Stories from a restaurant

Manidhara Das
11 Oct 2018

These stories are from Govindas restaurant Stockholm which was started sometimes 1985.

Once, during the time I managed a preaching center in Goteborg, second large city in Sweden, I got a phone call from our GBC. He said: “I heard that you visited Govindas in Stockholm and you liked it!”

I said: “Well, the location is great”. The response came quickly: “Then you should go there… immediately”. I was shocked. After all, I felt rather comfortable in Goteborg, in a little but effective preaching center with a sankirtan party and Sunday Feast, local radio station and eight blissful devotees.

But as it was customary in those days, I knew that "order is an order" and so it didn’t took two days… and I was in Stockholm. The situation in the "restaurant" was rather catastrophic. There was no real kitchen, the facility consisted of dark rooms which used to be more storage rooms previously, divided by my predictors in such a way that the ventilation piping was blowing in one room hot air in and in another a cold one only. No windows whatsoever available, just big shopping windows in front. "Kitchen" was missing ventilation altogether and was, as one of the soon inspecting fire brigade men commented with great laughter, "the biggest camping place in central Stockholm". I guess the army-gas-cookers standing around connected with old piping to dislocated gas bottles, any time ready to explode, remembered him on some abandoned camping facility. The effect of such a kitchen was that when the cook administered his spicing , the cloud emerging from this little room created a fog-effect as it slowly spread into the lower located area between the tables where the guest were supposed to sit. Only then it was sucked in by the only available ventilation outlet into the higher floors of the building, where desperate pensioners were living, inhaling the exotic fumes for the breakfast. I never saw so many angry old men in such a concentration. I hope our cooking didn’t cause the premature departure from their bodies as one after another died in the following years.

And so the challenge was on. It took us five years to install an authorized ventilation, all the way to the roof, five floors up, connect the kitchen to the gas pipe line available outside on the street, establish a dishwashing and vegetable cutting room and raise the quality of customers from drunk homeless renegades to rather "normal" Swedish families and "respectable gentlemen" as Srila Prabhupada would put it.

The facility was indeed unique as it provided a large temple room adjoining the restaurant and a shop people could pass through on the way out. Not seeing the Deities on the way to the shop inspired us to cut a large opening into the wall to the temple and install there a shopping window. In this way people could automatically have darshan and some even joined the evening program as well.

Almost twenty devotees worked in the restaurant while other twenty were preaching outdoor in various ways.

Our first cook had one unique qualification… he wasn’t a cook at all. But he loved cooking and was blessed by the fact that Swedish people know truly little about the art of cooking. Dry bread, dry fish and anything else dry in itself corresponds to the Nordic nature of minimalistic facial expressions hiding monstrous minds of professional introverts. As Srila Prabhupada commented when exiting the airplane in Stockholm, “it will be very difficult to make devotees here”. A rare comment indeed, but entirely verified by the history of Swedish yatra.

And so the restaurant became gradually the main preaching tool as our cook improved his skills week after week. His enthusiasm invited the mercy of the Lord, as soon he stood in the serving department, our income increased rapidly. Forgotten were the early days where his cooking provoked in the customers an intense demand for anything liquid due to the usage of extra ordinary amount of spicing, consisting mainly from chilies. Seeing these desperate souls wandering around the restaurant in search for water, I wondered how we will ever be able to get out of the "no-income-zone". But when preaching enthusiasm prevails, Lord Caitanya boards the team of His preachers, regardless how initially unqualified they may be.

As described in previous text, we focused more on quality as on variety and the devotion of the devotees involved, (naturally everybody in the restaurant had to follow the four regulative principles and chant sixteen rounds), could be tasted as well. Of course, some adjustments had to be made, accepting prasadam with bare hands in the restaurant was for the public simply shocking and had to be abandoned. It was enough challenge for the customers to accept the view of an overeating vaisnava, consuming in their presence in twenty minutes what they would normally eat in three days. Such is the nature of hard working devotees:-)

We had our fun indeed to watch the "standard mayavadis" experiencing the impact of prasadam , losing their composure over subji and kofta, forgetting that in Stockholm it is forbidden to show any emotions as they could be exploited by some virtual opponent.

We saw them becoming prasadam addicts, entirely absorbed in the mercy of the Lord. One story may speak for all:

One day devotees, once again, knocked on the door of my office, bringing the big news: “There is another madman in the restaurant!” True, initially, before the message was sent out that the "Govindas lunatic asylum is closed down due to change of management", the locality was daily invaded by individuals of the most bizarre kind. I used to call police daily until the point one elderly policeman took me aside one day and said: “don’t call us anymore”. I told him: “What do you mean; we have here daily people coming in who enjoy their freedom due to lack of place in the local psychiatric hospital!” He said: “Listen, I know that. I also know that you can "take care of them". So, here inside in the restaurant, you can do whatever you want to them, just don’t do it outside on the street.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I told the police officer: “Well, I can certainly handle uninvited guests, but after I am through with them, they will, if they still can, call you and complain what was done to them in the Govindas restaurant.” The man smiled slightly and said: “don’t worry, that is then OUR problem”.

