PAUSD approves 2021–2024 Local Control Accountability Plan, reorganizes Department of Equity and Student Affairs

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Palo Alto Unified School District approved its 2021–2024 Local Control Accountability Plan, a goal setting and planning tool required for educational agencies in California at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Key highlights of this three-year LCAP include goals for early literacy, equity, additional social-emotional development support, wellness and home-school connection. Specific steps in order to achieve these goals are also outlined, which include training elementary teachers in teaching phonics, expanded summer school programs and providing devices and hotspots to families. 

The plans were initially introduced and given a public hearing at a June 8 board meeting along with district staff’s annual LCAP update for 2019–2020.

Along with the LCAP, Assistant Superintendent Yolanda Conaway announced structural reorganization of the Department of Equity and Student Affairs, which focuses on the experiences of historically underrepresented students in the district.

The department was established by Superintendent Don Austin in 2019, and now plans to reorganize in order to avoid “duplicative efforts around student support.”
“This allows us to look at student services through the lens of equity,” Conaway said. “And it also allows us to really be creative and innovative about some of those initiatives that will be coming out of the department. So in the future, you will be hearing lots about mental health, a lot about attendance.”

Hope’s Corner hosts virtual 5K, ‘Five by Five by Five for Hope’

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND AVNI RAJAGOPAL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Hope’s Corner is hosting its annual 5K event virtually this month, unshaken in its battle against homelessness and economic inequality despite the pandemic’s restrictions. 

The fundraiser centers around a theme of fives: Alongside the 5K itself, participants are asked to donate $5 and recruit five other people to join, hence the name “Five by Five by Five for Hope.”

The event aims at fundraising for the Mountain View–based nonprofit’s key initiatives, which include providing meals, showers and other basic necessities to the community’s homeless and low-income populations — demographics that have grown since the pandemic began. 

Participants are able to complete the 5K through any mode of exercise, including running, skateboarding and even kayaking, later reporting their participation on the Five by Five by Five website. Creativity is certainly encouraged: In last year’s event, one set of participants ran a trail spelling hope, while another rollerbladed backward.

“It’s just a fun kind of thing, and the idea is to recruit other people to do it with you so it becomes kind of a group effort and hopefully takes off and expands from there,” Hope’s Corner Board Member Mike Hacker said.

Last year’s 5K was also virtual, but turnout was less than the group had hoped at around 100 participants, Hacker said. The organizers hope that the extra year of experience and more participation in the event will help them surpass the $10,000–$12,000 that they raised last year, he added.

Run almost entirely by volunteers, Hope’s Corner is able to funnel the vast majority of funds directly into its core programs.

“Virtually all the money goes towards food items, supplies, bicycles, other items like clothing and the like,” said Phil Marcoux, a member of the Hope’s Corner board and a participant in previous events.

But money isn’t the only motivator behind the event. The Five by Five by Five is also part of Hope’s Corner’s effort to build a sense of community for those who have lost their homes. Hacker said the organization hopes to bring together all parts of the community through encouraging an appearance from the Mountain View mayor at last year’s event and having new collaborations with fire and police departments, as well as myriad local businesses.

Before the move online, Hope’s Corner’s 5K began as the Tour de Hope, named after the famed Tour de France. Participants met at the YMCA and competed on stationary bikes, and the event saw high levels of participation.

Following reduced risks of transmitting COVID-19 and laxened restrictions, Hope’s Corner has gradually begun reopening some of the programs it was forced to put on pause, including its showers. But while things have yet to completely return to normalcy, Hope’s Corner is continuing to use events like the 5K to bring awareness and resources to its cause.

“Just the fact that they are doing something healthy is great,” Marcoux said of participants. “And the fact that they’re doing something good for local people in our society, I think, just adds to the rewards. And the excitement as well, you know, it gives them an extra boost of endorphins in what they’re doing.”

Entries for the 5K close on July 5. Register before then at The 5K website.

Tuesday, June 22: This article was updated to more accurately reflect the details of the 5K.

Passion and resilience keeps Books Inc. thriving for more than a century

STORY BY DANA HUCH AND SIDDHANT KANWAR, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY

When Books Inc. founder Anton Roman struck it rich during the Gold Rush, he used his loot to build the chain’s first bookstore and publishing house in Shasta, California. 170 years later, Books Inc. remains the oldest independent bookseller on the West Coast.

