Just days before her body was found in her Jersey City apartment early Sunday morning April 26, 2020, chef Garima Kothari sent out an appeal on Facebook asking for donations to keep her restaurant open. She and her husband, Manmohan Mall who was pulled out of the Hudson River shortly after, owned the restaurant Nukkad, in Jersey City.
Kothari’s last Facebook entry on April 19, 2020 at 12:44 in the afternoon in the midst of the growing COVID-19 crisis that has brought many a business to its knees, said the following —
“Yet another tough decision- Nukkad is up & running- even on SUNDAYS now!
I would so appreciate the support of the community at this point of time! Existence in silo is not possible, hence I feel compelled to stay open & support my skeletal staff & be able to pay some fixed expenses (now that small biz fed loans have been lapped up by the Ruths & Shake shacks!!)
I completely understand the need to feel safe & secure when it comes to food- which is why, my staff & I have ensured a complete sanitation of premises & we are following the CDC guidelines of operations.
So, whenever you are feeling like picking up or getting a food delivery, think of Nukkad
I have also introduced a couple of meal packages & Dosa DIY kits, in case you want a fun activity to do at home- make your own Dosas!
Plus, my friends at Jersey City Medical Center are loving the donated meals from Nukkad for their staff! So, please consider donating!
Six days later, she is dead. Several messages before that last one, show she was thinking of creative ways to save the business.
According to the latest statement posted on Facebook April 27, 2020, by the Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, the autopsy by the Regional Medical Examiner showed the cause of Kothari’s death was a result of “multiple upper body injuries and the manner of death has been ruled homicide.”
Additionally, the Medical Examiner determined that Kothari who was found unresponsive in her high rise apartment on Christopher Columbus Drive in Jersey City, was approximately five months pregnant.
The cause and manner of death of Manmohan Mall, age 37, of Jersey City, who was found dead in the Hudson River near Exchange Place, is still pending with the Regional Medical Examiner. Suarez said.
Both husband and wife were highly qualified, as revealed by their social media entries. Kothari had a Pastry Diploma from Le Cordon Blue, Paris (https://www.cordonbleu.edu/paris/garima-kothary-pastry-diploma/en);
Mall was a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, his Facebook page shows. Mall also studied financial engineering at Columbia University. But there are no entries after 2013, and so far little could be found about him, unlike Kothari’s background, of which there was plenty of information on the Web.
According to family members who spoke to the Daily Voice, the couple was talented, dedicated and friendly. On Feb. 3, 2020, Kothari held a Grand Opening for her restaurant, and her post shows the Mayor of Jersey City was to cut the ribbon.
“We planned, executed, modified, planned again, executed again and after many modifications, are introducing our Nukkad once again!” declared Kothari on Jan. 27. “Jersey City, Hoboken & Nyc, please join us as we celebrate a whole new range of menu & a ribbon cutting ceremony by the Mayor on February 3rd- monday at 11 am!”
On the Cordon Blue website (cordonblue.edu), Kothari’s story of how she switched careers from investment banking to become a chef, and the drive she exhibited is unquestionable.
Always experimenting with different foods in the kitchen, Kothari was selected among the Top 15 in the 2010 MasteChef India competition.
After completing her MBA and becoming an investment banker in India Kothari made the life-changing decision that put her through Cordon Blue and then in Florida where she worked several jobs as a pastry cook and event planner.
When she moved to New York City, offers for jobs were plentiful. Eventually she took a job as an events manager at New York University, giving her the opportunity to interact with “big names” in the society, she says, curating multiple events for the Clinton family, Melinda Gates, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cher, Deepak Chopra, and Zakir Hussain.
That gave her the confidence to start her own business, she says. The interview appears to have taken place before she opened her own Nukkad restaurant in Jersey City in Febuary this year.
On March 30, just a few weeks after starting her Nukkad venture, the COVID-19 restrictions forced Kothari to close her establishment.
“As of today, March 30th, I have taken the tough decision of closing Nukkad for the time being. Amongst the many reasons of safety and well being of my employees, the main reason is that Jersey city is right next to NYC and there seems to be no decision of quarantine or lockdown or even stopping of trains from & to NYC!! So its easy for the scared and terrified people who are not getting access to testing/medication to run to other states, carrying a possible covid with them!” Kothari posted.
She went on to say that as a small business owner, she did not know how long she could afford to shut down, “but it is truly heart breaking when corporate giants like Grubhub, UberEATS, DoorDash, refuse point blank to subsidize the 30% commission even during these hard times!!”
She was critical of the government, not clear if that was federal or state, questioning the policies being followed with the advent of COVID-19.
“What kind of economic sense is the government trying to pull during this time?!”
And Kothari praised India’s efforts to meet the coronavirus threat.
“In comparison, a densely populated country like India has been able to pull a complete quarantine- ofcourse with half of resources than the US!!
In a pandemic like this, when the whole world can be seen through the same lens, its easy to see where humanity lies and which country truly is first world and which is “third” world!”
By March 30, when she decided to close Nukkad, Kothari had already tried home delivery from March 23. It had obviously not worked out. But her profile and her postings on Facebook reveal a feisty Indian-American chef who did not give up easily. Her life was unfortunately cut short.
“While it remains at this time that these deaths are the result of a murder-suicide, the final determination is still pending the complete findings of the Regional Medical Examiner’s Office,” Prosecutor Suarez said in her statement.
UPDATED APRIL 27, 2020