Accepting Challenges of an overwhelming Response at Ammaji’s – 1 May 16

Last week I started telling you about our restaurant and as this is currently the most important project of our lives, I will tell you a bit more about it today and in the next days.

I already told you about our great start with our restaurant. Obviously, as we didn’t expect that many people, we were, in the beginning, under some pressure to accommodate everyone! We quickly had to employ more waiters to be able to serve everyone fast enough. Even with the help of Purnendu, Yashendu, Ramona and me, it was sometimes tough and we all were very exhausted at the end of such an evening! Soon however, we had a few more people and it was getting better.

At the same time however, the kitchen was having similar difficulties: we brought in more staff for cooking, more experienced cooks as well as helpers – but they didn’t have enough space on our existing cooking range! Of course, the person who designed the kitchen was a salesman first, not a cook, and now as it came to practical work and with all the pressure of a full restaurant, it was getting tight. Immediately we ordered a new cooking range and after re-organizing the kitchen a few times, it is now all set and the kitchen is running fast and well, too! We have two expert cooks for each department, so that each of them can take their days off while we can still provide all dishes.

Obviously, all of this means a lot of expenses, too. Especially in the beginning, we knew this would happen and it is normal! We are not looking for the biggest profit however, as this was not the first aim and intention for us to open! We are having the goal of providing best quality at low cost.

That’s how we kept our rates cheaper than other eateries in Vrindavan. Our guests are often surprised about the low cost of their dinner in this beautiful ambiance and with such good taste. We know however that this is how it should be: first, we will show people that healthy food can be very tasty and we will give a practical example of our meals’ quality. About the rates, we can see later and make adjustments. We can see already that people like coming back for more – so much that we will need to expand very soon, finishing our first floor to fit more tables!

With this great response, at least one thing is true: we did advertisement but didn’t have to spend as much on it as expected, because another kind of publicity is going very well for us: the word of mouth. Talk spreads like wildfire in our town that there is one place you have to have eaten at, at least once: Ammaji’s!

My Day as a Waiter – 24 Apr 16

It is Sunday once more and Ramona is writing these lines while sitting at Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant, sipping on a fresh lemonade and in between punching orders or taking out bills for guests who have come for lunch. This is how we work now – a big change in our lives!

Of course my day has changed as well and actually really drastically, as it is a completely different work that we do these days with our restaurant. There is something constant which I have kept for my daily life and that is my yoga practice. Just as before, Ramona and I get up in the morning and do our yoga exercise. It is the best start in the day and it keeps us fit and flexible. In the meantime, Yashendu usually gives his yoga class for our Ashram guests. Purnendu is the first one of us four at the restaurant, so that it can open at eight thirty in the morning.

After our yoga practice and once Apra is awake, washed and dressed, Ramona and I join our in-house guests at the restaurant. That’s how everyone nowadays has breakfast together there! The participants of our Yoga and Ayurveda retreats and also of our weight loss retreat – they get a tasty fruit platter! On days when there is no school, the children of our Ashram join us, too, and we all have breakfast.

Ramona usually takes her computer to the back office to work a little bit there and see what is going on at the Ashram. The three of us brothers look after guests at the restaurant and organize other necessary things in the meantime.

In the midday and afternoon, Purnendu, Yashendu and the two of us take turns in taking a midday break. We never used to take naps in daytime even though it is an Indian tradition to do so. I spent a lot of time in Europe and as most people don’t usually have the habit of sleeping in midday there, I never developed it. Now however, it gets late at night and so we feel the need for a nap in midday.

One of us however is always at the restaurant to welcome the guests. Of course we have our team members at the restaurant but we want to be there ourselves, too. At the same time, people appreciate us being there. We welcome guests, we ask them how they liked their meals and how the food was. It is something everyone likes: to be able to give feedback.

Finally, we are all back at the restaurant for preparing the evening time. And that’s when we always get full! An amazing success which we had not expected – and of course lots of work as well! For a few hours after our own dinner, we all get very busy with attending our guests. And I tell you: we all love it!

The evenings get late though and that’s how we fall into bed, often after midnight. But: we love our new job!

