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Story About Karma Kitchen

Karma Kitchen, a Bay Area human service program, offers a creative approach to helping the community by gifting meals in the hope that consumers will pass on the generosity.

“Typically we get 70 to 120 customers,” said Neil Patel, a returning volunteer.

The idea is that each customer who enjoys a meal receives their meal for free and can chose to ‘pay it forward’ by making a donation, thus paying for the meal of the next customer.

The philosophy of paying it forward, or doing a nice deed for a stranger, is the main focus of Karma Kitchen.  Hence the name Karma.

"I love that every Sunday morning, a group of strangers comes together,” said Jessica Eng, a student from UC Berkeley and a veteran volunteer of Karma Kitchen.  “Why can't the rest of the world work like Karma Kitchen?"

Karma Kitchen is different from other volunteer organizations. 

While most volunteer organizations operate by fundraising or attaining state money, Karma Kitchen runs solely on the generosity of the customers and their volunteer staff.

Open every Sunday from 11 to 2:30, Karma Kitchen offers a full gourmet menu of traditional Indian cuisine, provided by the Taste of Himalayas restaurant in Berkeley, at no cost to the community.

Taste of Himalayas owner Rajen Thappa is more than willing to donate his business for a few hours every Sunday for the good cause.

“My life has been gifted and by donating my restaurant,” said Thappa.  “I saw it as the best way to give something back.”

The restaurant staff cooks the meal and the volunteers plate and serve the food.

"The people are all laid back, ego-free, and willing to give their best effort,” said Jeremy Ideus, a first time volunteer. “You immediately see the results of your good deeds.”

Karma Kitchen first came to life back in March of 2007 and has since grown in popularity.  The kitchen is even holding strong against the dark cloud called the recession.

“The recession hasn’t hurt us too much,” said Tom Spellman, head of organizing the volunteers for the Sunday brunch.  “Our funding is self-contained. We accept offerings for the food we serve and it goes to pay for rent and ingredients for the following week.”

Karma Kitchen thrives and survives because of the people volunteering their time, skills, and energy each Sunday the kitchen’s open.

Berkely’s is one of two Karma Kitchens, the first located in Washington D.C.  The organization is currently anticipating the opening of its newest Kitchen, coming soon to Chicago.

--A volunteer on Jun 2, 2010

Karma Kitchen in The Washington Post and on BBC World News (Radio)

Karma Kitchen in DC has been featured recently in The Washington Post and on BBC World Radio. Check it out here:

--Aparna Kothary on May 28, 2010

May 16th in Berkeley

The KK crew dedicated Sunday, May 16 to a day of "discovery."  And so it was for one of the patrons who left a card on the table explaining that they were in Berkeley "in anticipation of moving here this fall, so Karma Kitchen helped us discover why we are making this town our home."  The guests of Karma Kitchen seemed to have their own theme of the day as several of them left cards expressing how a sense of discovery helps you remain open, and how remaining open keeps you out of comfort zones. 
Good advice as the crew assembled for a moment of silence.  There were only nine of us because a few volunteers failed to show, so we were definitely going to operate outside a "comfort zone."
The day sailed by, busy with many wonderful encounters for all.  Who would expect anything less with maitre'd extrarodinaire Dipa greeting everyone at the door with a big, warm, "Hi!"  As interface, I could see the faces light up with just that simple, warm welcome.  Dipa never seemed to lose her rhythm throughout the day and was gracious and warm with everyone who came in.  Her encounter with a couple that seemed to enter with more of a "give me" attitude than one of generosity was beautiful.  The couple sat down and seemed to be arguing, but the collective spirit of generosity of all the other guests and the volunteers just overwhelmed any of the negative vibes. 
Ryan was our rookie server, but you'd never know it from the way he glided among the tables and engaged the guests.  He worked in a completely relaxed spirit, and you could tell that the guests responded to that spirit.  Victoria and Sanjeev, both veterans in other roles, were the other first-time servers.  Victoria had the sometimes challenging open table section, where random folks sit together and keeping track of orders can be difficult. But she was right on everything, noticing any mistake in any of the orders and keeping things flowing.  She was a total prol.  And Sanjeev was brightening a lot of faces with his humble and kind manner, never missing anything going on around him (and even managing to check Cricket scores once and a while on his IPAD!).
Jessica and Yvette were doing the plating and worked like a well-oiled machine. They were totally organized, never losing track of any of the orders.  And they were super good in maintaining communication with the Interface (that would be me) as soon as orders were ready.  And something easy to overlook: the plates looked beautiful thanks to their careful handling of the food.  
Steve must have set a record back in the dishwashing area because we never ran out of anything.  He was cool, calm and collected, doing a totally Pro job back there.  And we all bow in gratitude to Bill for rescuing us.  Bill came in for a meal and quickly jumped into the back to help wherever needed. And we needed him.  
Many thanks to all of you for another chapter in the "experiment" of Karma Kitchen. 

