New Orleans is known for its seafood and meat dishes, but the Good Karma Café – only the city’s second vegan eatery – is giving people a taste for prasadam, and could change hearts in the process.
“Prasad is food offered to God,” explains the Café’s website. “We believe that putting loving intentions into food changes its vibration. Prasad is based in Ahimsa, the principle of nonviolence. Our mission is to create a diverse and inclusive community space and work environment serving food that nourishes the body and soul.”
Opened in November 2014, the Café has just extended its original 8am to 3pm hours to 8am to 8pm, giving fans of healthy, cruelty-free cuisine a dinner option as well.
Owner and cook Sugosh Berg, known to his friends as Goshi, is a second generation devotee whose parents are Maharani Dasi and Yogindra Vandana Das, president at ISKCON’s New Talavana community in Mississippi.
Staff in front of the Good Karma logo they painted themselves
“I grew up cooking in the temple, helping prepare feasts for the Deities,” says Sugosh. “I’ve also cooked for ISKCON Youth Ministry’s summer trip and bus tour over the years. My mom started the original concept of Good Karma Café in Gulfport, Mississippi, where she offers a simple ‘Good Karma plate.’ I took that one meal concept and added a lot of extras to it.”
While looking for a location for his Good Karma Café, Sugosh was approached by Michelle Baker, owner of Swan River Yoga, one of the top yoga studios in New Orleans. Sugosh and Michelle already had a connection as they had done many kirtan programs together.
“Michelle said that she had a dream telling her she is supposed to serve blessed food in her space,” says Sugosh. “So she pushed us to run our café from her studio, and really facilitated us right from the start.”
Good Karma Cafe's signature Brahma salad
The Good Karma Café is located on the first floor of Swan River Yoga on Canal St, close to downtown New Orleans. Once a library funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, it’s a quaint and attractive historic building.
Inside, the atmosphere is warm and homey, with a staff-painted “mandala” of chili peppers, beets and squash on the wall behind the counter, and floor seating with colorful cushions and Moroccon-tile low tables along with the more typical tables and chairs.
Sugosh’s brother Sudeshna is the head chef, working along with co-owner Katie Presido and staff from the yoga, vegan and conscious-living communities. “We met some of our staff through working with programs like Liberty’s Kitchen, which provides disadvantaged youth with the workforce and life skills training to become employed,” says Sugosh.
Sugosh cooks up a storm
Good Karma’s menu is flavorful and fresh, working with local farmers and using organic produce whenever possible. The breakfast menu runs all day and includes avocado toast made with locally baked bread, seasonings and veggies; a granola bowl; and upma with coconut chutney. The all-day lunch and dinner menu is centered around the Good Karma Plate, which includes your choice of basmati or brown rice, a soup of the day, a subji of the day, and salad.
Diners can also choose from veggie burgers, a Malaysian curry bowl, tofu and avocado wraps, and various sweets, juices, smoothies and teas.
All dishes are offered first to Lord Jagannath, on an altar in the kitchen.
Fire Burger made with basil aioli, fire sauce, shaved jalapeno, lettuce, tomato and cucumber
ISKCON devotees of course visit the Café, for the prasadam and to participate in kirtans held in the adjoining yoga studio with Madhava, the Mayapuris, and others. But Good Karma’s clientele is mostly an extremely varied group – some are yogis, some aren’t interested in yoga but are vegan or vegetarian – and some are meat eaters just looking for a healthier option.
“I have talked to several people in that category who were impressed by just how flavorful and filling vegan food could be,” Sugosh says. “One time an African-American lady came in and ate, and the next day she returned with two huge guys. I was looking at them and thinking, ‘They are in the wrong place -- they look like they’re ready to wolf down some hamburgers and go to work on a construction site or something.’ But she brought them because they wanted to be healthier and she really wanted them to try it.
“They ordered the veggie burgers and the everything plate, and chowed down. Afterwards they told me they were so impressed by how full they were and how good everything tasted. I could sense that it had changed something in them. They saw that they could eat a different way.”
Preparing another prasadam dinner service
Many others who enjoyed the prasadam have also brought friends back, spreading the word, and the Good Karma Café has been growing from strength to strength. Sugosh hopes that it succeeds to the point where one day, he’ll be able to establish a chain of Good Karma Cafes, raising consciousness in other parts of New Orleans and beyond.
On the way there, he’s not afraid to put in long hours, because he truly loves what he’s doing.
“I love that we’re able to help out people who needed the work by providing opportunities through Liberty’s Kitchen,” he says. “And most of all, I love that we’re serving prasadam. I mean, vegan food is healthy and wonderful. But to actually be serving people food that is blessed and made with a certain intention -- that has a great effect. You may not be able to see it right away, but it will have an effect on the consciousness of the entire city. So I think that’s the greatest benefit of what we’re doing.”[ karma ] [ luisiana ] [ new ] [ orleans ]