But lately, the bookstore has had its fair share of struggles. On March 16, 2020, all businesses received a 24-hour’s notice that they were required to close up shop by the next day for an undetermined amount of time. For most of the two months the shutdown lasted, Books Inc. managers and staff were in the dark, not knowing what lay ahead for the business, their coworkers and themselves.

“There were so many questions and so much anxiety and fear,” Seamer said.

Loyal patrons of Books Inc.’s ten locations around the Bay Area, too, were concerned for the future of their neighborhood bookstores, so they took Books Inc.’s website by storm to fight for the business. Never before had their modest website operation experienced such a flood of book orders. Within the first week of stores closing, Books Inc. needed to expand its website staff of two people to 20 in response to the incredible surprise.

“That’s really one of the main reasons that we were able to keep going,” Seamer said. “All of our customers, because they couldn’t come into our stores, found us online and continued to support us that way.”

With this support, Books Inc. was not only able to stay in business, but also keep the entire staff employed and on health insurance through the lockdown. Seamer said managing through that period of extreme uncertainty has been his proudest work.

Shelves at Books Inc.’s Mountain View location.

Gold and resilience established the bookstore we know today — but mostly resilience. The pandemic was certainly not Books Inc.’s first time overcoming opposition. Transitions in leadership, ruthless corporate competitors and even the earthquake and fires in San Francisco during the early 20th century have all failed to wipe out the little juggernaut.

The outpouring of website support in response to the shutdown reflects how much customers appreciate Books Inc.’s attention to individual communities and their character.

“Each one of our neighborhoods is very unique and we want our bookstores to really reflect that community, carry what that community wants to buy and really be a part of that community,” Seamer said. “So we strive to keep each store very different from the others. There’s no cookie-cutter model.”

The Palo Alto location in the Town and Country Village shopping center, for example, emphasizes books for children due to the family-friendly atmosphere. The store’s staff has a knack for children’s book selections and an entire room is dedicated to children’s and young adult books.

The Mountain View location, on the other hand, has a stronger tech and industry focused selection due to its proximity to the Google campus and other tech companies.

Maintaining collections tailored for locals is part of Books Inc.’s mission to “bring a love of reading in as many ways as we can to as many people as we can,” Seamer said. But letting locations remain independent while maintaining the unity of the company can be a challenge, as providing resources requires centralized organization. Books Inc. relies heavily on the passionate staff of each location to provide feedback and run stores with some curative freedom.

“Bookstores … attract book people,” Seamer said. “The people who work in our stores love books. They love being around books; they love talking about the books they enjoy and hearing from our customers about the books they enjoy.”

Tucked among the spines of books on Books Inc.’s shelves, friendly notes from staff members and children recommend their favorites to perusers. Recommendations are not a one-way street for this unique independent bookstore, with booksellers paying close attention to feedback from customers to make sure that the selection reflects what the community wants to read.

A staff recommendation tucked in a shelf.

Human interaction plays a major role in creating value for brick and mortar stores like Books Inc. When shopping online, no seasoned reader is there to answer a customer’s questions about whether this book is the perfect gift for the niece they see twice a year or recommend a hidden gem based on the customer’s favorite book.

“It’s a place you can come and experience the discovery of something new,” Seamer said. “I think that’s what I love about bookstores, myself, is walking into any bookstore and knowing that somewhere in there there’s going to be something I love that I had never heard of before.”

Books Inc. makes this delight accessible to the community beyond storefronts through their nonprofit efforts and collaborations with local schools. With their book fairs, Books Inc. generates money to donate to local schools by setting up popup bookstores for students and parents. In a normal year, there are about 50 of these events at schools throughout their various locations’ neighborhoods.

Another way Books Inc. extends the love of reading to its communities has been through the esteemed events hosted in their stores.

“We love hosting events from the smallest to the largest,” Seamer said. “There could be one evening I’d be hosting somebody who lives in the neighborhood that self published a book and ten people show up and it’s just a great private party in the store. I love that Books Inc. can provide that. The next night, we do maybe Hilary Clinton and we have 2,000 people lined up around the block.”

During his years as events coordinator of the Books Inc. store on Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco, the two largest events Seamer was involved with both attracted the same size audience of around 2,000 people. The comparable throngs came to meet Hilary Clinton in one case and in the other, a social media sensation, Doug the Pug.

“It was a really fun event,” Seamer said. “I have never seen so many dogs in a bookstore.”