--Paul on May 18, 2010

Guest Reflections on Unconditional Love


Conditional Love is expecting while giving.  Unconditional love is giving and enjoying the feeling of giving...the exhilaration of the experience!!!

Unconditional love: Family's love is unconditional love; nature's land is unconditional generosity, Vikram's service is unconditional love!

Karma Kitchen is a solid example of unconditional love.  But the volunteers are the epic.  We need our society to add unconditional love to save the environment crusade.

Having lunch at Karma Kitchen made my very special 'Mother's Day' even more special!  What better place to experience unconditional love can there be?  It must be my good karma!

The only resource that will never be in dearth is unconditional love.  It can come in the smallest forms from a smile to a hand squeeze to that spark of hope in someone's eye, to the meal paid by the person before you.

The sound of your voice  
The sirens of an ambulance responding to an emergency  
The music on the radio, from a child's laugh, from the old man's oxygen tank
The sounds of conversations
The sound heard in complete silence
Are sounds of unconditional love

Unconditional love is a song in my heart

Unconditional love is when your friend gives you naan after you have stared at it for >30 seconds.  Also when you allow friends to take naan bits without retaliation.

Unconditional love: No if, else ifs, ors, ands about it.

Unconditional love is like:  wanting to make every single person and creature that crosses your path feel just a bit better, even if only for a moment, for having met you.  Of course, it starts with yourself, then with your nearest and dearest (note: it starts at the most difficult part!), but then it radiates out to every single person and creature that crosses your path, then every single sentient being in the Universe, then trees, plants, mosses, microbes, viruses, single-celled creatures, and "inanimate objects and masses."  Earth, air, fire, water, rock, rocks, rivers, oceans, planets, stars, galaxies, galaxy, clusters, and so on! (your imagination will grow as your heart does.  You love a person or thing not for what they do (which may sometimes be regrettable) but for what they are--a reflection and spark of the Buddha-nature or of the divine.  Unconditional love is the divine recognizing and cherishing the divine.

Unconditional love is like...a flock of sparrows that sit on your shoulder an lift you up and make you feel a tiny bit lighter with every hint or recognition and then eventually carry you off to some fantastic land where everything looks and smells just a little bit sweeter and a little more vivid and loads more awesome and you feel as if you could never be sad again.  It's a good feeling.

CH4 + O2 --> CO2 + H2O

Unconditional love exists all around us from the mother holding her child to the couple walking side-by-side on the street.  Unconditional love truly is exhibited everywhere.

We are all drops in the ocean of God's love.  
--blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I felt unconditional love while swimming with wild dolphins in the beautiful blue sea.

Self-acceptance; acceptance of others; respecting everyone's process; loving life; reverence for all of life.

Unconditional Love???
Can love be with anything else than love?  It may be that the "Creator" made us with conditional love.  Now it is up to us to grow roots and sustain ourselves with a rich inner soil of completion.  A sense of coming back to our essence.  Each individual has an ocean within--dive in!

