Priya Trivedi: Finding Freedom & Happiness
Story by Heather DiPrato. Photos by Cindy Fatsis.
Every July, we celebrate America’s independence. Fireworks, barbeques, and quality time with people we love are things we used to take for granted, but the last year has changed a lot. We have come to a deeper appreciation of our freedoms. This month we profile Priya Trivedi, a Wrightstown resident and the gracious host of Guru’s Indian Cuisine on Sycamore Street in Newtown whose story of gaining independence is inspiring.
As a young girl in a small village in India, Priya dreamed of the type of freedom enjoyed by Americans. Once a month her father would splurge on her very favorite food, a loaf of white bread served with butter. The loaf was split amongst her siblings, and each got four slices. “I looked forward to this day every month,” Priya says dreamily. “And you know, to this day, I still love to eat white bread with butter!”
In her village, getting new clothing was also a rare treat. “We had one day a year when we would shop,” says Priya. “On New Year’s Day, we’d get our wardrobe for the upcoming seasons. My entire budget might have been the equivalent of fifty US dollars today. I remember a neighbor girl whose family must have had 10 times our budget. I’d stare at her elaborate attire with envy. But my mom would tell me, ‘Priya, it is not what your clothing costs, it is the pride in which you carry yourself.’ She was right, and I keep this in mind today!”
While Priya had loving parents, life in her village was not easy, especially for young women. “People often tell me what a beautiful country I come from,” says Priya. “They see pictures and imagine a charming life, but for young women, India can be a very difficult place, especially in villages like mine.” Throughout childhood and adolescence, she suffered abuse at the hands of men in positions of authority. “I expected mentors, not abusers,” Priya shares. Although it was a dark time, she persevered, earning her college degree in economics and business while also working full time. She enjoyed learning from her professors and her classmates. Then, when given an opportunity to move to the United States at 22 years old, she jumped at the chance for a new life in a new country.
Priya arrived in the US and moved to Yardley in 2004. Her father had arranged a marriage with a successful Indian man 30 years her senior. It was his third marriage, and he had teenage children. Once here, she realized his goals for the future were not the same as her own. Still, she worked hard to make the marriage work, preparing foods that suited the family’s tastes, while attempting to settle into her new community. While grateful for the opportunity, there were many challenges. “At least I am happy my dad lived to see me get married,” says Priya. “That was so important to him. He died 6 months later.”
Priya had always dreamed of having children, yet tragically, she lost two pregnancies during her first marriage and was later told by doctors she would not be able to bear children. Her first husband, as she learned, did not want more kids. They continued to grow apart, eventually living separately for many years - a marriage in name only.
In spite of these challenges, Priya had a mind for business and threw herself into work, putting her degree into action by opening and managing successful facilities for dentists and doctors. She was earning her own money and enjoying long awaited freedoms like driving and shopping. She began to treat herself to new clothes the way she once fantasized about as a girl. When her mother came for a visit, she offered advice that would prove important years later. “When you buy clothing, you may enjoy it a few times, but never wear it again,” her mom explained. “But when you want to treat yourself, if you invest in gold jewelry, one day when you need it, it will be worth more than when you bought it.” Priya took the advice to heart. '
Although she was doing well professionally, Priya longed for more in life. She began self medicating with alcohol to ease her pain, falling into a deep depression. One night as she walked her two dogs along the train tracks near her home, she began contemplating what the world would be like without her in it. She was not sure anyone would care. But who would take her dogs? “I knew my Labrador would be easy for a local family to adopt,” her voice trails off as she thinks of that bleak time. “But, my gentle giant, my St. Bernard, who would take him? I decided he needed me to live, and so I kept walking.”
She soon came across a sign recruiting volunteers to help open a new dog park in Lower Makefield. If her life did not feel like it had meaning in the moment, maybe she could find purpose by helping others. “I called the number on the flyer for the dog park and met Wendy Simon of Res-Q-Pets,” Priya recalls with a huge smile, her dimples showing. “I immediately connected with her, and she saved me. Helping with the dog park saved me. I found a purpose and it changed the trajectory of my life.” Since getting involved in Res-Q-Pets, she has helped them raise tens of thousands of dollars and adopted 6 fur babies.
