understanding about the circumstances that makes it so much easier.”

While continuously changing their opening date, and finishing the painting, decorating and preparing, they also had to go through the Paycheck Protection Program. “We knew we were going into it with a limited budget, we had to operate as intelligently as we possibly could,” Buchholz said. “So, navigating federal loan programs was not at all easy, while finding our footing and feeling confident about everything that we had spent three years planning.”

Piazzola said three months later things are running smooth. 

“You start talking to people and meeting our guests when they were first coming in,” Buchholz added. “And it just turned out that it’s exactly what people needed. They wanted an experience that felt welcoming and warm, and a bit of hospitality from the heart of a small business that had the human story behind it.”

Even with support from the community, they’re beginning to get a little anxious about the upcoming winter. “Rather than planning for growth in the way that we wanted to do initially, we’re planning for winter that might be a little bit more challenging,” Buchholz said. “There’s still things that we’re wrapping our heads around, but it’s been surprisingly gratifying.”

Osteria Umbra: 197 Terry Road, Smithtown 

Marco Pellegrini in front of his open-fire BBQ at his new restaurant in Smithtown. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s always been chef Marco Pellegrini’s dream to open a fine dining restaurant, and when he found the space in Smithtown over a year ago, he knew it was where he belonged. 

A chef from the age of 14, Pellegrini comes from the ancient Italian town of Foligno in Umbria. He and his family moved to the United States seven years ago to partner with another restaurant out on the North Fork. The partners decided to go their separate ways and Pellegrini moved west.

“Everywhere I stopped from Mineola to the south, I was not impressed,” he said. 

Then he found Smithtown. He said he visited the area when he first came to the U.S. and was impressed by the family oriented community.

“It’s more what I’m looking for,” he said. 

Together with his wife, Sabrina Vallorini, and partners — Stephen, Diane and Daniel Bragoli — they signed the contract in September 2019. From that point on, they renovated the whole space, decorated it with marble, chandeliers, wine racks and an open-oven BBQ imported from Italy. Their goal was to open in March. 

Although it was an uncertain and scary time, they made the most of it. Pellegrini, his wife and their partners took on the renovations themselves, painting the space and completing it at their own pace. The restaurant officially opened Sept. 9, more than six months past its planned date. 

But the uncertainty of another virus wave is stressful. “I really want to try and stay open,” he said. “We just have to cross the bridge until the end of COVID right now, and run the restaurant without losing money.”

He’s still hopeful, because he stands behind his brand. Pellegrini said that the food at Osteria Umbra is different than typical Italian — everything is made on-site, from the pasta to the gelato and the authentic Italian cuisine. 

“The way we do the food in Italy is little bit different than what we’re doing here in the USA,” he said. “Usually you find more authentication in the city, Long Island there are not too much.”

ENDO Ethos: 289 Main St., Huntington 

Christine Ruggeri at her second shop, Endo Ethos, in Huntington Village. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Clark and Christine Ruggeri opened their first hemp and CBD storefront in Northport last year. When space in Huntington became available, they knew to jump on it, signing their second lease in November. With the intention of opening their new location in March, COVID hit and halted their plans. 

“Who would have ever imagined,” she said. “We almost backed out of it. When it came time to decide what we were going to do, we decided to go through with it anyway.” 

While struggling to keep their other store afloat through e-commerce and local delivery from March until June, the Ruggeris opened their Huntington “dream location” on Aug. 1. 

“I think that’s why we were able to survive the first round of quarantine, because people that we didn’t even know were ordering from our website,” she said. “This might be the opportunity for people who don’t want to buy online but feel really stressed or anxious or can’t sleep … there are people who needed this space, and that’s why we decided to do it.”

She added that as they had the space since November 2019, they already had so much invested. 

“Then you have to find a way to pay that back without making an income from the space,” she said. “We kind of felt like we had no choice.”

But since they opened, although it’s been tough, the couple said they have been able to sustain their business. 

“We’re hoping that post-pandemic, it will pick up again. So, for now, as long as we can stay afloat, meet new people and introduce them to our products, I think that’s the goal,” Christine Ruggeri said. 

But right now, the village isn’t as crowded as it normally would be in the pre-pandemic world. 

“Huntington depends very much on the bar and restaurant scene,” she said. “With the bar and restaurant scene being so minimal right now, you can definitely feel the impact of that on the street.” 

