The Seva Café in Grasse, France serves a cuisine based on love and sharing.
But this French cuisine has its roots in Berkeley, where it started as the Karma Kitchen. Karma Kitchen first opened in Berkeley on March 31st, 2007, as an experiment to see if a restaurant could be run by love volunteers and a unique brand of pay-it-forward donations from people who’ve eaten before. At the end of the meal, the check reads $0.00, and encourages guests to pay it forward to future guests. To date, volunteers have contributed more than 20,000 hours – that’s some 58 years – towards serving others.
This is but one of the projects of Service Space, realizing their vision to transform the world. I first met their founder, Nipun Mehta in London, back in 2008, when he was giving a talk to our Creativity & Personal Mastery class. He spoke of a sharing economy – people working together to create an outcome that’s not based in the world of money. He spoke about smile cards. And he shared stories of the Karma Kitchen – something that has been stuck with me since.
I haven’t had a chance to visit the Karma Kitchen yet, but the idea resonates with me. There is something different when you’re not paying for your meal, but paying it forward for someone else. It gives a sense of gratitude, appreciation and participation in the meal; even though it’s a very similar physical experience when you eat elsewhere. When I sit down for lunch at a local sandwich shop where I order food, wait to be served, and then pay, the “gratitude and appreciation” doesn’t typically arise, because “I paid for it”. And yet, behind the scene, people are similarly serving me, although possibly in exchange for a paycheck, and not just for the love of service.
The physical actions are pretty much the same but the totality of the experience is greatly different. This realization has led me to feel much more grateful, not just when being served in a restaurant, but when interacting with anyone – shifting from “I paid for it, so I deserve it”, to feeling grateful for how others are being served. Regardless of the motivation, I certainly feel better and have a deeper sense of joy and fulfillment when shifting my perspective.
Since the initial conception of the Karma Kitchen, it has spread and found it’s way to Grasse, France, where the Seva Café Grasse opened at the end of December 2014. There is something heartwarming about such a cool project, growing and spreading throughout the world. In about 100 years from now, it’s projects like this that I’d want our society to remember me by. Plus, I hear the food tastes outstanding!
Also published on Medium.