It’s been a full house since day one for a brand new restaurant, called Naturaleza Divina—or Divine Nature—which recently launched at the ISKCON temple in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.
Six hundred guests—eighty per cent of them members of the general public—attended the two-day inauguration in the trendy Colegiales/Palermo area on Saturday March 12th and Sunday March 13th.
Personal invitations had been sent to friends and neighbors, and the lucky diners tucked into free snacks such as pakoras, samosas, chutney, lemonade, chai and pineapple coconut cream cake. Enjoying the open-house theme, they met the restaurant’s team, wandered around, socialized and enjoyed the facilities.
Some appreciated the modern Indian interior design, created by local devotee artists and craftsmen, and already famous in the area for its fresh, colorful look, painted walls, and glossed floors. Others checked out the boutique and yoga room, or enjoyed a free chair massage in a room dedicated to massage, reiki, aroma therapy, and spiritual therapy.
The restaurant officially opened for lunch on the Tuesday following the inauguration, with a long line of people snaking out the door that hasn’t stopped since.
“It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point,” says manager Gandharvika Dasi, who has previously worked in ISKCON restaurants in San Diego and Dallas as well as restaurants outside the devotee community. “Our story actually begins fourteen years ago, when ISKCON guru Gunagrahi Swami visited Argentina, and saw the potential here for spreading Krishna consciousness as well as the sincerity of the devotees, who had been struggling to rent a dilapidated building for over twenty years.”
Gunagrahi Swami decided to commit himself to helping them purchase a property. He had a vision to create a beautiful project that would inspire the devotee community and reach out to the general public.
He assembled a “Sankirtana” team, the members of which distributed more than one million of Srila Prabhupada’s books in the USA, Mexico and Spain over the next few years to raise funds for the project. Initially, devotees purchased a cheap property in a less affluent area, but later, with the revival of the Argentinian economy, they were able to sell it and buy the current property.
“We chose this location for the temple because it is centrally located in Buenos Aires, is easily accessible, and is a very nice and clean area populated by many vegetarians, artists and yoga groups,” Gandharvika says.
Gandharvika’s husband Maha Hari Dasa oversaw and personally worked on the renovation of the ninety-year-old building, fixing humidity damage and old age issues without losing the original architectural expression. Today, he is president of the Buenos Aires temple, which stands on the same property as the new restaurant, divided by walls and a separate entrance.
“As with any big project, our team struggled physically and financially to get to this point,” Gandharvika says. “The past fourteen years have not been easy, and it was hard for many to believe we would complete such a project. Today, there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach our long-term vision, but the restaurant is a big step towards it.”
Naturaleza Divina is unique in many ways. Firstly, it is a gourmet, table-service restaurant, unlike the buffet-style of most ISKCON eateries. Since most of its clientele are middle to upper class—Palermo is the center of Argentina’s film industry, and the restaurant is already becoming popular amongst the rich and the famous—and most Argentians prefer to be waited on, Naturaleza Divina decided to go the other way.
The menu is also unique. Gandharvika, head cook Mahavira Dasa, and his assistants Bhakta Gustavo and Narayan Parah Dasa whip up vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu items, and are also gaining a reputation for their fresh vegetable juices and eggless desserts—something hard to come by in Argentina.
The restaurant offers both gourmet Indian, Greek and Argentinian dishes, and quick foods such as veggie burgers, salads, smoothies, and milk shakes.
Meanwhile its “plate of the day,” which is a complete meal for a lower price, is a very popular quick and cheap option with the working community.
“I think we also stand out amongst other vegetarian restaurants in the area,” Gandharvika says. “Because most of them are almost what you could call ‘overly healthy,’ whereas we offer healthy dishes along with desserts and delicacies such as Gauranga potatoes, carob cream pie, cheesecake, and cakes of all varieties.”
To those familiar with the typical ISKCON “Govinda’s” restaurants, Naturaleza Divina’s name stands out, too.
“Govinda's didn’t quite provide a ‘complete’ enough concept for us,” says Gandharvika. “We chose Naturaleza Divina because it expresses our complete mission.
We are not just a restaurant, but also a center of culture, education, massage, and yoga.”
This is perhaps the most interesting facet of the project—that it offers members of the public a step towards the culture and philosophy of Krishna consciousness.
One of the restaurant’s three dining rooms is a video lounge where devotional movies, documentaries, and cooking shows can be viewed. Meanwhile on the second floor of the building, a variety of different educational programs will be offered from 5pm till 8pm on weekday evenings, including Bhakti Sastri study, japa workshops, introspective seminars, bhajan sessions, and classes on yoga, Mandala art painting, and mridanga drum.
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In addition, visiting devotees and guests will offer one-time seminars on topics such as health, nutrition, and sustainable living, while of course customers can be pampered with massage and other holistic therapies.
“There’s still work to do to organize all the classes before they’re launched properly in May, but people are already asking about them a lot,” says Gandharvika.
In the meantime, the restaurant itself is far exceeding devotees’ expectations for such a recently launched project. There’s been a full house nearly every day since day one, people must wait for tables to open on Saturdays, and reservations have to be booked for evenings.
“We decided to develop this phase first in order to maintain the rest of the project, as well as to offer devotees in the community a sustainable source of income,” Gandharvika says. “Next, we plan to promote fun evening events, catering and delivery, develop the educational aspect more, and eventually build a beautiful new temple and ashrama facility. It’s exciting!”
For more information, visit www.iskcon.org.ar, or go to the facebook page Naturaleza Divina.