Although the couple are concerned about the upcoming winter, they said it might work out in their favor since CBD, which stands for Cannabidiol, was an explosive market before COVID. 

“Hemp or CBD might be the thing that people need right now,” she said. “Maybe we’ll actually end up doing better than we thought because this is something that’s so needed.”

Stony Brook has set up a fund that helps students attend while dealing with small financial hurdles. File photo by Kyle Barr

Like so many other plans this year, the goal for Stony Brook University’s Student Emergency Support Fund has changed.

SBU students like Rijuta Mukim have relied on funds from the university’s emergency fund for their studies at home. Photo by Mukim

The fund, which SBU’s Dean of Students Richard Gatteau launched in January, was originally planned as an endowed source of funds that would help students in need. Amid the ongoing financial dislocation caused by the pandemic, the fund has now provided everything from money for car repairs, which some students need to get to campus, to books, iPads, or even rent.

Through July, the emergency fund provided about $935,000 in support to 1,194 students, according to the dean of students.

“Once COVID hit, we realized in March and April, the need was overwhelming,” he said. The school put in a new strategy to raise more money to expand the focus to include basic life essentials, like paying the electric bill or groceries. The university “didn’t want this circumstance to force someone to drop out.”

For some students, the financial need, especially in the current economic environment amid job losses and higher unemployment, exceeds the resources that financial aid, grants and loans can offer.

“We’re working with students on the margin,” Gatteau said. The parents of many students don’t have the financial ability to support them, either.

Many of the students who initially received money from the emergency fund  were remote learners who needed internet access or other remote support.

That included SBU junior Rijuta Mukim, who was working from her home in southern India when her computer broke down and her internet connection was unstable.

Taking classes and studying during the night and sleeping during the day to continue her education amid the time difference, Mukim was kicked off her Zoom calls for her classes within five minutes.

“I had a lot of trouble attending class,” Mukim said.

Without a fix for her computer and a better connection, Mukim, who is majoring in biology and psychology and hopes to attend medical school after she graduates, would have had to withdraw during the spring.

After she heard about the emergency fund on Reddit, she applied. Within a few hours, she received an email indicating that the school was trying to reach her by phone to make sure she was all right. She revealed her needs and received $1,000 within a week.

In the meantime, the support team explained her situation to her professors, who gave her extra time to complete her assignments.

Mukim had originally planned to work this summer at the Staller Center, but she was appreciative of the university and the donors who contributed to the fund for financial assistance, even as she worked from home several continents away.

“A thousand dollars might sound like a small amount but it helped me to ride through the spring and summer classes,” Mukim said. Having this kind of support “during a crisis is wonderful. It is satisfying to know there is a community helping you and looking out for you.”

Gatteau said other students also appreciated the calls soon after they made their requests.

Students “want an opportunity to tell their story, [to hear] a friendly voice on the other end of the call, to hear what’s going on,” he said. “Many students have faced challenging situations, with job losses and deaths related to COVID.”

A call from the emergency fund team can be as much about financial support as it is a counseling session with a student that helps them know how much the university cares about them.

As the fall semester started, the fund recently relaunched and has received between 130 and 150 applications for economic support.

The fund, which received a $75,000 donation from SBU President Maurie McInnis and is soliciting additional donations, is trying to rebuild after the earlier disbursements. 

The call for donations has just gone out to community members, prior donors, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“We’ve done a full marketing campaign across all of the stakeholders who donated [previously] and then we try to reach out to new people,” Gatteau said.

The dean of students said the school is collecting donations of any size.

“Small amounts have made a big difference collectively,” he said.

The school estimates that $100 supports Wi-Fi access and other online learning costs; $200 contributes to lab fees and books; and $500 helps with groceries and rent.

The fund doesn’t currently allow donors to earmark their contributions for any specific purpose. Gatteau said the top priority with any student is for academic needs.

Despite the financial hardship caused by COVID and higher unemployment, officials said Stony Brook has not had many students drop out for financial reasons.

Amid concerns nationally about students ignoring social distancing or mask-wearing rules, Gatteau endorsed the way students have complied with rules. 

“We’re very lucky,” he said. Students are motivated to prevent closures. “They want [the school] to stay open,”

Students whose financial need exceeds whatever the emergency fund can provide may be able to update their Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — forms, to see if they are eligible for additional financial assistance.

Meanwhile, students can apply to the Student Support Team at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/studentaffairs/studentsupport. Students provide basic information and discuss their specific issues and challenges on a call.