Though the pandemic has inhibited events of this sort for a while, Books Inc. has continued to host well-attended book talks virtually.

“It’s a hard time to look too far ahead right now,” said Seamer. “Who knows what we’ll be able to do a month from now… We do look forward to the time when we can have large events in our stores again.”

As restrictions have eased, Seamer has witnessed the Bookstore Renaissance after the Dark (P)ages. With operations reopening, Books Inc. celebrates their resilience in enduring such a challenge.

“It feels like we can see the other side of it and to have been part of helping lead our company through that while keeping all of our staff employed has just been… I get choked up a little bit thinking about it,” Seamer said. 

After a previous generation of booksellers recovered from a historical natural disaster, Books Inc. seems to once again have surmounted momentous opposition with the pandemic shutdown. Thanks to its resilience and importance to the community, Books Inc. remains a cornerstone of west coast book culture.

“On behalf of all of Books Inc., we just cannot show our appreciation enough for how much support we’ve received from everybody at all of our stores,” Seamer said. “We wouldn’t be here without our customers and without the support they continue to give us.”

From records to books, Linden Tree’s 40-year legacy of creating memories for children across the Bay Area

STORY BY MIA BASSETT AND CEDRIC CHAN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Linden Tree Children’s Books has transported children to a world of storytelling for generations, almost becoming a bona fide rite of passage in Los Altos. But few remember its origins as a record store 40 years ago.

Founded by Dennis and Linda Ronberg in 1981, Linden Tree fulfilled their vision of a children’s music store, operating out of their home in Seattle. When the couple moved back to Ms. Ronberg’s hometown, Los Altos, they decided to take the next step and open a storefront on State St.

Now, a new location and two sets of owners later, the records are gone from the shelves, but the store has maintained its original vision as a resource for Los Altos families.

COMMUNITY

Most Los Altos children grow up browsing the shelves of Linden Tree for new books or sitting in its large, cozy chairs and reading for hours. But the community that Linden Tree has created around a love for sharing stories stretches beyond the borders of its home city.

“People from 20 or 30 miles away will come to our store because that’s the only resource,” Mr. Ronberg said.

Linden Tree has seen generations of children grow up — some have even returned to become employees, said Lisa Blanchette, who has worked at the store since the Ronbergs first opened shop. It’s a testament to the dedication that Linden Tree has inspired in its community, extending beyond just a place to buy books.

Part of the Linden Tree experience, customers and employees said, is having conversations with employees who can tailor suggestions individually.

The exterior of Linden Tree in Downtown Los Altos.

And these recommendations have become friendships too, said Linda Parish, who has been taking her daughter to Linden Tree “since she was chewing on books.” Over her years of visiting the bookstore, Parish said she has gotten to know several of the employees, even texting some on a regular basis.

“I think [the kids] just adore knowing someone in the store, who knows their name and knows their interests and can make recommendations for books,” she said.

“I think that’s really what sets a store like Linden Tree apart, … not just from other bookstores and other retail stores, but it also sets us apart from online shopping,” Saccheri said. “I’ll confess I’ve used Amazon for 20 years and the recommendations are just as bad now as they were 20 years ago.” 

These interactions aren’t just limited to shopping, either. Part of what has kept customers coming back to Linden Tree time and again has been the events — from movie nights to author visits to writing workshops — that the store regularly hosts. 

IMPORTANCE OF BOOKS

Almost three decades after Linden Tree began planting roots in the Los Altos community, the Ronbergs made the decision to move on in 2009 because of Mr. Ronberg’s illness, and sold the store.

The future of Linden Tree was thrown into flux, however, when it went up for sale again in 2019, but found few bidders. Fortunately for the store, former LinkedIn employee and local parent Chris Saccheri and his wife Anne, who visited frequently with their daughter, weren’t quite ready to let one of the last independent bookstores left in the Bay Area die out, Saccheri said.

“I feel like everybody has a moment [where] you hear that something you love like a business is in trouble and you’re like, ‘What if I got together some friends and we bought that,’ but nobody ever does it,” he said.

Determined to break that trend, Saccheri reached out to his former LinkedIn coworker Flo Grosskurth, and together they purchased Linden Tree, stepping from tech industry into literature. 

“I think our first goal primarily was just keep it in business and prove to ourselves — and to the world around us — that a small, independent bookstore can still be profitable and can survive in the age of Amazon and online shopping,” Saccheri said.