Ramona’s first Birthday as a Restaurant Owner – 20 Mar 16

Yesterday was Saturday and thus the day on which I always give you a recipe. Had it been any other day, I would have told you about an event on the 19th March which I have been celebrating since the year 2007: the birth of my wife Ramona. It was her birthday yesterday and at the same time, it was the beginning of the Holi celebration in Vrindavan!

Our friends and also those readers who have loyally followed all the important days in our year through the years know what this would normally mean: a big party with great food, music and lots of colour, letting us dance until late night!

Well, this time it was a bit different! The reason? Our restaurant, of course! Having opened only this month, we are still very busy and love spending our evenings at Ammaji’s serving, talking to guests and helping our team. We didn’t want to miss that for our private party but at the same time, we did not want to miss our party either. So we simply went ahead and changed the timing a bit: Ramona got an afternoon party this year!

After opening the restaurant in the morning and serving our restaurant guests lunch, we all got together with our kids, our staff members and Ashram guests for Ramona to cut her cake. Obviously, Apra helped her with it and we all shared. The rest of the cake was carried towards the gate into the restaurant, so that the staff there, too, could enjoy it and thus join the fun!

We shifted out to the porch, where we were greeted by a rain of flower petals from the balcony! It was beautiful and of course not only the kids started picking up the flowers to throw them at each other! Soon after, coloured powder was added and after just a short while, we all were covered in red, orange, green, yellow and pink colour!

As it was the first day of Holi, however, we did not overdo it and after two or three hours of fun, we all went to take a shower – so that we could go back to the restaurant afterwards and enjoy the evening there!

It was a beautiful day and a very special birthday for Ramona as well: the first one as the proud owner of a restaurant!

A week at the Hospital – 13 Mar 16

This whole week was a ‘hospital week’ for me! Ramona, Apra and I have lived in Gurgaon for the past week and only came back to Vrindavan yesterday evening.

I actually already started daily trips to Gurgaon the week before the past one, as Purnendu and I went with my father to the hospital there to admit him: he was due for knee replacement surgery! For years already, we had known that it would have to be done one day, as he started having occasional pain. This pain had increased over the past months however and had got so bad that it was necessary to replace both of his knees.

Obviously, the timing was less than perfect with our restaurant having just opened but sometimes things just work this way!

As Purnendu had a journey booked with two of our Ashram guests towards Varanasi, Ramona, Apra and I took over the care for Babbaji and settled in Gurgaon for the past week. While Pawan stayed overnight at the hospital with Babbaji, we slept at a hotel and spent most of the day at the hospital.

As Delhi is close however, I naturally also took trips there, whenever time allowed it, to do shopping for the restaurant, sending the car back home filled with lots of stuff for Ammaji’s! And obviously Ramona and I now go to restaurants with a fully different view: we look at their interior, their menus, prices and food presentation, constantly thinking whether there is something that could inspire us for our place!

While we were already at the hospital, we called our second patient to join us: Monika came together with her mother. She, too, had her surgery – but more about that tomorrow! Today just this much: all went well and she is in the guest house now, recovering.

Now, my father is back home, we have returned as well and I am happy that these two surgeries are done. And you cannot imagine how much I am looking forward to one thing: to receive and serve guests at Ammaji’s!

Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant is open – Enjoy Food like from your mother’s Hands! – 6 Mar 16

Yesterday was a very important day for us: after two years of building, decorating and preparing, we finally opened Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant!

Of course it was a big day for us, even though we didn’t make any big celebration or event out of it. We are now serving food in the ground floor of the restaurant – and we will give a big party once the first floor is ready and we serve food there! You are however already now more than welcome to come and try our food at Ammaji’s!

Obviously, we were excited! The decision to open was also taken quickly: we had already had our test party in February, eating food in the restaurant for the first time. I told you about that day in another blog post. After that we arranged all those things which we had noticed were missing, employed the staff of that evening and some more, practiced with everyone in the kitchen and showed them how to cook the way food should be prepared and most of all how it should taste in Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant! And there we were, on Friday, with some more things that had to be done but so many ready that we said we would simply take the step and do it: let’s open!

So now you, my readers, our friends at the Ashram, friends in the city of Vrindavan and its surrounding as well as anyone who just comes by or gets to know about us somehow can come to our restaurant and eat there!

