Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Artist Inspiration: The Karma Kitchen

This past weekend I spent two days in DC seeing shows at the Capital Fringe Fest. This is the first year I didn't perform in the festival, but I have a lot of performer friends up there, I love the fringe vibe and I was there to support Becca who was performing in one of the shows. This note is about a very interesting experience I had while I was there.

I booked a hotel room near DuPont Circle which was close enough to walk to Becca's theater and it ended up being a really cool area to walk around in with a Sunday Farmer's Market, a really cool book store and a lot of castle looking architecture.

I had the hankering for a Indian food and so on Sunday we flip-flopped around in search of some. We passed a restaurant called the India Polo Club that looked like it might fit the bill, but there was something odd about it. Over the sign there was a make-shift paper sign that read "Karma Kitchen." I thought maybe the place had switched owners and they had been too cheap to replace the sign and so we flip-flopped on by.

After a thirty minute walk and a huge loop, we found ourselves back in front of the India Polo Club/Karma Kitchen and went in. We were greeted by a friendly white guy who mumbled something that I couldn't understand and he seated us. He poured us water and I asked if he took credit cards. He said, "No," and I said something about going to an ATM to get money and he said, "Don't worry about it." When I stood up, he insisted I just stay and chill.

He walked away leaving Becca and I with a one page paper menu. The odd thing - there were no prices on the menu. Odder still was the set up. When I looked around, everything looked a little too makeshift. There was a cork board at the entrance way, a large piece of colorful clothe draped over a bar as if to disguise it and a small box by the door.

What I was about to experience in terms of abundance, prosperity and my relationship to money was something no book could have prepared me for.

The young Indian waitress introduced herself to us and asked if there was anything on the menu we wouldn't like. Thinking I had mis-heard her, I told her the two entree's Becca and I had both decided on. Her explanation pushed me into a discomfort zone.

"Our vegetarian meals are served family style, which means you'll get everything on the menu, including dessert and drinks (Mango Lassi, Chai or Passionate Fruit Juice). Your meal was also paid for by someone else. At the end of the meal you will get an envelope to make a gift offering to place in the box by the door. There is no recommended dollar amount and no one knows how much you put in."

The food came beautifully served and as I ate, I have to admit I felt a little strange with money removed from the equation. I was out of cash and Becca only had $11. Feelings of self-worth and what was right or wrong crept into my mind.

During the middle of our meal, the pretty waitress came back and asked if we wanted more and I began to tell her about my experience and asked many more questions.

"Each Sunday, we make the Polo India Club into the Karma Kitchen," she said. "It started in Berkly and now we have it here in DC. As a customer you can stay as long as you want and eat as much as you want. If you want to stay for 3 hours and eat once every hour, that's fine. No one tries to push you out the door and no one will rush you."

She explained that all the waiters and waitresses were volunteers and most had never done that sort of work before. She also said I didn't have to pay by money if I didn't want to and gave me a card of ways I could "Pay it forward" that included: buying a dozen balloons and taking them to a retirement home or telling someone in my family how much I appreciated them.

I asked her about a large table off to my right where a lively conversation had been going on.

"That is our community table. Strangers sit with strangers and become friends by the end of the meal.Last week a young journalism student met a writer for the Washington Post. The next week, the WP writer took the student on the tour of their offices."

Three times during our meal we were "tagged." In one instance Becca was given a box of beautiful stationery, in another I was given a candle and in the third we were both given karma cards that were meant to have us reflect on our experience.

At the end of the meal, our bill came in an envelope with the final price of $0.00.

As odd as it sounds, as I left the Karma Kitchen, my entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and I wondered if this sort of thing could be replicated in other places, in other types of restaurants. Odder, still, I knew I wanted to come home and write about the experience in a Facebook note.

I hope you'll get a chance to experience this for yourself.

For more about the Karma Cafe visit

Serving Karma in DC every Sunday.

Karma Kitchen

Every Sunday,

Polo India Club Restaurant
Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington DC 20009

(202) 483-8705

Closest Metro:
Dupont Circle (North exit)


  1. Oh my gosh, this story made me cry. I want someplace in Minneapolis to do this -- I can think of several restaurants that seem like they'd be into it. I am totally going to ask around as soon as I get a chance. Beautiful. Wonderful. Amazing.

  2. Wow--what a wonderful concept and true example of Karma. Thank you for posting this Slash.

  3. great story, thanks ... btw, karma kitchen's main website is at

  4. thanks for the web address I'll change it in the article.