Their vision, Saccheri said, is to get children excited about reading and revive Linden Tree’s community through its events.

“The community is kind of depending on you to carry this thing forward … and you want to live up to that standard [the previous owners set] for great service and a fantastic, welcoming environment for kids to come in and get excited about books and reading,” Saccheri said. “It was definitely scary — it’s still kind of scary — but I think the best things are a little bit scary, right? That’s where the fun is.” 

It’s been a difficult undertaking as a children’s bookstore, which Saccheri described as a “niche within niche,” but it’s also helped keep business alive for Linden Tree by attracting customers from faraway cities.

Shopping for books in person — or perhaps just hanging around the store — is an irreplaceable experience, defying increased accessibility to digital books, Blanchette said.

“A lot of children … are growing up with so much screen exposure, and a book is a way to not encourage so much time in front of a screen,” Ms. Ronberg said. “When ebooks started to happen, the demise of the physical book was predicted. And it’s just not the same, holding a book, the way a book smells, the turning the page yourself.”

PANDEMIC

By early 2020, Grosskurth and Saccheri had finally started learning the ropes of the store, and in around March, they hosted their first Linden Tree book fair. A raging success, it left the two optimistic about Linden Tree’s future in the community, Saccheri said. 

Then they were struck by COVID-19. 

“I remember very distinctly driving home from that book fair and being like, ‘I think we’re finally getting it. Like, things are starting to click,’” Saccheri said. “I was so optimistic on that drive home, and then a week later we had to close the doors completely.”

The pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the bookstore, which had only dabbled in the online retail market. Despite having an online inventory and purchasing system, Linden Tree only attracted a couple online orders a month, at most.

The interior of Linden Tree in Downtown Los Altos.

Fortunately for the store, its loyal customer base transitioned to online shopping as quickly as Linden Tree closed its doors, and online orders skyrocketed. But without any robust infrastructure to handle the orders, Grosskurth and Saccheri took a traditional approach: doing things by hand.

With each drop-off, employees would load up their trunks with up to a dozen bags of books and drive them to customers’ houses. Saccheri said that for him, it became an opportunity to get to know new parts of the community that loved Linden Tree so dearly.

“Los Altos is sneakily big,” he remarked with a laugh.

Purely online operations remained in effect for three months, until easing restrictions allowed gradual steps back to normalcy. Recently, Linden Tree has been able to start hosting the book readings and other events that have made it so beloved by children in Los Altos.

“It was fantastic, being able to see the kids get excited and react to those readings, and it was really fun for the authors too,” Saccheri said. “It was [a couple of the authors’] first times actually getting to read their books face to face with children, seeing their reactions as they read. And that’s what it’s all about.”

These in-person events put on by Chris and Flo are carrying on founders Dennis and Linda’s original vision for the store as a community-building resource for Los Altos families. 

“They’re young and enthusiastic, and they’ve done an amazing job keeping it going and really making it a wonderful store again,” Ms. Ronberg said.

Con una subvención estatal, MVLA busca incrementar el apoyo para los estudiantes

ARTICULO DE TOMOKI CHIEN, FOTO DE EMILY MCNALLY, TRADUCCIÓN DE RODRIGO SEPÚLVEDA SAGASETA 

Esta historia fue escrita y reportada originalmente en inglés. Todas las citas son traducciones.

Click here to view the original article in English.

Con fondos de la Beca de Oportunidades de Aprendizaje Expandido del estado de California, el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Mountain View–Los Altos buscará reforzar el apoyo académico y socioemocional para los estudiantes

Una gran parte de los fondos se usará para apoyar la recuperación académica de los estudiantes con falta de créditos y para el desarrollo profesional de los maestros.

El 1 de junio, el consejo del distrito aprobó un plan de gastos de $2,520,000, el cual presentarán al estado. Este plan incluye una asignación general del dinero, dejando los detalles para después; La superintendente adjunta de servicios educativos, Teri Faught, dijo en la junta de consejo que eso era lo que esperaba el estado, debido al poco tiempo que tuvieron. 

La subvención, que comienza este verano y dura hasta el verano de 2022, es parte de un paquete de ayuda estatal de COVID-19 destinado a ayudar a las escuelas a recuperarse de los efectos de la pandemia y hacer la transición al nuevo año escolar. 

