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the meadow club

Indu, left, with sister Kiran Wadhwa at The Meadow Club’s new garden area. Photo from Indu Kaur

By Mallie Kim

Indu Kaur was destined to rise from the ashes.

Indu, right, celebrating Christmas with her sister Kiran and her mother several years after the train accident. Photo from Indu Kaur

Kaur, who runs The Meadow Club banquet hall in Port Jefferson Station and the Curry Club at SāGhar in Port Jefferson, was born in Afghanistan and survived a series of tragedies to become the woman she is — dedicated to family, exuding confidence and poised to solve the next problem.

In the early hours of July 14, 2018, as she watched flames shoot from the roof of The Meadow Club, Kaur made a promise. “‘The tragedy that happened to us will not happen to anybody else,’” she recalled saying to her father and business partner, Kulwant Wadhwa, thinking about the christening and wedding they were scheduled to host that day. “‘We will make sure everybody’s celebration goes on.’”

And she did, together with her father and sister Kiran, the club’s creative director. Within hours, they secured a new venue and redirected staff members and guests.

Long before Kaur was running hospitality businesses, she was a small girl gathering eggs for breakfast outside the earthen home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, she shared with her parents, grandmother, great grandmother, aunts and uncles. Life felt simple inside the multigenerational Sikh home. Kaur remembered the whole family eating meals together, sitting on traditional hand-sewn floor mattresses. After dinner was the real treat: “The whole family would do this beautiful dance, and then smile, laugh, just be free,” she said.

Outside the home, things were not so free or peaceful. In 1979, when Kaur was a toddler, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The United States supported the anti-Soviet rebellion of the Afghan mujahideen guerrilla fighters.

Kaur’s ancestors had immigrated to Afghanistan from India several generations before, and Kaur’s father, Wadhwa, who took over his own father’s job as pharmacist and family provider at age 15, remembered the nation with affection. “The country was very safe before the Soviet Union,” he said, recalling there were even buses of American tourists. “It all changed.” 

Indu, in chef hat, with her managers and sister.
Indu runs the omelet station at brunches. Photo from Indu Kaur

Smaller communities like Jalalabad became hotbeds of fighting, so in the early 1980s, Wadhwa decided to move his family to the relatively safer capital city of Kabul, where his pharmacy business thrived and the family’s lifestyle improved. They had running water, raised wooden beds and a proper school, but also a backdrop of fear, with unpredictable fighting and bullets flying. “Seeing our parents not smiling or not dancing after dinner was something we really missed,” she said. 

Worse, stray bullets twice hit close to home: One bullet struck a girl at Kaur’s school, and another killed her cousin Harpreet, who was only a couple years older than Kaur. “It could have been me,” she said.

Kaur’s grandmother shielded the children as best she could, trying to bring fun into daily life. “I used to look forward to coming home and washing dishes,” Kaur said, remembering her grandmother would let dishes pile up so the two of them could wash up together after school. “I enjoyed getting wet in the soapy water, and then she would get the hose and, you know.”

In February 1989, the Soviet soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan, and for non-Muslim minorities, life worsened further. Wadhwa remembers the mujahideen, predecessors of the Taliban, told the Sikh community, “‘You guys have three options: You guys either leave the country, or die here, or you can work to be a Muslim,’” he said. “They wanted a nation of only Muslims.”

Wadhwa made plans to uproot the family once again, but not before they faced danger one more time.

Early one morning while everyone was still asleep, mujahideen soldiers came into the house, and Kaur was too far distant to reach the basement hideaway she usually crowded into with the other women and children when soldiers came around. While her father stalled the men, her grandmother laid her on a bench, Kaur recalled, and covered her with a blanket to pretend she was a cushion. “My grandmother sat on me to hide me,” Kaur said, and she remembered listening with horror to the threats and demands of the mujahideen. “They beat my dad up, big time.”

From Afghanistan to India and the U.S.

When safely in India, the family’s lifestyle improved again. Wadhwa restarted his pharmaceutical business and was more successful than in Kabul. They would once again, Kaur said, “rise up stronger.”

Indu, left, with her family in India. Photo from Indu Kaur

Kaur, 13 years old when she arrived in Delhi, attended a British school to fill gaps in her education and learn Hindi and English. She also learned what it meant to be a “country girl” refugee wearing big bows and flowery clothes, among young teens who had an eye for glamor. The bullying was brutal, and Kaur said she did what many adolescent girls around the world do — she plucked her eyebrows and changed her style to fit in. One bright spot was “a beautiful British teacher in a sari,” who inspired the confident posture Kaur still holds today, and also taught her what turned out to be a helpful survival tool — the British “stiff upper lip.” She remembered, “Always, spine straight, look straight, perfect expression.” No matter what emotion, “I could take control and just figure it out.”