In 2007, Priya was invited to a dinner prepared by a new chef at a restaurant that her first husband had invested in. Ashni Kumar Guru was the chef, and Priya remembers the dinner well. “He was, I am not kidding, such a beautiful man,” Priya blushes. “I mean, there is only one other man I’ve looked at and thought this, and that is Bradley Cooper, the actor!” Priya saw him at the restaurant on occasion until 2011 but always kept her crush to herself. Over the years she remembered the handsome chef and wondered if he was married.
In 2014, while out for drinks, a good friend asked if there was anyone special in her life. Priya confessed her longstanding crush, and her friend took it as a sign! By the next day, her friend had learned that Chef Guru was working in NJ, not married or dating and that he would love to see Priya again. “Ashni and I went out that same night,” Priya tells us. "Then we went out again the next night, the next night, and the next. And after about a week of this, we decided it was crazy to keep traveling to meet each other and we should just move in together!” They have been inseparable since. Priya remembers, “When we were first moving in together, we didn’t have enough money for our first and last month’s rent and security deposit, so we ended up sleeping under the stars for a few nights!”
By 2014, Priya had found a man that treated her as an equal. Someone that treasured her and brought her tea in bed each morning. “He did not judge me,” Priya recalls. “I told him in the beginning, as he is a man of faith, that I had lost my faith and did not pray. I expected to push him away. But do you know what he said? ‘Then Priya, I will pray for both of us.’ He is a good man, and he has restored my faith in the goodness of men.”
As romantic as their story is, the couple had their ups and downs over the past 7 years. They struggled to find a home, eventually settling on a beautiful farm in Wrightstown where the neighbors have become like family. They secured an SBA loan to purchase a restaurant (now known as Guru’s Indian Cuisine) in 2018 but didn’t have the cash needed for closing. “We had to come up with $150,000 quickly,” Priya explains. “My mom’s advice was helpful. With the value of gold, I was able to raise $50,000 by selling my jewelry. Then, friends came to our side and provided a loan so we could finalize the purchase of the restaurant!”
The first years as restaurant owners have been a wild ride. Priya says 2019 was the toughest year up to that point. Work was non-stop. She began drinking more often and put on weight. “Then, when Covid hit, I was drinking more than ever,” Priya tells us. “Like, at one point, I was thinking, why not? We will lose all of this, I might as well drink.” Yet as the year went on, Priya and those who loved her began to worry about her health. She had gained nearly 100 pounds and explored bariatric surgery.
In the fall of 2020, a client introduced her to a new doctor. This January, she went forward with the surgery. “Having the procedure saved me in many ways,” Priya explains. ”I had developed unhealthy habits and was exhausted, putting too much stress on my body. Since the surgery, I’ve lost 75 pounds. I have more energy. I’m not drinking, and I just feel much better. It was like a miracle for me.”
Priya is adored by patrons of Guru’s. Her generosity, humor, warmth, and conversation make it a welcoming place for all who visit. She remembers your favorite dishes and, if you give her a chance, will introduce you to your new favorites, too. Priya is always on the lookout for what is next, and recently purchased a food truck called “World of Flavors” which will help connect the community with delicious food at community events and private parties. “I’m hoping to bring dishes from all over the world,” Priya tells us. “Different cultures under one food truck, with a focus on plant-based foods!”
As she looks to the future, Priya is inspired to create a non-profit that helps girls in her home village in India with quality education and a chance at greater independence. “I truly believe we are here to make something better in the world,” Priya explains, “To ensure the next woman does not have to go through the same things. It may be 6 years away, but I want to give these young girls an opportunity for a happy, successful life. To have more freedom and opportunity. I am so blessed to be in America. I want to pay that forward. If I can do this, my life will be complete.”
Priya and her husband live on their farm with her mom, Nirmala, their nephew, Margee, and their 6 rescued dogs (2 others have passed over the rainbow bridge). The couple loves their fur-babies and still dreams of having children together. Although attempts at IVF for 3 years were unsuccessful after a miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies, they are now planning to adopt from India, and hope to share news about children very soon. “Over my life, I have learned that true happiness does not come from physical things, it comes from time together with people you love,” Priya tells us. “Like, for our anniversary this year, Ashni and I celebrated at home with a cauliflower crust pizza from Costco and just played with our dogs. And it was amazing.”
If you’d like to connect with Priya, she’d love to get to know you. Stop by Guru's and say "hello"!