Dinner with a difference

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to have dinner in a cafe with my friends. However, this dinner was very different from the several dinners I have had in restaurants. How? Read on.

I am talking about Seva Cafe, Ahmedabad. It is a small restaurant that runs on an entirely voluntary basis by an NGO. ‘Atithi devo bhava’ (A guest is God) is the philosophy on which it is run. Volunteers sign up to come and cook food for guests, to serve guests and for the cleaning up as well. There is no fixed daily menu. Whatever the volunteer wishes to prepare, he or she can.

Guests are served by volunteers with a smile on their faces and they are actually made to feel comfortable. Before the food is served, a brief introduction of the concept of Seva Cafe is given. The guest is encouraged to spare a moment to thank everyone whose contribution went into the preparation of the meal- from God and the farmer who harvested the grains and vegetables to the person who cooked it and served it.

The ambience is kind of rural, nice and soothing. There is light, soft music playing in the background.

One of the most striking features of the restaurant is that there is no bill given to the guests. After you finish eating, an envelope with the words ‘Give from your heart’ is handed to you, in which you can put in any amount you want to. If you feel like it, you may not even pay anything at all. The amount that you pay would go into the preparation of someone else’s meal, just as someone contributed for your meal. ‘An experiment in the joy of giving’ – they call it.

The cafe operates from 7 to 10 in the evening on all days except Monday. Food is prepared for roughly 50 people daily. 

Once the operating expenses are met, the balance of income, if any, is used for charity. Even if there is a loss, a certain fixed amount is used for charity every month.

Another striking feature of the cafe is their donation box. There is a large box in which people donate for the purpose of charity, and this box is kept open. You can put money into it and you are free to take money from it. There is nobody to ask you if you do so. If you meet a needy person or are in need of money yourself, you can use the money from the box to help out. ‘Two people are watching you – you, yourself, and the Lord above you,’ the volunteer told us.

Outside the cafe, there is a library of books which have been donated by people over the years. There is a gallery in which paintings and other creative work by budding artists is exhibited. There is a shop selling paper bags, files and other items made by children and people who are not so fortunate as we are. Also, there is a boutique that sells clothes made by underprivileged women and children.

Personally, I felt that the boutique and the shop are a bit overpriced, but Seva Cafe is worth paying a visit to. It soothed me from within. It is a different kind of experience. I am not so sure about the workability of such a concept, though, but would like to go there and volunteer my services some time.

Link: http://www.sevacafe.org/

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19 Comments

Filed under Friendship, Places

19 responses to “Dinner with a difference

  1. I really liked the concept. I have distant memories of my childhood in Ahmedabad, apart from the kankaria lake, and maninagar where we used to stay, only other thing I remember, being a foodie is ofcourse food. The chevdas from a shop near the lake, and the groundnuts..
    But the idea seems to be wonderful.. would have loved to volunteer.

  2. hey i have seen such type of places…
    once in tirupathi..i ate in a place which looked less like a restaurant ..there too the concept was the same.
    we can pay any amount we want ..though i never checked and asked where the money goes …
    🙂

  3. priyaiyer

    @rambler

    that was a fast one! 🙂

    it sure felt good. thinking about volunteering.

    u are from abad? :O :O :O

    @arvind

    oic. this is the first time i went to such a place. 🙂

  4. Great and noble conceptualization…give from your heart-thats touching and so is the way they ask people to thank everyone who has contributed to the food…
    Sathej

  5. priyaiyer

    @sathej

    ya, it was touching indeed….

  6. That was a nice piece of interesting information. But does that mean even beggars on the road have access to the charity money i.e., they can walk in and take how much money ever they need?

    I would like to donate to such causes but every time some person comes knocking on the doors for some charity I become skeptical about his true intentions.

    /but would like to go there and volunteer my services some time/

    er..are you planning to cook food?? I would suggest you staying away from the charity kitchen in itself would be a great service to humanity.

    😉

  7. priyaiyer

    @hari

    “does that mean even beggars on the road have access to the charity money i.e., they can walk in and take how much money ever they need?”

    i honestly don’t know…..

    i am usually skeptical about donating money too, but in this case, i know the money goes to needy people bcos an acquaintance used to work here.

    and yes, i am planning to go there and cook. and i can assure you that nothing would happen to anyone. 🙂 i have been cooking for the past week at home, and so far, every one is happy. 🙂

    was thinking of starting a ‘cooking for dummies’ blog soon. now i think i should start it pretty soon. 🙂

  8. Wow. Very strange. Does the model actually work? I mean, do people actually NOT take advantage of something like this?

  9. Hey Priya: I’ve been to a place (when I visited India last time in May’ 07) exactly like this in Coimbatore, within walking distance from my home. It was splendid and the food was far better than most of the “named” restaurants out there. Wish they had more “open” restaurants like these.. !! 🙂

  10. Hey, nice article. I remember hearing about something similar in the US as well. I am attaching a link from a Time Magazine article that describes the concept. Looks like there are a couple of non-profit organizations that are helping to spread the concept of these restaurants: “So all may eat” and “One world everybody eats”

    Time Magazine story:
    http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1572805,00.html

    http://www.soallmayeat.org/
    http://www.oneworldeverybodyeats.com/

  11. priyaiyer

    @gopinath

    oic. the food here was good as well and the place was also well maintained.

    amen to that wish!! 🙂

    @bpsk

    thanks for the links. ya, seems like a couple of organisations are working for the same cause.

    seva cafe also operates in long beach, california. check out this link:

    http://www.bethecause.org/calendar/event.php?id=4253

  12. What an amazing place! Where exactly is this cafe located?

  13. priyaiyer

    @vinesh

    it is a great concept, indeed. frankly speaking, people do take undue advantage. as per the volunteer, they are having problems. 😦

    btw, welcome here! 🙂

    @rusty neurons

    yep, it is an amazing place indeed. you can find the address in the link. 🙂

  14. I guess this is similar to annalakshmi that operates in many s’pore and malaysia. I think they hav branches elsewhere too. They serve awesome food, (tastes so much like home) and v are encouraged to pay what v feel like. Its operated by volunteers as well.

  15. priyaiyer

    @prithz

    hey! welcome here! 🙂 i love your stories. 🙂

    oh, i didn’t know that! 🙂

  16. well I am not from a’bad, I have lived few years of my life in Rajkot and a’bad, Gujrat born kannadiga 🙂

  17. @rambler

    oh ok. great! 🙂

  18. really amazing! how these people are managing these… i havn’t heard such cafe, here before. Thanks for this post

  19. priyaiyer

    @teky

    my pleasure! 🙂 it is a very soothing place to be in. this is the first time i heard of such a place too. 🙂

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