Be the Cause

Seva in the News

(On August 21, the Long Beach Gazette published an article about the Seva Cafe. The article was written by Kurt Helin, an editor for the Long Beach Gazette, who was a guest at the Seva Cafe. The article is provided below or you can log on to )

It’s About Giving, One Meal At A Time

By Kurt Helin

Give your hands to serve and your heart to love.” —Mother Theresa

Seva Café is more of a leap of faith than a restaurant.

It’s as much about the servers as the served, about giving not paying. Making money is not the goal, acts of kindness are — you don’t even pay for your own meal.

A person who dined there earlier has already made a donation to pay for your meal, as a gift. You have the chance to continue that circle of giving for a person you have never met who will come in later.

Could such an open-minded, non-Western concept take root in Long Beach?

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted” —Aesop

The original Seva Café is in Ahmedabad, India, and is part of an upscale fashion mall in a country seeing rapid changes due to an influx of Western businesses.

There, the volunteers gather to serve food and the restaurant’s economic model is different but not seemingly radical — a pay-it-forward concept of giving, someone has paid for you and you do the same for someone else. In an Indian culture long known for giving — both financially and with service — the original Seva turns a profit, with the money in turn given to charities that work with poor children in the region.

“I was really taken by the idea and said we should do it in California,” said Srikanth Sridharan, a volunteer who is at the heart of the Seva Café in Long Beach.

Sridharan and the other volunteers gather every Saturday halfway around the world from the original Seva Café — at the Royal Cup Café on Redondo Avenue. The goal each week is to practice “seva” — the Indian word for selfless giving.

”It’s not even about the guest, it’s about the people in the kitchen and teaching them to serve with love,” said Sukh Chugh, the founder of Be The Cause, the volunteer and charitable organization which helped pull together the café.

While in the first couple of weeks most of the volunteer staff came from Be the Cause, a few people who ate at the Seva Café the week before have come back and asked to help out.

There is training for the cooks, the servers, but it is more about mindset than style — they need to serve for the sake of service, and do it with love, Chugh said.

It’s not about how much of a donation the guest does or does not leave — that is a sense of greed that needs to be left outside the café. It is about service for the sake of service.

“What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us” —Ralph Waldo Emmerson.

Each week, it seems, there are new stories at Seva that prove the concept’s worth. One week it was a homeless man who sat down, and when told of the concept, ate his meal and left behind 93¢ — all the money he had to his name.

In the last two weeks Seva Café has been home to birthday parties, one for a 16-year-old girl who believed in the concept and wanted her friends and family to take part.

It’s those things that make the eyes of volunteers light up. Served with love (and a side of chips), the food is good enough on its own to get you to come back— we recommend the Seva Chai and Portobello mushroom sandwich, which are amazing. The Royal Cup Café itself (at 994 Redondo Ave.) also provides a comfortable atmosphere that fits perfectly for Seva.

At the end of the meal, you are presented with a “bill” with $0 written next to each item, and an envelope in which you can leave money for a future guest. No questions asked.

It may be an Eastern Concept in a Western World, but the Seva Café is taking hold — it is proving a sustainable model in Long Beach, at least so far, Chugh said.

A sign near the front door shows the money made so far, with plans to donate it to charity come October 14 (the last day the Seva Café will be open).

On your way out you are also handed a “smile” card, a card that says someone has done something kind for you and to take that spirit outside the café — maybe pay in advance for the next person who orders a latte at Starbucks, then tell the barista to give that person the card.

It’s a little thing, but not an act of kindness wasted.

Seva Café is open from 5-10 p.m. every Saturday night through Oct. 14 at 994 Redondo Ave.

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