And so, after approximately three month of initial "purification process" the invasion of lunatics stopped. I wondered then daily if this was indeed part of my devotional service to remove physically these occasionally dangerous looking individuals from the restaurant premises. Fortunately this period didn’t last forever.

And so, living and dying in the restaurant for more as five years, I was surprised that again "some lunatic" dared to enter. Heading for the dining area I could see a little man dressed in black going from table to table with a Bible in his hand. This poor fellow thought that since the restaurant was packed with customers, these were indeed ALL Hare Krsna members, eligible to be saved from the grip of Satan. It’s not the Swedish nature to be openly fanatical and so this man looked rather exotic. Bothering one guest after another he tried to introduce them to his version of Christianity. Repeating his "Jesus can save you" mantra he finally reached one of our regular guests, a huge bodied construction worker who was just taking his meal , enjoying our "eat as much as you can" policy. Totally absorbed in prasadam, dressed still in his working outfit, he was consuming a huge plate of prasadam.

When the small man finally reached his table, once again exclaiming “Jesus will save you”, to my amazement our guest suddenly jumped up from the table, grabbed the poor preacher by the throat and lifted him from the floor with one hand while carrying him swiftly towards the exit door. He explained loudly: “Now I will save you!” Opening the door he threw the preacher… in front of an approaching bus, after the entire restaurant was located at a bus terminal. Fortunately the bus driver was just about to stop and so he responded quickly, allowing the little man to get up and disappear.

Our 120-kilo-guest assumed again his position and continued totally undisturbed his prasadam meditation. Seeing me standing by, ready to jump into action, but remaining this time unengaged, he smiled and raised his thumb commenting: “Good food today!” I responded: “Thank you for helping out”. He smiled once more with a mouth full of subji and said: “You are welcome”.

And so life went on in the Govindas-dham, a place with no windows but full of bliss for fifteen years. Living in a country which is half a year submerged in darkness didn’t bother us much. After all, living in this prasadam-submarine didn’t create much sensual impetus to see anything else. One hardly noticed the changing seasons.

As yogis may retire to remote locations to meditate about the Supersoul, it is more practical in this age to submerge ones consciousness either in book distribution or prasadam distribution while becoming part of Srila Prabhupada’s mission.

All glories to Srila Prabhupada who made so easily available what was impossible to gain in previous ages. Even the most fallen ones can become part of His amazing preaching mission by simply surrendering to His words.



After few years of our restaurant development, by that time the restaurant was way out of the "minus income zone", I was informed by devotees that "there are two guests sitting in the restaurant who want to speak to you".

I went to the dining area and saw two men sitting at the table, not eating, just sitting. Being rather trained on sankirtan-book-distribution, it was not difficult for me to see that these leather-jackets-expensive-sport-shoes wearing dark-skinned gentlemen were not exactly the "normal people" eating in our restaurant daily. They both looked like from some Hollywood action movies, perfectly qualified for the roles of the "bad guys" with Magnum-semi-automatic guns hidden under their coats.

And so I set down to our mafia guests and asked them what the objective of their visit was. (I was informed by a bhaktin who was still active in police service, that in Stockholm those days there were various gangs operating based in the Baltic countries, not far from the Swedish boarder.) And so one of the men started: “Maybe you are aware that there are sometimes bad things happening to some restaurants in Stockholm. If you like we could make sure that it doesn’t happen to this one”.

As our visitors didn’t look exactly like graduates from the Stockholm University, I made it easy for them. I responded: “The only bad thing what can happen is that I instantly report you to the local police if you don’t leave this place right away.” They obviously didn’t expect such a quick answer and had hard time to process it through their miniature brains.

To make it even more clearly for them I added: “You know we are Hare Krsna’s and we know that we are not this body. The soul cannot be killed. And so you can come and kills us all, one after another, and still you will not one get one penny out of us. Is that clear?”

Now they understood. One of them hissed: “You will regret this”. They both left quickly and we never saw them again.

Moral: Restaurants can be easily targeted by the local mafia. One should never comply with their demands as once one is connected to them it is virtually impossible to stop them from further blackmail. They do respect firm opposition as they are not sure with how many Hare Krsna’s they are really dealing with and what we are capable to do. After all, for them we are just "another gang".

Incidents like this one may be less exceptional as an innocent devotee may believe.