Jashomatinandana Das is convinced it is the Lord's will that the International Society for Krishna Consciousness should be setting up a chain of eateries in India.
No wonder, then, that the widespread religious group is going about the job in right earnest: 22 Govinda's Prasadam restaurants will come up in the next two years, says the president of Iskcon. And since everything is prabhu ki iccha, the revenue model for the chain will be based on altruism, not mercantilism -- the pricing has been kept eater-friendly.
The first such restaurant, spread over 35,000 square feet, has come up in Ahmedabad, while the second one will be opened in Vadodara by the end of this calendar year. ISKCON will operate more than 10 such restaurants across the country and a total of 22 will be set up in two years, 12 through the franchisee model.
Though globally ISKCON has such restaurants, it is its first launch in India. In fact, the Harerama Harekrishna temple complex in Juhu, Mumbai, has an in-house restaurant that offers the delicious chhappan bhog (56 food items), Iskcon Temple runs the Hare Krishna Bakery, a small place that serves baked food, including pizzas, cakes, and mango milk shakes.
Krishna Consciousness is sometimes called the 'kitchen religion', since the movement's founder, Srila Prabhupada, first cooked for his young disciples in New York. The movement has gone on to become famous for its pure vegetarian food.
ISKCON officials, however, fret about the success of the venture, given that the cuisine will not have onion and garlic, since this goes against the philosophy of the organisation. "Though we are not looking at profit from these restaurants, but since ISKCON needs to invest between Rs 15 lakh (Rs 1.5 million) and Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million) in each restaurant depending on the location, we also do not want to be in losses.
"For the restaurant in Ahmedabad, we have already invested more than Rs 15 lakh and with the high number of devotees visiting our temple during Saturdays and Sundays, we expect to break even in a year.
"The outlet on Gotri Road in Vadodara, which is much bigger than the one in Ahmedabad, is expected to break even in 18 months," Das said.
Initially, 15-20 food items will be sold through the outlets, besides soft drinks and ice-cream. Later, new fare will be added every month.
ISKCON has already tied up with Vadilal for selling its ice-creams at the restaurants.
"We have six temples in Gujarat, including one in Dwarka, which is visited by lakhs of devotees every year. In Mumbai, the restaurant will be located at our temple in Juhu. Lunch and dinner menus will be introduced in due course and the outlets in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Vrindavan will be the first to have such facilities," he added.
Das said devotees go to little-known and unhygienic food joints close to Iskcon temples that do not have the "right vibration"."This is the order of the Lord -- to offer pure and decent food to His devotees," he says, conviction writ large on his sunny visage.