This skill was vital when, at age 19 in 1994, she arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport as a new bride in an arranged marriage, a common custom in Indian culture. The day the marriage offer came, Kaur remembered Wadhwa asking if she was OK with it. Kaur reflected on how Wadhwa had led the family so far, and told him, “Whatever you do is always good for us, so [I’ll follow] whatever decision you make.”

She faced settling into life in the United States the same way she faced that first meeting with her future husband at JFK: When things were overwhelming, she went with the flow. “I was very good at smiling and keeping it quiet and having a stable face,” she said. “Emotions were always very internal.”

Internal, but not gone. Kaur is a woman who feels deeply but acts decisively. When she tired of feeling lonely in Delaware and then in Virginia, Kaur built skills, first in retail and computers, and then in banking, working her way up from teller to commercial loan inspector within a couple years. “I was a thriver, I wanted to learn,” she said. “I was eager and hungry for education and doing well.”

Kaur’s parents and younger sisters immigrated to Suffolk County as asylum seekers soon after Kaur’s wedding, once again leaving everything behind. Wadhwa built a completely new career in 1996 as a restauranteur serving Indian cuisine at The Curry Club’s first location in East Setauket, powered by family connections and the entrepreneurship he’d learned restarting his pharmaceutical business twice.

But in the fall of 2000, tragedy came again, when Kaur’s mother Amargeet was walking the dog and suffered a brain hemorrhage, falling onto the tracks at Port Jefferson railroad station. A departing train severed her arms and one of her legs, but — incredibly — she survived.

Indu at her wedding. Photo by Indu Kaur

Kaur remembered her father running to her when she arrived, devastated, in the waiting room. “He hugged me, and he said, ‘We are done, we are done. I’m destroyed. We are not going to live anymore,’” she recalled. “His heart just poured on my shoulder.”

The whole family was heartbroken by the accident, but they were not done. Everyone banded together to keep the family business running, care for Amargeet and raise Kaur’s youngest sister Kiran, who was only 11. Kaur drove nine hours from Virginia every weekend to help.

This back and forth continued for several years, but eventually the pull of family was too strong to resist. In 2013, Kaur moved to Long Island and cared for her mother full time. When her father presented the opportunity to take over The Meadow Club with her sister a year later, she was up for the challenge. Kaur remembered feeling nervous since her two children, Sahiba and Sartaj, were still young. Wadhwa told her, “Well, we have each other.”

With Kiran’s contemporary, Americanized vision and Kaur’s practical determination, The Meadow Club was a success. Then, in 2018, it went up in flames. During construction and permitting, Kaur continued to find venues for her clients and attend events to be sure clients were well served. 

Meanwhile, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants to shut down in 2020, Kaur’s family survived as they always had, together. Kiran created a donation-based meal delivery service to hospital workers, Kaur drove the delivery van and her father oversaw food packing. Kaur said they delivered hundreds of meals a day.

When The Meadow Club finally reopened in January 2021, no scars of the fire were visible. The sisters had crafted a modern, classy, better-than-ever venue.

“It’s a blissful, blessed feeling of knowing that, yes, everything is up and running,” Kaur said. “But the best part is that we are together.”

And together is how she plans to weather any future storms. “I just keep going, just like my dad,” Kaur said. “We wake up in the morning: All right, it’s a beautiful day, sun is up, what’s next? What do we have to tackle now?”

Members of the 2022 prom committee are working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring this local tradition back to life. (Left to right) Janet Stafford, Danielle Friedman, Randi DeWitt and Pauline Spiller. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School prom, a decades-old local tradition for the Port Jefferson community, is returning on Tuesday, June 28.

Since 1958, the prom has brought community members together in a spectacular send-off of its graduating seniors. The tradition includes a secret theme decided upon by the parents, along with a complete transformation of the school around that theme.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this tradition. Due to the lockdowns and social gathering restrictions put in place at the time, the event was severely limited in its scope and scale. The world is opening up again and so is the prom.

“This year, we’re doing a hybrid version,” said Randi DeWitt, a trustee of the Port Jefferson board of education and member of the prom committee. “Last year, it was just at The Meadow Club. This year, we’re going to do a traditional drive up at the high school as has always been done, but instead of going into the school, they’re going to head to The Meadow Club.”

