When life gave chef Lisa Costa lemons in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, she started a bakery out of her home kitchen in Queens and made lemon-blueberry scones.
The pastry purveyor was part of a flurry of New Yorkers who spent lockdown cooking in their residences — some of whom have emerged from the pandemic with successful food businesses.
Now, as the Big Apple reopens, here’s how these entrepreneurs are continuing to provide quality nourishment, as well as much-needed hope by dedicating sizable portions of their earnings to charity.
Currying flavor for her neighbors
For Nupur Arora, feeding her fellow Rego Park residents healthy Indian fare during the pandemic helped her survive the ills of the outbreak.
“Making people happy through food gave me the will to carry on through these difficult times,” Arora, 48, told The Post
A native of New Delhi, Arora began preparing, selling and personally delivering plant-based delicacies of her homeland to her neighbors in Queens last May.
After making them some traditional Indian favorites — such as the celebrated kidney bean curry, rajma masala, and the hearty split lentil dish, chana dal palak — she found herself flooded with requests for her homestyle vegan cooking.
“Once friends put my food on Facebook, people from all over the city began reaching out to me on social media for meals,” the fashion designer-turned-chef said.
Arora named her cooking services Queens Curry Kitchen, and it feeds a hungry clientele from her borough as well as Manhattan and Long Island.
She now single-handedly whips up her recipes from the kitchen of her husband’s restaurant during off-peak hours, and safely delivers the entrees, sides and handmade roti bread to each customer’s doorstep.
Orders for her weekly meal platters, ranging from $45 to $80, roll in on a regular basis via phone, email and social-media direct messaging.
Arora hopes to one day transform her food-delivery services into a catering company.
“Running the Queens Curry Kitchen is a labor of love because I believe helping others is the greatest act of kindness,” the cultural cook said.
She recently donated 100 percent of her weekly proceeds towards COVID-19 relief in India.
“Helping people heal through wholesome food after the year we just had means everything to me.”
Making some dough for a change
When Lisa Costa was laid off from her job at Planned Parenthood at the onset of the outbreak, she didn’t know what to do.
“I was really lost,” Costa, 34, told The Post. “So I just started baking to keep my spirits up.”
With a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and nearly a decade of experience as a professional pastry chef, Costa started the Peace, Love & Dough bakery from her home kitchen in Queens last September.
“People can’t get enough of my morning buns,” she said of the buttery brioche with layers of caramelized cinnamon and sugar.
“Baking them can be labor-intensive, but I love doing it because they make people happy.”
Customers place their orders for Costa’s assortment of buns, sourdough focaccia, croissants and brown-butter chocolate chip cookies via weekly order forms at PeaceLoveAndDough.com.
She and her dad, Gus, deliver the baked goods to clients near her Rego Park home, and offer pick-up service options for foodies in other parts of the city.
Her sweet treats cost between $2 to $12 each. And she donates a percentage of the proceeds to charities fighting hunger such as Together We Can Community Resource Inc., Heart of Dinner and the Okra Project.
“It’s an honor to make good food that people look forward to enjoying,” Costa said.
“Even though losing my job sucked, it’s kind of cool that I found my true calling in the middle of a pandemic.”
Raising the bar for social justice
Bartenders and buddies Blake Walker and Sean Johnson spent lockdown developing recipes for their organic liquor line, Day and Night Cocktails, from their neighboring apartments in Bushwick.
“We wanted to create a unique cocktail that brought people comfort in the middle of chaos,” Walker, 35, told The Post.
Last May, the seasoned mixologists formulated a menu of herbal scaffas — cocktails served at room temperature without ice or dilution — for New Yorkers to enjoy as either daytime delights or evening nightcaps.
“Our ‘Day’ beverages are bright and highlighted by fruity vegetal flavors like lavender and grapefruit,” Walker said. “And our ‘Night’ drinks are richer with spicy herb-driven tastes from ingredients like chicory root and red bell pepper.”
When New York officials passed the bill allowing establishments to offer booze for take-out or delivery last March, Walker and Johnson began making and selling their special blends out of a bar named Subject on the Lower East Side.
There, cocktail connoisseurs can buy their herbal hooch for takeout at prices ranging from $25 to $135.
Not only did the business help Walker and Johnson remain financially stable during quarantine, it enabled them to donate a chunk of their revenue to foundations aimed at ending the virus, food insecurity and social injustice.
And as city authorities continue lifting restrictions on restaurants and bars, the duo plans to continue making their creative to-go libations for their growing clientele.
“During lockdown, people developed some really beautiful rituals for drinking cocktails at home,” Johnson said.
“Even though restaurants and bars have reopened,” Walker added, “people are still going to want to enjoy staying in with their loved ones and sharing our cocktails.”