Además de ofrecer oportunidades de escuela de verano para los estudiantes que necesiten recuperar créditos para cumplir con los requisitos de graduación, el distrito también ofrecerá “academias de verano” para estudiantes en el programa de AVID. 

“Es para los estudiantes que están [en] AVID, para traerlos al campus para desarrollar su habilidades para leer y escribir, desarrollar su comunicación y sus habilidades y confianza”, dijo Faught en la junta de consejo.

Faught dijo que este año, las academias de verano trabajarán con los estudiantes entrantes de AVID para darles más conocimiento. Las academias tendrán un componente centrado en las matemáticas, para apoyar a los estudiantes que han sido identificados por las escuelas intermedias que actualmente tienen dificultades en matemáticas.

El plan describe una serie de otros apoyos planeados para los estudiantes que lo necesitan, el cual incluye ofrecer un horario extendido de la biblioteca para permitir tiempo adicional para que los estudiantes trabajen bajo supervisión o con un tutor; un programa de recuperación de créditos en línea; y clases de apoyo según la necesidad.

Los fondos también se irán a entrenar a los maestros para “involucrar a los estudiantes y sus familias en el tratamiento de la salud socioemocional de los estudiantes” y construir comunidades de aprendizaje después de la pandemia.

El distrito también ampliará sus servicios con el Community Health Awareness Council.

Paly, Gunn to welcome three new assistant principals

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Palo Alto and Gunn high schools are set to welcome three new assistant principals next year, which include Paly science teacher Erik Olah; San Jose Unified School District Assistant Principal LaDonna Butler; and Gunn Education Specialist Courtney Carlomagno.

Assistant principals at the high school level are responsible for providing leadership in curriculum, instruction guidance, facilities management and support services. The appointments were approved at a May 11 board meeting, and will become effective July 1.

Olah has worked for the district since 2008, and currently holds the positions of teacher, science instructional lead and Western Association of Schools and Colleges teacher on special assignment. Butler — a high school assistant principal at San Jose Unified and high school teacher of 13 years — will also take on the position of assistant principal at Paly. 

Gunn has appointed Carlomagno to one of its four assistant principal positions. Carlomagno’s decade-long career in the district began as an instructional aide in the school’s special education program, where she “fell in love with working with high school students” before receiving credentials to become a teacher. 

“As a teacher at Gunn, I became very involved,” Carlomagno said in an interview. “Even though I was in special ed, I was very much interested in what we could do for the whole student body to better support them.”

Carlomagno is interested in the issue of equity in Palo Alto Unified schools, and has worked on projects from helping form a student equity committee at Gunn to working with both district and city officials in creating the Palo Alto Equity Challenge. 

“What I’m hoping to do as a formal member of the admin team is I really want to bring all the lenses I have from all my experience … [and] make sure that when we are making plans and making decisions for students and staff, that we’re taking into account all the different types of experiences here and really making sure everything is accessible for every student,” Carlomagno said.

At the time of publication, the Post was unable to reach Olah and Butler for comment.

With state grant, MVLA seeks to boost supports for targeted students

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Haz click aqui para ver el articulo en Español.

The Mountain View–Los Altos Unified School District is seeking to boost academic and social-emotional support for students with funds from the state’s Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant. 

Much of the funds are set to be put toward supporting academic recovery for credit-deficient students and providing professional development for teachers.

The board of trustees on June 1 approved the $2,520,000 expenditure plan for submission to the state, which outlines the district’s planned money allocation in broad strokes, leaving the specifics for later; Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught at the board meeting said that was what the state expected, given the quick turnaround time for the application.

The one-time grant — which starts this summer and lasts through the summer of 2022 — is part of a state COVID-19 relief package meant to help schools recover from the effects of the pandemic and transition into the new school year.

In addition to offering summer school opportunities for students needing to recover credits to meet graduation requirements, the district will also offer “summer academies” for students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program.

“It’s for students who are [in] AVID, to bring them onto campus to build their literacy, to build their communication and their skills and confidence,” Faught said at the board meeting.

Faught said that this year, the summer academies will work with incoming AVID students to give the “lay of the land.” Academies will have a math-focused component, to support students who have been identified by the district’s partner middle schools to be currently struggling in math.

The plan outlines a number of other planned supports for targeted students, which include offering after school library hours to support extended time for students to work on academics under supervision or with a tutor; an online credit recovery program; and providing support classes based on need. 