We offer North Indian dishes and specialties, South Indian options, a few Chinese items, Italian and continental food like pizza and pasta as well as of course German bakery items and some of our super-tasty home-made ice cream!

In our menu you get to know which items are good for which dosha and you can read about the doshas as well, learning which food would be good for your body constitution. We offer a balanced thali, a selection of Indian dishes on one plate as well. At the same time all our food is cooked in less fat, with moderate spices and in a healthier way than usual in restaurants while keeping all the taste as well!

So we are true to the concept of our name: Ammaji’s. Food like from your mother’s hands. Food like my mother cooked it as well. Food that tastes like the best food you ever eat at home!

Come and try it out – we are looking forward to serving you at Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant!

You can see more pictures and news on Ammaji’s facebook page and I would like to ask everyone who has already made their experience to please write their review on TripAdvisor – we are looking forward to read it!

Good Service makes a good Product even better! – 28 Feb 16

I already told you that Ramona’s school friend was visiting us at the Ashram with her boyfriend and that we would show them around. We did – including last weekend in Jaipur, the beautiful capital of Rajasthan. We saw the sights, did cloth and souvenir shopping to the heart’s content and had some great food as well. One of the best meals was at a place that I had wanted to test when in Jaipur: an organic café.

It was really a café, not a restaurant, so when we reached there shortly past seven, they already told us that we only had about one hour before they would close. We wanted to taste their food however and answered that it would be enough time for us to eat!

All this place’s dishes were standing ready in their display: there were salads and small pizzas, some noodle dishes and bread with dips. We looked through the items and each selected something different, so that we finally had a good mixture of items on the table.

Looking at the food, I had mixed feelings. Anyway, I had known that they didn’t cook Indian food but I was really unsure whether I would like the taste. Additionally, the waiters were not the most friendly I had ever met. On the tables, too, there were strange signs which told you to please share tables with people waiting and to please leave once you were done eating… how welcoming!

But: even shortly before closing time, there were several people in there for food and once the food arrived, I was convinced!

It was really great food! You could taste the freshness and we indulged in a truly wonderful taste!

Obviously, one reason for us to go was because we are planning to open Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant with options for organic food soon as well! We wanted to see how others give out organic food and maybe get some ideas for ourselves.

For us, this visit confirmed that we are having a great idea that will work – and we will even provide good service, which this place didn’t, making the experience beautiful for every person who comes to eat here! Yes, we will not start switching off lights and practically being rude to those who are eating in our restaurant, as it happened there – and about the food, I don’t really worry!

Full of ideas, enthusiasm and energy for starting soon we have returned – and I am sure soon I will be able to give you the good news of our opening!

The first Meal at Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant – 21 Feb 16

Today I would like to tell you about a day of the past week. On that day there was a very special event for us and a number of people around us: we had the first test meal, a trial party at our restaurant!

Yes, Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant is just about to be ready for opening! So far already that we have taken the step and organized a test cooking! The cooks, helpers and waiters whom we are planning to hire for running the restaurant were all there and got to work in our kitchen for the first time!

It was a test evening to check their skills, to see our kitchen as well as our restaurant with its bamboo furniture and beautiful crockery in action! A test necessary to find which items are still missing in the kitchen and whether there are any other areas that we haven’t paid attention to and which we need to take care of.

In the end, however, we had a beautiful evening with wonderful atmosphere and truly delicious food. The Ashram guests as well as some close friends had the pleasure to test with us, sitting on the new benches and under our bamboo ceilings.

Now before we open our restaurant for the public, we need to take our experience of that evening, purchase whatever is missing and get the remaining points into order. The menu is in the process of being printed, the staff is pretty much decided upon and the bamboo workers have finished their work from inside the ground floor restaurant.

Of course we will now still give our new cooks some training on how to prepare food in our style, with the concern of Ayurveda and also healthier than how they are cooking right now.

That’s how I cannot give you an exact date for opening yet but of course, it is getting very close. And standing in our restaurant, looking at the happy faces of friends and family and then turning my gaze towards the picture of my mother on the wall, I have to say, I am not only excited that we will open our restaurant soon. I am excited that we will have this space where people can meet, nourish their bodies well and have a beautiful time! I am excited to offer people something they have never experienced before.

