Now Playing

Four of the Many Immigrants Who Make the Bay a Better Place

They help us when we're down, make us laugh, and (literally) spice up our lives.

From left: Rey Faustino, Azalina Eusope, and Abhay Nadkarni and Richard Sarvate.


Read more Best of San Francisco 2017 here.

Azalina Eusope

In Malaysia, Azalina Eusope’s family is street food royalty. She comes from five generations of street vendors, and her father was the most famous laksa cook on her home island of Penang. 

Of course, when Eusope immigrated to San Francisco 15 years ago, no one knew who she was. But she’s no stranger to overcoming challenges. As a Mamak—a Muslim Malaysian of South Indian descent—she faced prejudice even in her home country. Here in her adopted city, Eusope decided to make it her life’s mission to introduce San Franciscans to a cuisine that, even now, is still little known in the city. Azalina’s, her counter-service restaurant in the Twitter building, is her first step toward achieving that goal. There she serves home-cooked dishes specific to her family: the coconut rice that her mother put in a basket on her head to sell from village to village, and the fried chicken with fermented-pineapple dressing that her father would make when his daughter came home to visit. 

For Eusope, there’s a real sense of urgency because she’s the only family member of her generation to take up the family trade. “The food of my people is disappearing,” she says. “I have to tell the story somehow.”

Abhay Nadkarni and Richard Sarvate 

“You know who’s really big in India?” Abhay Nadkarni asks. “Charlie Chaplin. He’s hugely popular.” Nadkarni and Richard Sarvate are talking about the newfound appetite for comedy in India, where they recently finished a 20-show tour. Sarvate nods. “We used to watch Laurel and Hardy all the time,” he says.

Nadkarni, who came to the United States from India in 2005, and Sarvate, whose parents immigrated to San Jose in the ’70s, are among a group of South Asian performers making their names in comedy stateside. Together they operate the thrice-weekly showcase the Setup out of a classic-looking, if cramped, brick-walled room in the Tenderloin called the Beer Basement. In the two-plus years since its launch, the Setup has become a go-to workout room for local up-and-comers and touring pros.

The Setup’s early success has emboldened the pair to expand. In March, they launched their first monthly version of the show in the Three Clubs bar in Hollywood. And from August 10-20, they’ll host the fourth annual Desi Comedy Fest. (Details are still being ironed out for this year’s festival, but expect more than 40 artists to perform at 11 Bay Area locations.)

“Anytime you have a cultural perspective, that’s a good thing,” Sarvate says. “Jewish people have been doing it in America for a long time. Now we’re getting other cultures, which is cool.”

One Degree’s Rey Faustino

A nonprofit startup called One Degree—think of it as Yelp for social services—is fast becoming a resource for Bay Areans in need. Last year, more than 90,000 English and Spanish speakers used it to find everything from affordable housing to healthcare to legal aid. When founder Rey Faustino drafted his business plan in 2011, the concept of nonprofit tech was very new. “People thought I was crazy,” he says. 

Faustino, whose family immigrated illegally from the Philippines to Southern California when he was eight, watched his parents hustle. It often fell to him to find the support the family needed, from immigration help to healthcare (he and his family are now all citizens). “It would have helped us a lot if we knew what resources were available.”

Now five years old, One Degree went through the first Y Combinator nonprofit class and has backing from philanthropic big guns like Tipping Point Community and the Knight Foundation. Since the 2016 election, the site has seen a 400 percent jump in the number of people searching for immigration and legal services. “Now, more than ever, we’re seeing a need,” Faustino says.


Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco.

Have feedback? Email us at
Follow us on Twitter