An open invitation to the public

Reigniting this tradition will require active engagement on the part of the public. Community members are invited to view this year’s theme at The Meadow Club as well as the drive-up ceremony and red carpet event held at the high school. 

“The tradition is that the whole area is filled with community members,” DeWitt said. “Not just the parents of the kids who are graduating, the whole community comes to view it.” She added, “That’s what we wanted to bring back: The sense of community because that is what has been lost for a couple of years due to COVID.”

DeWitt hopes for a large turnout to reward the monumental efforts of parents and the prom committee who brought this tradition to life once again. “We want [the community] to see what we’ve done here — all of our hard work — and then be here for the kids when they walk up,” she said.

A viewing of the decor and theme will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Meadow Club, 1147 Route 112, Port Jefferson Station. Photos of the attendees will begin at 4:15 p.m. at the Village Center. The red carpet event will start at 6 p.m. at the high school, after which the students will head to The Meadow Club for prom night. 

By Heidi Sutton

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its 13th annual Port Jeff Health & Wellness Fest at The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station on April 23. The event featured over 50 vendors, health screenings, live music, a painting demonstration by Muse Paint Bar, a vegan BBQ food court courtesy of Catholic Health, a visit from therapy donkeys Pop-E and Lil-E from EEAW and Kota the comfort dog from Moloney Funeral Home, and lots of free giveaways. The wonderful event attracted hundreds of visitors interested in the many local services available in staying healthy in 2022.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Indu Kaur, right, with her sister Kiran Wadhwa at SāGhar in Port Jefferson. File photo by Julianne Mosher

Soft spoken and modest, Indu Kaur has been quietly helping out her community, all while managing and operating three local businesses — two of which opened in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Kaur, owner of SāGhar in Port Jefferson, also works alongside her family with their two other establishments — The Curry Club in Setauket and the newly renovated The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station. 

A resident of Setauket, her sister Kiran Wadhwa said that while she lives a few minutes out of the village or station, Port Jefferson is her second home. 

“She just wants to always lend a helping hand,” Wadhwa said. “Her goal is to make the community better.” 

Indu Kaur with blueprints of her new restaurant after purchasing The Harbor Grill. File photo by Kyle Barr

Joan Nickeson, community liaison to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said that Kaur is a member of several different boards and groups that all service Port Jefferson and its surrounding areas. 

“She is a model of entrepreneurship,” she said. “I am thoroughly impressed by her talent, grace and forward-thinking perspective.” 

Nickeson added that along with being a PJSTCC member, she is part of the Port Jefferson Chamber and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. Kaur is also secretary of the Cumsewogue Historical Society, and owner of the historic Baylis-Randall house, next to The Meadow Club.

“She is looking to refurbish it and establish space for photos and archives of local history of, not just The Meadow Club, but the Baylis-Randall house, historic Port Jefferson Station and Terryville,” she said. 

While working full time at SāGhar in the village, dishing out delicious Indian and American cuisine and cocktails to locals and visitors alike, Wadhwa said that Kaur also does finances for The Meadow Club and handles all of its operations. 

“She burns the candle at both ends to improve her restaurant and catering hall,” Nickeson added. 

This past June, Kaur and Wadhwa hosted the Port Jefferson high school’s prom at The Meadow Club, as well as Port Jefferson Chamber’s Health and Wellness Fest in October — two opportunities that brought both sides of Port Jefferson together. 

And all of these things were implemented over the last year and a half — while dealing with and overcoming the coronavirus.

“Although women-owned businesses are somewhat rare in the restaurant/hospitality industry, Indu Kaur has managed to open two unique properties during a pandemic — The Meadow Club and SāGhar,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “She is a role model for women aspiring to be restaurateurs. She has a can-do, work-hard attitude that she attributes to her immigrant family.”

Kaur previously told TBR News Media that after a fire devastated The Meadow Club in 2018, she and her family spent more than two years repairing it and turning it into the picture-perfect venue it is today.

But in the midst of rebuilding and construction, the pandemic hit — also as Kaur signed the deal on taking over the former Harbor Grill (Schafer’s) in the village. 

“Two years ago, we thought we were done,” Kaur said last November, just as The Meadow Club was starting to unveil. “But now we’re excited to bring our gem back to Suffolk County.”