--Chris on May 10, 2010

How Do You Say Thank You for Unconditional Love?

Dear KK crew,

Well, it seems our self-fulfilling prophecy was fulfilled: by the end of the day we all had huge smiles on our faces! :) The infectious energy of Karma Kitchen never fails to rock, and often in ways that we will never know.... What we do know from Sunday is that we made an awesome team!

In the front, Matthew clearly shed whatever reluctance there might have been :) and served his heart out, Praveen brought his solid, veteran (omni)-presence, and Vikram served with non-stop dedication, quietly but powerfully. In the back, Bill accomplished the amazing feat of staving of another "great glass shortage of 2010" and singlehandedly no less! (oh and Mr. "Hurricaine" Juan I'm sure was helpful as well :)) Roshni and Geeta gave some motherly-like love to each dish that came out, staying on top of the orders even during the big swell -- they made it look easy! and then Alison...well, you couldn't tell we were short-handed with Alison deftly maneuvering between roles of drinks, desserts, savior, busser...and all with a contagious smile. :) And although he's not shown in the picture (thanks Richard!) and wasn't on the roster that day, :) Bhoutik's energy and last-minute dishwashing uplifted us all.

What unconditional service to match our theme to honor Mother's Day: "Unconditional Love." Each theme finds unique resonance with that week's guests and this one really brought out the muse in a lot of folks! Some guests even decided to anonymously write happy Mother's day notes to mothers in the room. Roshni kindly typed those up and I'll post them separately.

Also that day, two different guests decided to film their Karma Kitchen experience. Puri (Maitre-D extraordinaire) and I had some good laughs outside with them, as one of them wanted to interview us for a blog post about Karma Kitchen. :) How much value would never have been created and rippled forward if we had not shown up on Sunday? If the cooks had not lovingly prepared the food? If the guests had not come in the spirit of openness and generosity? If last week's guests had not paid their unconditional gift forward? If the gifts from various corners of the world had not somehow made their way to the kindness table, waiting to enrich an unsuspecting life? :)

We can never seek to measure, or repay all the kindness that manifests week after week. But we can of course pay it forward next week :) and we can say "thank you" this week -- for "lifting us up like a flock of sparrows and making us feel a tiny bit lighter." :)
In unconditional service,

--Interface :) on May 10, 2010

Karma Kitchen In Washington Post

Karma Kitchen DC is on the Washington Post!  Thank you all your support!

--Aya on May 6, 2010

New Blessings and Tearful Goodbyes in DC!

What a great Karma Kitchen weekend in DC! On Saturday, we had a picnic for Krishna and Arbinda's new babies (Luniva and Rigved).

On Sunday, we celebrate Nirali and all of her incredible contributions to Karma Kitchen in Washington DC. Nirali has been with us since the beginning and we appreciate her organization, commitment, and patience so much. Looking on the bright side, it is so great that she will be moving to Chicago to help KK Chicago get off the ground!

We made Nirali a scrapbook that she can take with her to Chicago. You can view it here. Sorry you have to create a login to see it - I couldn't figure out any other way.

--Aparna on May 3, 2010

Nice, warm day at Karma Kitchen...

