“He who has why to live, can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche
When Anju Kapoor, owner-operator of Mayur restaurant in Corona del Mar, left her comfortable home in India for the U.S., she never dreamed her young life would unfold through myriad unexpected challenges and heartache, nor that she would emerge, like a phoenix, a completely changed woman thanks to her determination and the support of the community.
Anju was born and raised in Delhi, the eldest child and only daughter of a well-to-do family. Her father was a self-made industrialist, well respected in their community. She grew up with maids, cooks and chauffeurs, attending boarding school through high school and college.
“I never worked a day in my life, we had someone who literally did every little thing for us,” says Anju. “My life was expected to be that of a prominent wife and mother.”
Through an arranged marriage, Anju did indeed become the wife of a man named Arun, who came from a renowned restaurant family that owned and operated successful eateries and other businesses throughout the country. They settled in to comfortable domesticity and became the parents of two adorable daughters.
But their charmed life was overshadowed by Arun’s substance abuse, and his family began to encourage them to move to the United States in order for him to work with family members who were running a successful Indian restaurant in Marina del Rey. They hoped the move would help Arun straighten out his life, and provide the discipline and direction he lacked.
Anju and Arun packed up and moved their two young daughters to California. The family also paid to have their cook, Dharam Singh, go with them so that they would have adequate help once they arrived. Arun worked at the restaurant, but his addiction only worsened and Anju feared each day, not knowing how or if he would arrive home. She knew she had to escape to provide a more secure life for her daughters now that they were in America.
But this would prove to be difficult, not only because she had never worked, but because in India, once married, women are no longer considered their parent’s responsibility.
“In India, divorce is not possible, remarrying is absolutely taboo, and it’s always the woman’s fault,” explained Anju.
Her mother had passed away, and she did not want to burden or shame her father.
Though they were close, she says, “I knew I had to come up with a plan to stand on my own feet. I just had no idea how.”
She gathered her strength and left Arun (who eventually died of his addiction), heartbroken that her dreams were shattering around her. Anju’s father suggested that her girls return to India to attend boarding school as she had, to provide them with stability and structure. Though she missed them terribly, knowing they were safe and secure Anju was able to take her first job ever as a secretary. Singh was still working for her, which helped ease the burden, but she struggled to adjust – no longer married, far from her family, living in a foreign country.
“The only thing that got me through those dark days was my belief in a Higher Power and the love and support my Dad always gave me,” says Anju.
In 1984, she became partners with two businessmen, and, with Singh as head chef, they opened Mayur Cuisine of India in Corona del Mar, specializing in the fine cuisine of northern India.
“We had absolutely no idea what we were doing,” Anju says. “We didn’t even know how to properly set the tables! I felt guilty taking people’s money for something that I was so used to giving freely. In India, feeding your guests is expected, and you would certainly never charge them. I just couldn’t get my head around the concept.”
But the community embraced her and Mayur became a Corona del Mar village darling.
Nearly 28 years later, Mayur is one of the most popular and long-standing restaurants in Orange County (and my own personal favorite!). Anju eventually bought out her partners and is now the sole owner. Her daughters moved back to the states, and she even remarried.
Today, she attributes her success to Singh’s lifelong loyalty, the support of the community and especially her staff, who regularly reminded her that she deserved to be happy.
“Before I opened Mayur I was simply existing. But what I’ve learned thanks to the support of the community is how to live.”
Mayur Cuisine of India is at 2931 East Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. For reservations, call 949-675-6622 or mayur-oc.com. Columnist Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. She can be reached through www.LynnSelich.blogspot.com.