Funds will also go toward training teachers to “engage students and families in addressing students’ social emotional health,” and building learning communities after the pandemic.

The district will also expand its services with the Community Health Awareness Council.

INdGO: Simple yet delicious Indian to-go food to satisfy everyone

STORY BY RODRIGO SEPULVEDA SAGASETA, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Gurinder Singh was stumped. The pandemic had crippled his Modesto banquet hall’s business, canceling all his bookings and making the 9,000 square foot operation far too costly to maintain — and the end of the pandemic was nowhere in sight. He had to shut it down.

So Singh found his life at a standstill. Should he take a break? Should he visit friends in Canada, Malaysia and Australia? Those questions ultimately went undecided, but it eventually became clear to him that he could no longer sit around at home: And the vision for INdGO was born.

Simple yet delicious Indian to-go food to satisfy everyone from an avid Indian food eater to a curious person hoping to start exploring the magic and flavor of the cuisine. Singh personally prepares and cooks this food to perfection, but also underwent the struggle of attracting people to his relatively unknown restaurant.

While INdGO — the name of which stands for Indian To-Go — radiates simplicity, Singh’s journey in opening the restaurant has been much more complicated.

Founded in the middle of a pandemic, INdGO is one among many restaurants and small businesses trying to survive the likes of few clients, rising prices and staff shortages, until things can fully reopen and people come back. 

INdGO boasts a classic menu with a few special add-ons including the likes of butter chicken, mushroom makhani, and for those wanting something simpler, fire-grilled salmon in a delicious coconut and onion sauce. 

Singh is pictured in his kitchen.

All his dishes are inspired by the journey and barriers he had to break early on. Having grown up in India, he said his parents expected him to become a doctor or engineer — but he wanted to be none of the above. 

Frantically, his parents sent him off to culinary school in Switzerland in hopes that he would find success there.

Initially, he was able to take advantage of Europe’s low drinking age and manage the school’s bar, but he quickly developed a passion for cooking. But he struggled with European cuisine, as it consists of much less seasoning than the food he was accustomed to, or as Singh described it, a mix of only “salt and black pepper.” To the disapproval of his professor, he would sneak seasonings like chili powder into his dishes.

With his newfound passion for cooking, Singh traveled around the world to destinations like California, Australia and India to share his culinary talents before ultimately settling down and opening up his own banquet hall near Modesto. It took Singh nine months to remodel and remake the place with many menu items; a stark contrast to INdGO. Although business was slow at first, Singh said he was fully booked for 2020. 

“But then the pandemic hit, and parties started canceling,” Singh said. “And then, I just said to myself, ‘I don’t know how long it’s gonna last,’ so [I] just [tried] to get rid of the place, because it’s a huge space and it [was] gonna cost more to maintain [it].”

But moving on wouldn’t be so easy, as Singh struggled to decide what to do next. 

Eventually, while visiting Mountain View, he found a small space that would fit his vision of a simple Indian restaurant — although the journey of INdGo would be anything but simple. 

Only a few weeks into running his new restaurant, Singh contracted COVID-19, and was forced to temporarily shut INdGO down. Luckily, only getting a mild case, Singh was eager to get back to his restaurant after his 14 day quarantine. Although getting back to work wasn’t as easy as he expected.

“My body would start hurting. I would work for 10 minutes and be out of breath,” Singh said.

Singh soon encountered other struggles like slow business, staff shortages and rising ingredient prices. He said that the staffing shortage has required him to “wear all kinds of hats,” from cooking and washing dishes to fixing broken machines. 

But Singh, who himself knew of the complexities of opening a restaurant, blames no one but himself for the rocky start. With critics often questioning if Singh was “crazy” for opening a restaurant mid-pandemic, Singh confidently responds, “I am crazy, yes.” 

Hopefully, INdGO isn’t one of the many businesses Singh predicts will have to close doors in the following months, and Singh will be able to continue spreading his charismatic and outgoing personality through his cooking.

“What are you going to do?” Singh said.“[Even] before COVID, this was a tough business. Now it will take some time to get [people] back.” 

“COVID has to disappear altogether. The prices of food have to come down and the employees have to come back,” Singh said. “That’s when we can get back to normal.”

INdGO is a take-out only business due to its limited space, but patrons can call at (650) 386-1725 or order online Tuesday–Sunday from 11:30 am–3pm and 4:20 pm–8:30pm on DoorDash or at https://www.in-d-go.com/.