 The weather turned out nice and warm and it made all of us hot while working!  It also made some of us sleepy after eating, but we pulled through until the end.  We served 61 guests.  A lot of regular volunteers showed up as a guest and it created more cheerful, friendly and energetic atmosphere.  Hope you guys all enjoyed volunteering.
Jilna welcomed guests with warm greetings at the door.  We were going to make her a bouncer after 2:45pm if any guests showed up, but it didn't happen.  I really wanted to see that... haha...  Jane, Brooke, Caitlin and Dahlia made excellent servers!  Jane handled the chaotic regular volunteer guests at the community table really well.  Brooke, Caitlin and Dahlia surprised me that this was their first time serving or volunteering at Karma Kitchen.  I personally sat at a table with my friend and Caitlin served our table.  She was so smooth and I felt like I was at a regular restaurant!  Miriam mastered Sala's recipe of Pommegranate+Blueberry fizz.  It was so busy at the bar because of the warm weather.  A lot of drink refills came in and Miriam kept everything under control!  Then... down in the kitchen was a whole another sotry.  Karthik blasted K-pop (Karthik pop) and people moved to the music even though it was so hot!  Naina was in the full force plating one after another.  Jeremiah dressed up really nice but had to hide it behind the white apron.  Sorry!  But as usual, his interface job was excellent and accident free!
Jilna suggested that we should all try to tag at least one person and a few of us did!  It is weird to tag somebody for the first time but some of us already broke the mold and tagged people!  Yay!
Comments to the next week guests
We experimented this for the first time this week and it worked very well.  We will enclose these comments into each check envelop this coming Sunday.  Hopefully this relay will continue.  Here are some comments:
- I love this experiment.  Will bring friends to help, pay it forward!
- Great food, excellent people serving people
- Great concept... keep up the good work, guys!
- Welcome to Karma Kitchen!  This is our home.  You are our guests.  We're happy you are here and we hope you come again (and bring friends). 
- We hope you enjoy the food and spirit of this house of giving and kindness.  Pay it forward and eat hearty!  Cheers :)
Bon Voynage
Naina is flying to India this Sunday and Brooke is moving to Nicaragua the end of May. I believe Naina is on vacation.  So hopefully she will come back to KK after her trip.  Brooke will be working in Nicaragua for 2 years.  We all wish her good luck and hope she won't forget us!!!
A little story
Over a month ago, 2 Colombian ladies came to Karma Kitchen without knowing what KK is about or what Indian food is like.  In addition to it, they speak very little English.  Valerie, one of our volunteers, explained the concepts of KK in Spanish and these ladies stayed and tried the Indian food for the first time.  Guess what!  They came back this past Sunday.  I was the only volunteer who met them last time and they recognized my face as they walked in.  They wanted to try "everything" in the menu and left us the following message. 
"Como siempre gracias por atendernos y brindarnos su comida con tanto carinio.  Gloria e Ida" (As always thank you for serving us and bringing us food with a lot of love).


--Aya on Apr 27, 2010

KK: Where the kind can be kind :)

When I was growing up, the place to go for your birthday was Chuck-E-Cheese, where "a kid can be a kid" :) The place had all kinds of arcades, games, prizes, pizza, music, and a big room full of plastic balls to swim around in. It was an absolute blast. But it seems like the new hot spot for birthday fun is our very own Karma Kitchen :)

Last month, Praveen volunteered at KK Berkeley on his birthday, and in a now legendary story, gifted the shirt off his own back to a guest, with the line, "... my birthday is more special because I get to give this gift. Laundry before use." :)

Inspired by Praveen's story, Mani signed up to serve this Sunday, on his own birthday. In the opening circle, he told us how he thought what Praveen did made perfect sense. "This is the best way to celebrate your birthday," he explained.

We were all touched by Mani's generosity, graciousness, and warmth. During a break in the action the volunteers in the back joined those in the front and with the guests offered a happy birthday song to Mani, a card, and hearty applause. But it didn't stop there! Sakura, one of our super servers, had her friend Devina "tag along" for the opening circle before she took off to take care of some errands. But after hearing Mani say how he was spending his birthday serving others, Devina was so rocked that she decided she had to tag Mani! So after running her errands which took her all the way out of town, Devina circles all the way back to the restaurant, this time carrying in a parcel of gourmet cupcakes! With some stealthy candle lighting she manages to surprise Mani for a second time that day, and we join in with another song and best wishes.

