Portland’s only vegan Jewish deli and bakery is open for business and is devotee run and operated. Ben and Esther’s is modeled after a traditional New York-style Jewish deli but is completely plant-based. You’ll find their menu filled with classic New York deli staples like lox, matzo ball soup, rugelach, knishes, and kugel.
ISKCON News recently had the opportunity to sit down with owner and restauranteur, Govardhana Das.
So, where did the name come from?
Ben and Esther were my grandparents, who were your standard-issue New York Jews.
How did you get started cooking?
When I lived in the temples, cooking was never my service, or even much of an interest, to be honest. But, as my entrepreneurship took me into restauranteuring, I started experimenting with recipes and found that I had a decent fundamental understanding of flavors and cooking processes.
How long have you been established now?
As Ben & Esther’s, 2 years. I’ve had several restaurants in Portland, so as a restauranteur, I’ve been established for 10 years or so.
Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup
Do you have a favorite food to cook? What’s your favorite food to eat?
I enjoy cooking bbq and traditional Indian food, as well as traditional Jewish dishes, obviously.
I’m big on sweets, so my favorite food to eat is cake, haha!
How do you dovetail your bhakti into cooking?
Everything is cooked with love and offered to Pancha Tattva.
How long have you been practicing Bhakti?
I first came in contact with bhakti yoga and Krishna Consciousness in the late ‘80s and moved into the temple in the early ‘90s.
Anyone in particular you admire? Who inspires you?
Srila Prabhupada, obviously, is my number one.
I admire anyone who is authentic and honest with themselves and others. There are individuals in bhakti who inspire me, like Hridayananda Goswami, because of their progressive approach, but I take more inspiration from less-known devotees who simply want to serve others.
Vegan Vanilla Peach Pie
How has Covid affected the business?
Covid really made me have to think outside the box as far as our approach to business. We shifted to a take-out-only model and, of course, implemented rigorous sanitation measures. But, all-in-all, I think we’ve actually done relatively similar business during Covid as we did pre-Covid.
What trends are you noticing? What are some of your most popular dishes?
Definitely a trend towards plant-based eating.
Our most popular dish is our Not-Lox Bagel, which is made from thin-sliced, brined and salt-roasted carrot, cream cheese, tomatoes, capers, and dill.
Our Reuben sandwich is very popular, too, consisting of vegan corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing.
Grand Puba: Vegan corned beef, turkey, bacon, swiss, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Govardhana Das believes we can have great food from our traditions without causing harm to animals, the planet, or ourselves. He also believes in living by a strong ethical backbone and runs the Portland Bhakti Center where they distribute prasadam every Friday night to feed the needy.
Ben and Esther’s currently has three locations, two in Portland, Oregon, and one in San Diego, California.