Carly Heltzel contributed to the reporting on this story.

Paly junior explores cultural identity through poetry

STORY BY JONAS PAO AND MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Most students probably view the poetry unit in English class as just another midday nap opportunity. But while her classmates were dozing off, this is where Jasmine Kapadia fell in love with poetry as a first grader — and since then, her poems and slam poetry performances have attracted audiences ranging from fellow Palo Alto High School students to Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Yousafzai was one of numerous influential leaders who nominated one individual they were inspired by on an Asian American Pacific Islander Inspiration List created by “Good Morning America” — and she chose Kapadia.

The Paly junior said she feels that slam poetry, a type of poetry that is composed for live performance, has given her the creative freedom to explore her favorite themes of what it means to be Asian American and allows poets like her to be “angrier” with language.

“The very first slam poem that I wrote was about this grappling between cultures and figuring out where I landed,” Kapadia said. “Since then, I’ve become much more comfortable in my culture with directly doing very Asian cultural things, whether that’s just straight up going into Mandarin in the middle of a poem, or whether it’s more subtle.”

Coming from a mixed Indian and Chinese background, Kapadia most often incorporates her unique cultural identity into her poetic work. Considering that not all of her readers relate to these experiences, she strives to avoid exaggerating their weight.

“It can be a fine line to walk between feeling like you are playing up the diaspora experience or playing up the Asian American experience, and being true to you,” Kapadia said. “Something I’ve had to figure out is, how much do I want to portray the Asian American experience? And how can I portray it without sort of commodifying trauma?”

Kapadia’s poem, “photograph of my 奶奶 in her youth,” that won a gold medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, is a perfect example of how she has woven her Asian American background within her poems.

The poem was inspired by a photograph of Kapadia’s 奶奶 (grandmother) in her Taiwanese home.

“I was able to tell a beautiful experience about someone that I really, really admire, but also represent my culture,” she said.

Kapadia submitted this poem and many others to a plethora of literary magazines, but despite all her success in doing so, Kapadia said she’s careful not to give in to the competitive nature of writing submissions.

“A lot of teen writers call it ‘the teen writing industrial complex’ because it’s set up on contests and publication,” Kapadia said. “Whenever I publish, there is a sense of that feeling like, ‘Oh, I want to get the next publication. I want to get even more,’ and it’s hard to not compare yourself to other authors’ bios.”

To help her escape these feelings, Kapadia often talks with many of her friends in teen poetry communities that she is active in. Kapadia said that the community is able to “comfort” her through the hardships of being involved with poetry.

Kapadia and other poets who are part of these poetry communities often had to learn about poetry through their own personal endeavors. 

As a contemporary poet, Kapadia advocates for the “modernization” of public schools’ creative writing curriculum — she said that reading poetry written by predominantly white authors held her back from realizing her personal literary style.

“We need to be teaching literary magazines, we need to be teaching slam poets,” Kapadia said. “There are so many amazing poets out there that may not be household names, but have words that are so beautiful and really need to be taught.”

Kapadia was lucky enough to find literary magazines and a diverse set of poets through her personal adventures through poetry and said she feels that poetry must be “for everyone,” and that everyone, including her, has a valid voice that is worth listening to. 

“I came into more of a personal style,” Kapadia said. “Just in understanding that, as an Asian American, my experiences are worth reading about and that I have value in poetry as well.”

Aurum and authenticity: Modern Indian restaurant strives to bring hidden gems of Indian cuisine to the mainstream

STORY BY NATALIE ARBATMAN AND AVNI RAJAGOPAL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

No restaurant displays what the gold standard of authenticity can be more than Aurum. With a name literally meaning gold in Latin, the modern Indian establishment in Downtown Los Altos strives to showcase Indian cuisine just as pure as its namesake.

Aurum was founded in December 2020 by owner Anupam Bhatia and chef Manish Tyagi, who, according to Tyagi, see themselves as “ambassadors to Indian cuisine.” They use modern adaptations of classic dishes to deviate from the standard, popular and sometimes “incomplete” portrayal of Indian cuisine found on most Indian menus.

“The Indian restaurant scene is pretty backward because it’s a very stereotyped menu,” Tyagi said. “That’s where Aurum pitched in and tried to break that boundary.” 

In addition to authenticity, Aurum emphasizes the importance of presenting its dishes in a visually appealing manner.

