Smile Cafe Launches!

Posted by Meghna Agarwal on Jan 4, 2013

Yesterday, we launched a new experiment in Ahmedabad -- Smile Cafe!   At our Karma Kitchen (weekly, volunteer-run effort in US, Japan) and Seva Cafe (daily, staffed effort in India) restaurants, we ask diners to pay-forward for the person after them and nurture a kind of gift economy.  However, this time we were in a festival kind of setting at Craftroots, where sheer volume of foot traffic can make building relationships difficult.  So, we created a new hybrid variation. :)

Smile Cafe is a volunteer-driven restaurant with fixed prices, where the proceeds go to support local everyday heroes making a difference in the community.  The hope is still to offer a dining experience in the spirit of aatithi devo bhava (I see the divinity in each guest), with different demographic of volunteers every day -- doctors one day, businessmen another, youth another, certain nonprofit organizations, and so on.  And, at the end of the day, use the proceeds to support inspiring folks like this love warrior on tricycle.

We had a grand opening yesterday, with volunteer-made decorations (and smileys) all over the place.  In the center, we had an activity space where people wrote down what they were grateful for, an act of kindness they had done, what service meant to them, and so on.  Smile Cards and Smile Decks and other gifts (from guests) were also available to all.  With some Kabir songs in the background, it all made for an exquisite ambiance, as many guests noted the "positive vibes".

For the first two table, we wrote up a bill but then very quickly, we just decided to trust the guests to do math from the prices listed on the hand-written menus on their table.  It turned out, by the end of the day, that people ended up giving a much more than our set prices (which, of course, was no surprise for seasoned gift veterans :)).

The day was filled with many small moments of joys.  At one point, Jignasha went to tables with heart-shaped post-it notes and requested questions.  Then, she would take those questions to another table for a response.  It was a beautiful way to build relationships amongst seeming strangers.

One of the tables asked this question below: How many smiles are at Smile Cafe?

Jignasha then took that to a table with three kids.  Without any prodding, they return this response: "Smiles are in hearts and they are not countable."  All volunteers and guests were left with a speechless wow to reflect on. :) 

This was day 1 of 7.  We are looking forward to seeing what emerges today.  Its the day when Professors will be serving as waiters. :)

Posted by Meghna Agarwal on Jan 4, 2013 | permalink

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