Karma Kitchen Video (and Disco Dishes!)
5 minute read
Sep 26, 2007


[Below is a write-up by Rish Sanghvi, the Maitre-D for the night.]

It is 5:00 pm and the Karma Kitchen volunteer team has on its roster the following inventory of mishaps, over the last 3 hours:

One friend’s car in an accident

One towed car

One parking ticket

One dessert accidentally eaten by a friend’s dog

Oh, and its Cal Football night, which means hoards of hungry people to be fed, and we’re short two people.  And a party of 11 walks in at 5:00 pm sharp.  Let the fun begin!!

The Posse Arrives

Actually the fun began at 4:00 pm with the arrival of the Karma Kitchen dream team for the evening:   Shivani and Paras from Michigan,  Sagar from Orlando, and Pathik from Baltimore.  Good to know that our nation-wide multi-billion dollar Karma Kitchen marketing campaign is finally paying dividends. (Ya right!)  More like Raj Kanani and his word of mouth campaign. This particular mix of people is actually the most appropriate for tonight, because the group dynamic of these friends is that of rock-solid calm under pressure – much needed in the midst of the busy night that it was to become (95+ plates served)

The first story came from these volunteers before the evening began.  They related to us that during the short cab ride, the cab driver had overheard them talking about Karma Kitchen.  When the cab pulled up at the destination, the cab driver handed them a $5 bill and asked them to “pay-it-forward” and feed someone at Karma Kitchen! What?? Aren’t we supposed to tip the cab-driver??? But that’s the kind of just-right-backward night it was.

Already the regular volunteers, Roshni, Neerav, Christine and Liz had all conducted their weekly pilgrimage to Karma Kitchen earlier in the afternoon and delivered their various services, set-ups, desserts and inspiration, potent fuels that stoke the fires of service all evening long. And then like elves they disappeared into the woodworks, only to arrive later in the guise of customers.   

And Viral and Pavi were the superheroes, arriving just in time for the beginning of service, doubtlessly after having saved the world (or at least one of their friends) from a crisis of the day, and saving us all from the slightly mounting panic rising in our throats.

Mission Impossible

And then it began, and it was all a blur. Tables filled up, and then the waiting area got crowded and at one point there was a 45 minute wait.  Every customer contributed their cheery disposition and patience, and still more patience – their gift to us this busy evening.  One of the large tables, a gathering of dharma brothers and sisters, held hands in prayer before their meal.  Community tables began to pop up.  Touchingly, a table of already overcrowded 5 who were midway through their meal shuffled and squeezed so that they could invite a lone stranger to join them.

In the thick of this, Raj Kanani walks in like the Lone Ranger, (minus his Horse as I later find out) I throw him an apron and ask him, without preamble, to hop to it. This is ok, of course, because it is after all Raj Kanani. That is how he rolls. Whoever heard of a practical thing like a towed car keeping anyone from a good idealistic evening of service?  

Meanwhile, people at the tables are scribbling notes to us, to each other, to the community at large.  They are playing games, reading inspirational quotes and expressing their wonder out loud at this magical experience. One gentleman puts it nicely when he leans over and whispers to his son: “This isn’t like eating at a restaurant; this is like eating at home!” A Yelp posting later in the evening by customer Darin extolled the experience as “easily one of the best dining experiences I have had.”

And patrons begin to do odd things when they understand that this is a community we’re trying to build, not a transaction that we’re engaging in.  One of them offers to go back and do the dishes. Another pops up and starts clearing a nearby table. Yet another asks me if they should hurry up and leave, so others can sit.  And another one insists that HE pour the water for his table and not the server! Wow!  

Another volunteer, Sima is shouting out food orders and taking video of all of these going-on’s in a multi-tasking display that most of us can only aspire to.   

Meanwhile in the back: Disco Dishes®

While in the front we were figuring out the best way to seat people, in the back Viral and Paras were figuring out the best way to tackle dirty dishes. The solution they hit upon early in the evening involved singing a streaming medley of sometimes-Hindi-sometimes-English-always-entertaining songs in loud unison.  The infectious enthusiasm soon spread to loveable chef Vishnu-ji who chimed in from time to time. Kitchen talent Shivani soon joined in and I swear that when I peeked in, I noticed even the demure Pavi mouthing some of the lyrics! I suspect this entertaining practice may become a standard at Karma Kitchen, and one of the volunteers has suggested the term “Disco Dishes®"  for it, which I believe should stick, because it is an endearing alliteration and an appropriate analogy! :-)

“And in the end its only round and round…” (Pink Floyd)

As the evening starts to wind down, we are finally able to take stock of what just happened over the last few hours, and there is a sort of buoyancy in the air. Maybe it’s because of Disco Dishes®. Maybe it’s the exuberance of a job well done.  Maybe it’s the delight of being in each others company, because already it feels like we’re all old friends. But either way it is good. It may have looked ugly in the beginning. It may have seemed bad in the thick of all the busyness. But it was really always all good – we all just needed to arrive there – and at the end of the day, we did.

Posted by Pavi on Sep 26, 2007

8 Past Reflections