How a foodie and business promoter in Queens spends his Sunday

How a foodie and business promoter in Queens spends his Sunday

Dirk McCall de Paloma is a serious epicurean, a seeker of spicy and ethnic food, and a passionate connector. For the past two years, he has also been the executive director of the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District, a city-funded nonprofit that promotes Sunnyside, Queens, as a destination.

“I help businesses and empower communities,” said Mr McCall de Paloma, 55, who plans cultural celebrations. “People come to me with problems; I find solutions.”

The foodies in him love that he hosts Taste of Sunnyside Restaurant Week.

He grew up in Georgia, then immigrated to New York in 1991 to attend graduate school in political science at Columbia University. In 1994, he began renting his one-bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens, on the top floor of a four-story building.

“In your 30s, it’s good because you think, ‘This is great exercise. My butt looks great,” he said. “After I turned 40, I realized that I had to live on the first floor. Now that I’m 50, I wish I had an elevator.”

Still, his love of the neighborhood outweighed the grueling climb, which also made him really good at not forgetting anything up there. He lives with his 12-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat, Herbert.

NATURAL INCLINE My body kicks in around 6am and wakes me up. I don’t drink coffee. I’m from Georgia – I drink Diet Coke. People are surprised when I tell them, but it has caffeine. I want the fizzy one too. Then I feed Herbert, who is a big, chubby, vocal boy with an opinion about everything and expects breakfast as soon as he sees me moving.

READING AND MAKING LISTS For the next few hours, I’ll be catching up on news I’ve pulled from the Internet: Joe.My.God, an LGBT news site that I supplement with Politico, The New York Times, and The New York Post. Then I make lists of tasks to do, calls to make, and emails to send. I like lists. You can cross things off and it gives you a sense of accomplishment.

DISTANT HUSBAND I will be using WhatsApp with my husband who is currently stuck in Bucaramanga, Colombia. We do this several times a day. We met in 2019 on Grindr and got married in 2021. When he went to visit his family, Covid was still an issue. And even though travel restrictions were lifted, he had trouble getting permission from US Citizenship and Immigration Services to re-enter. It was terribly lonely without him. He likes to send voicemails so I enjoy them and listen to them throughout the day.

CONNECTION I’m showered and dressed by 10am. Then I get on the Q104 bus on my block, which I take to 49th Street and Queens Boulevard. I walk the first six blocks of Greenpoint Avenue so I can check in with merchants and shop owners and make sure there are no problems—that the streets are properly swept, that the traffic lights work, and that the furniture isn’t damaged. I like to stop at the little specialty shops like Parrot Coffee, which has jams, pickled olives and artichokes, and different kinds of soaps, and Chakra Cafe, which is Turkish. They sell breakfast sandwiches and baklava, which are very tasty.

GROUP ACTIVITIES A big part of my job is planning cultural events for the Sunnyside community. Previous events include celebrating the Day of the Dead, the Sun Pride Parade, and Chuseok, the Korean harvest festival. It is important that communities see themselves reflected in programming and that public spaces help promote local commerce.

CONNECTING WITH FRIENDS I’m usually at lunch until 2. I’m an evangelist for the area. My goal is to bring friends to Astoria from Manhattan or the Bronx who try to have dinner or drinks with me but can’t because everyone is too busy. Brunch is usually easier. People don’t mind traveling on weekends. Astoria gets a bad rap because people think it’s far away. They have not yet discovered its beauty. I usually go to Salvatoria Kitchen and Bar, which is owned by a lesbian couple. Their pupusas are amazing, there’s also The Shady Lady and Fresco’s Grand Cantina.

HUNTING INGREDIENTS I cook a lot, which relaxes me. I love hearty Southern food that reminds me of home. I’m always grocery shopping or looking for interesting ingredients. Last week was the White Bear in Flushing to get frozen dumplings and wontons. This is the biggest hole in the wall. I am now on the hunt for Armenian Cracker Bread, which I researched and found sold at Rego Park.

MAKING CONNECTIONS I coordinate two different groups: Out Astoria, an LGBT social group for Astoria and western Queens that I started with a friend in 2006; and AstoriaCentric, where 20 to 30 people who live in the neighborhood come to a local restaurant. It makes me happy to bring people together. There is a sense of joy that is palpable. When I was single, I used the apps, which isn’t very personal or social, and it made me feel part of something. Now, even though I’m married, I live alone, so a sense of community has become important.

TV devotee I get home at 9. I love RuPaul who has a drag racing empire. I watch all the franchises, but that might cut into my Eurovision time, which I stream on YouTube on my TV. It is a national European songwriting competition between 26 to 40 participating countries. Each song must be three minutes or less. Abba started here and won for the Swedes. Celine Dion got her big break representing Switzerland. This is a great way to find new artists that are unique. I’m obsessed with songs. There’s a song competing in Finland this year that reminds me of the 90’s Eurodance trash I love and lets me relive my glory days. The people I want to win usually don’t.

ROUND NIGHTS Lights out by midnight. My block is particularly strong; so do my neighbors, so I have a white noise machine and soundproof curtains on the window. If I can’t calm my mind, I make notes in a notebook I keep by my bed. If I’m really groggy, I tend to write weird things that I can never read the next day.

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