From Tom's step-it-up leadership to Sakura (a.k.a. "cherry blossom :))'s artistic touch around the tables to Jeremy's maitre d-in-waiting skills with guests to Dipa patiently reading the menu to a guest over the phone :) to our last two tables being moms each carefully serving their two young kids, there were many visible and invisible elements that made this a special day. As they all are at Karma Kitchen, where the kind-hearted can be kind :)
PS : Customer extends kindness beyond KK
Craig, one of the dining customer whom Mani served at KK on that day, extended his kindness by inviting mani to his band performance that evening in People's park in Berkeley. Mani accepted and showed up for the concert where Craig graciously posed for snap with a whole Antioquia band. Needless to say it was a exhilarating experience even when Mani didnt inhale ;)

--Maitre-D' on Apr 26, 2010

Remember that one time at Karma Kitchen? :)

Thank you for volunteering at Karma Kitchen on Sunday, April 11!  We served about 80 guests and had a warm and good-natured group on a very rainy day.  Everyone seemed to all work so well together! (just check out the awesome picture!)  The theme was Stillness and while busy and cheerful with 3 birthdays in the house, it was a pretty smooth experience.  Here are some highlights:

Volunteer comments

  • Lachmin and Susan tirelessly put together beautiful plates with practically no backup on orders -- truly amazing! Lachmin's veteran skill and Susan's bottomless enthusiasm were the fuel for this service train. :)
  • Russel embodied acting from stillness while mastering the drinks/desserts in no time at all. And with such generous calm.
  • Jenn took on the industrial dishwashing machine like no other, and wove deftly amongst the hustle and bustle to keep the tea cups, dishes, etc well stocked -- as well as the good spirits in the back! :)
  • Manvi wowed us all with incredible interface skills. Not to mention being seemingly always there when a little helping hand was needed. She makes it look so easy!
  • Audrey served her unflappable cheerful self to the sudden flood of tables midday and led us all in the review at the end.
  • Jessica's unwavering smile (we know why she's smiling now!) brought such a light to the room as she served, for the first time no less, with such grace, flexibility, and ease! 
  • Iris jumped right in, serving Rev. Heng Sure and friends, and balancing lots of special food orders with such positive enthusiasm and great energy! And thanks for typing up the stillness comments, too!
  • Meghna provided the biggest challenge for the day: try to get her to accept a compliment! :) The beautiful pictures were one thing, but the grounded, humble spirit of service she carried with her was truly priceless.
  • Sam was the tagger-extraordinaire! And maitre-D'ed with such a strong and light friendly presence! What a strong anchor for the day!
  • Chris as the swift and steady co-dish-washer and last-minute server, brought magic to the small moments, and shed light on stories from guests throughout the day!

Guest comments on the theme of Stillness (written up by Iris):

    * Stillness is a young child sleeping soundly.
    * Stillness has a lot to do with my six senses- if I absorb sights, sounds, flavors, etc, without mindfulness during the day, then when it’s time to sit, my mind will not fall still Meditation reveals what I’ve been doing with my sense when I’m not meditating.
    * Real stillness is not separate from (awareness) illumination and there is clear illumination when when there is perfect stillness (silence). In great enlightenment both are always present.  Actually they are here even now and everywhere.
    * Be Still / My / Heart / So that / I may / Set thee upon / A rock
    * I practice transcendental meditation which I learned in 1975. For about 20 years I meditated every day. Then I stopped and also did other prayer and meditations. I just started transcendental meditation again and will mediate once a day. It’s as good as ever! I feel refreshed and calmed. Stillness is crucial in these turbulent, noisy times
    * How I practice stillnessSit and look at beauty. Eg: flowers or a flower. Notice the color, shape of petals. Enjoy the beauty, fragrance.
    * Lie still and think of nothing, do nothing. Be quiet.
    * Listen. Be silent and listen for the divine

Thank you all for creating such a positive experience for the guests, and each other!  We made a such a great team and it truly was a pleasure to volunteer with you all.  We hope to see you again soon!

--Sam, Audrey, Chris on Apr 20, 2010

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