Indu Kaur, left, with her family. Photo from Kiran Wadhwa

Hahn added that Kaur “had the courage and perseverance to rebuild The Meadow Club and reopen it bigger and better in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Incredibly, she also simultaneously opened SāGhar, a new restaurant in Port Jefferson Village with rooftop dining. It was this open-air rooftop that helped her stay open throughout the pandemic.”

An empathetic business owner, Hahn said that Kaur would always put the needs of her customers first — even as she struggled herself throughout the troubles of maintaining her establishments during a trying time. 

“Even though she was incredibly busy with two businesses, she never forgot the hardship of her employees and the brides and grooms who were displaced by the fire, and did her best to help them find new jobs and wedding venues,” Hahn said. “Indu is an unstoppable force and a tremendous asset to our community.”

And on top of all that, Kaur would personally drive meals — more than $30,000 worth of food — to first responders throughout the pandemic to make sure they had nice hot meals and to say “thanks.”

Kaur still stays philanthropic, donating meals and food to homeless shelters and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 

And she’s a great neighbor, Port Jefferson Village trustee Rebecca Kassay said. 

As of late, Kaur has taken it upon herself to create welcome bags for residents moving into the newly opened apartment buildings in town. 

“These lovely gift bags full of local vouchers, coupons, gift cards and information about the Port Jefferson business community help to tie new residents into our vibrant community,” Kassay said. “Indu so often weaves people together in the most beautiful ways, and we are endlessly grateful for her thoughtful and inclusive efforts.”

Kassay added that Kaur is a “gift to this community.”

“Between the glowing positivity she emanates, her incredible organizational skills and her generous spirit, it is no wonder that her business and community efforts find deserved success,” the village trustee said. 

Kaur’s sister agreed. 

“She always gives 100% — whether it’s for her friends, family, businesses or community,” Wadhwa said. “There is no one else I can see being any more deserving of this nomination for Person of the Year than Indu.”

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Photo from Kathianne Snaden

The high school prom — a tradition that has been alive for over 55 years — has finally made a comeback after a difficult year of dealing with the pandemic. 

Parents of the Port Jefferson Prom Planning Committee have spent months trying to configure an ideal prom for the students in spite of the continually changing COVID-19 guidelines New York was enforcing.

Although the prom took place at The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station rather than at the high school, the committee was still able to go above and beyond while staying consistent with their selected carnival theme. 

“I feel like this has been a bright light at the end of a long tunnel, and to be able to give the kids and the community a chance to get together to make this happen has just been a gift,” said Kim Muffly, a member of the prom planning committee. “It really has been an incredible experience.” 

Since 1958, Port Jefferson has held their prom at the high school and has been fully orchestrated by the parents who rely on funding from donors and sponsors, as well as countless volunteer hours. 

Each year the prom has a different theme, each one lavishly decorated by the parents to make the students feel fully immersed in their prom experience. The first prom in 1958 was themed “April in Paris” and this year the committee decided on a carnival theme.

Stilt walkers, tarot card readers, jugglers, contortionists, caricature artists, clowns, carnival games, and smokey Moroccan-themed areas with couches were set up inside, and outside the venue. All topped off with a striped carnival tent to make students feel as if they were really at the circus. 

“I tried to think of a theme that would be a little more flexible because we weren’t sure what the COVID restrictions would be like,” Muffly said. “No matter where we had the prom we could keep the carnival theme, even if it was outside in the football field.”

Since a fire damaged in The Meadow Club banquet hall in 2018, inevitably shutting the building down for a few years, the venue has since revamped its space with brand new reconstruction and an elegant design.

According to Kiran Wadhwa, owner of the Meadow Club, the senior prom is just one of a few recent events the venue has taken pleasure in working with. The members of the Port Jefferson prom planning committee and the students were extremely grateful for the venue’s support and welcoming atmosphere. 

“I don’t think I realized what a big deal this was until guests just kept coming up to me consistently saying thank you, thank you, thank you,” Wadhwa said. “I thought it was such a beautiful thing to see how the community really comes together.”

 

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Photo from Joan Nickeson

Shannon Harrington, a senior at Comsewogue High School is the recipient of the 2021 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce $500 Scholarship. 

Shannon impressed the chamber as a volunteer at its 2019 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Summer Concerts. 

She excelled in the Comsewogue School District’s virtual enterprise course this year, which is taught by Anthony Ketterer. 

Shannon is accepted into the honors program in the Haub School of Business of St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, which she will attend in the fall.

Photo and caption from Joan Nickeson