Restaurant: No charge, it's for charity

Singapore's Annalakshmi Indian restaurant has all the hallmarks of an expensive night out: the lights are dim, the artwork on the walls authentic, the doors ornately carved and antique.

by: By Miral Fahmy | 16 Jan 2007

But instead of a hefty bill, prepare to be greeted by smiling staff who urge you to pay as much as you want and remind you that it's all for charity.

Named after the Hindu goddess of nourishment, Annalakshmi's philosophy is "eat to your heart's content, give as you feel." The vegetarian restaurant, part of a welfare organization, is run largely by volunteers, most of them devotees of Hindu monk Swami Shantanand who preached love for God through service to mankind.

"Businesses usually wait until they've made a profit to think about giving to society, but we started giving from the start," Suresh Krishnan, who manages the restaurants, told Reuters.

"There are tables who can pay, and those who can't, so what we provide is a form of table-to-table charity. And the people who work with us do so for the satisfaction, not the reward."

Annalakshmi has three outlets in Singapore, and eateries in Malaysia, Australia and India. Staff range from retired civil servants to women from broken homes to executives and doctors who believe serving and preparing food is the ultimate blessing.

Any money left after covering costs is donated to the Temple of Fine Arts, a religious and cultural organization set up by the monk, who believed music, art and dance are a form of the divine.

The organization also runs free medical clinics in Malaysia and India and raises funds through "pay as you want" artistic performances and the sale of the Indian handicrafts and paintings that adorn the interiors of the restaurants.

Food for the soul
The monk's devotees are known as the Shiva family, and as expected, they don't like to talk about their finances. But unlike most families which only take care of their own, everybody gets special service at Annalakshmi.

The tasty food – and unique concept – attracts hundreds of tourists, expatriates and Singaporeans every day. The restaurants serve north and south Indian specialities such as tamarind soup, chickpea curry and savoury lady's fingers.

Lunch is served buffet-style at the Chinatown bistro or at the stall in the bustling Lau Pa Sat downtown food center. The main restaurant offers the most choice with a dinner menu that changes with the seasons.

"We cook in the traditional way, how our mothers' cook, and you can't put a value on your mother's food," said Suresh Kumar Kannan, a former mechanical engineer who quit his job to become as a full-time chef at Annalakshmi.

"The joy you get watching people eat your food is the biggest blessing ever, better than anything money can buy," he added.

Bistro manager Ananthan Somu admits it's sometimes hard to run a business on goodwill. But having faith in humanity has paid off: the restaurants have a huge, regular following.

"We pay with satisfaction and keep coming back," said Kanchi Seshagiri Rao, regional director for technology firm IGTL Solutions. "There is a price for everything in today's world, but you can't put a price on the love and the food you get here."

- None


NEXT ON FOOD24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.