“People eat with their eyes, so the food has to look appetizing,” Bhatia said. “Presentation is such an important part of your whole dining experience.”

A popular dish of Aurum, the creatively titled Mr. Potato Chaat, exemplifies that quality of presentation in a modern twist on the popular Indian snack. Going against tradition, the potato is spiralized, but accompanied by the usual yogurts, chutneys and spices. 

Working to craft a menu with dishes like this chaat in mind, each option is crafted and heavily tested before it is permanently added to the menu. For this, Aurum trusts its customers.

“[Guest] feedback is so important, and that’s how we try to change and adapt to what the local client wants,” Bhatia said. “Positive criticism is one of the most important things you can have in your life.”

From his personal experience, Bhatia believes that adapting to your environment and understanding your clientele’s needs is an uncompromisable aspect of success. Bhatia took these needs into consideration when he was scouting a location for the new restaurant. 

“[The Bay Area] has a loyal customer base,” Bhatia said. “I looked at Los Altos and people love Indian food. There’s a lot of diversity of population we have here.”

To serve this population authentic Indian cuisine, Bhatia partnered with chef Tyagi, who’s been in the industry for 20 years, and has worked at several restaurants. He met Bhatia at the chain Amber India, where they became professional acquaintances as well as good friends.

Described by Bhatia as a “damn professional,” Tyagi said his life has been filled with cooking. From a young age, he said he helped his family in preparing food for guests.

“I belong to a very ‘foodie’ family,” Tyagi said. “My mom is an excellent cook, and my dad is a very passionate cook.”

Tyagi graduated from university with a degree in hospitality and he said his journey toward a cooking career wasn’t easy. Many times, Tyagi said the overwhelming workload and “cutthroat” nature made him want to give up.

But Tyagi’s perseverance eventually led him to compete in the cooking game show BeatBobbyFlay, where contestants compete against Master Chef Bobby Flay and a panel of renowned cooks judges their meals. He advanced to the final round, where, using the same creativity and experimentation he now applies at Aurum, he snagged the win.

“I put my own perspective on a traditional dish,” Tyagi said.“I created the Saag Paneer Lasagna there. Chef Bobby Flay was making the traditional style of an Indian dish, and I was making a non-traditional style… [but my] flavor profile was very Indian, and that’s where he was lacking.”

The success of his dishes on the show influenced the modern yet authentic flavors Aurum strives to serve.

Tyagi, who runs the kitchen and “back of the house,” works closely with Bhatia, for whom hospitality is a priority. 

Bhatia’s savvy comes from his 26 years in the restaurant industry, and although like Tyagi, he struggled with the demands of the career at first, he said that the sense of improvement was inspiring.

“Your sense of learning every day, sense of achieving something every day, your motivation towards making the business successful … and your zeal and enthusiasm just keeps you [working],” Bhatia said.

He started his first restaurant, Broadway Masala, in 2013, and one year later founded Spice Affair. Bhatia’s knowledge and experience in the industry assisted him in planning for the restaurants’ survival through the pandemic.

“During the pandemic, opening the restaurant was a huge risk, but I would say it was a calculated one,” Bhatia said. “The confidence was that the product was good, and the offerings were good.”

Bhatia carefully engineered every detail of a takeout-only menu with Tyagi, making sure the items were optimal to be enjoyed at home.

Bhatia asked Tyagi to work with him on Aurum after August 1 Five — the restaurant Tyagi was working at — closed due to the pandemic. The pair had faith in their vision and worked together to create a menu with dishes specifically created to stay fresh, reheat effectively and travel well.

Starting out with only this take-out menu, the restaurant quickly attracted customers. The positive responses in the first several months were at times overwhelming, but encouraging, Bhatia said.

When the state allowed indoor and outdoor dining, they began to expand their menu, focusing more on the presentation of the dishes. Aurum facilitates a positive customer experience through their colorful interiors and casual atmosphere.

Aurum’s colorful interior.

“While the restaurant didn’t want to get into a white-tablecloth, very fine dining restaurant, we also didn’t want to get into a run-of-the-mill restaurant,” Bhatia said. “We wanted to be upscale; we wanted it to be colorful; we wanted it to be fun.”

With humorously named dishes, mural-covered walls, and close customer relationships, the atmosphere reflects Aurum’s driving principle of bringing people joy through Indian cuisine.

“Feeding people is one of the best feelings you can get,” Bhatia said.