Click here to see more photos of trial party

My Odyssey of applying for a new Passport – 14 Feb 16

As I usually tell you about something going on in my life in my blog entries on Sunday, I would like to tell you about something that has occupied me for the past two months: I needed a new passport!

On our return from Germany in the beginning of December, I knew I had to apply for a new passport. My old one was going to expire at the end of 2016 but it was still a hand-written passport. From the beginning of the year 2016, hand-written passports are not anymore accepted as valid IDs at airports – and they told me so on both flights to and from Germany as well!

No problem, I thought, nowadays one can apply for a passport online. I did and in that application right away noted the changes from my last passport: change of address, as my previous address in the middle of town was written in the old passport, a change of appearance, as my old passport picture still showed me with long dreadlocks, causing airline staff to triple-check my identity at check-in time and finally my marriage to Ramona, as the spouse is mentioned by name in the Indian passport.

The application went through and I got an appointment at the passport center in Ghaziabad. I brought all the required documents including the international marriage certificate which we had had issued at the German registrar at our wedding. Seeing this, however, the official handed it back to me and told me that it would need to be attested, as a proof that this foreign document was valid. My application would not be taken without this. It didn’t help to tell him that we had especially had this international version issued in case we would ever need it in India!

Well, so I returned and tried to phone at the place which he had mentioned for getting our certificate attested. They told us they were not anymore doing that work, I would need to call the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I got an appointment there and both, Ramona and I took another trip to Delhi. After entering the impressive building with tight security checks, we reached the office of the lady I had contacted – only to be told that the stamp of the registrar on our certificate was not enough! We needed an apostille. Where would we get that, we asked.

At the Indian embassy in Frankfurt! But I could not travel to Germany anymore with this passport – how would I reach the embassy in Frankfurt? There was one possibility, she said: maybe the German embassy in Delhi would be able to help!

It was twenty to twelve and we knew the embassy would close for the public at twelve noon – so we rushed out of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and drove straight to the embassy. We reached five minutes to twelve – and after presenting our case were told to please send an email with our request! Oh well, so we went home again.

Upon our email, the embassy replied: they would do an exception for us against a fee but only with one condition: if the registrar in Wiesbaden, where we had got married, would confirm the validity of our marriage certificate!

So Ramona wrote to and called the registrar. After several emails and phone calls, during which they first suggested to have a friend go to the city council and get an apostille there and then have it registered at the Indian embassy, they finally agreed that they could make an exception, too, and write to the embassy.

With that done, I went to the embassy again, from there to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I finally then got the attest that I needed for the passport office. I registered another appointment and was able to get in. My documents were scanned and I was passed on to level two. That officer looked at my address proof – my bank account statements – and declined. What was wrong, I asked? He said I would need a passbook with a photo inside as an address proof of an Indian bank.

I had to go home once more. A trip to the bank yielded no results: they don’t give out passbooks with photos! I didn’t find any other option for an address proof and went to get the one they asked for: I opened a new bank account at an Indian government bank! A day later, I had a passbook with photo in it!

I reached the passport office in Delhi once more. I reached the counter. I presented my documents. When the officer looked through my case and papers however, he took a look at my old passport picture and at me and said ‘We should actually get an affidavit that this is really you’! I looked at him in desperation and said ‘Please just let it go through, you know it is me!’ He smiled at me then and accepted it.

I was still not done though! They still needed to do a police verification that I was really living at my newly entered address! For that, they sent the papers to the local police station and we received a call. The officer told me that he would come and have a look at some identifying papers, such as my high school report card! Oh, so we took that out and when he was finally here, showed him what he wanted to see.

After that it took another two weeks until the passport was finally here. It took two months all in all but now it is here!

Preparations for opening Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant keep me extremely busy! – 7 Feb 16

A lot is going on here at the Ashram and I am busy every day from morning to evening, walking again and again to the restaurant and back to the Ashram’s main building. How come? We are closer to the day we are going to open Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant – and thus a lot of things are moving at quite a fast speed!

We have been working for months on our interior design and decoration, making wall claddings, furniture and ceilings out of bamboo ourselves, again and again checking with our bamboo workers, giving them new ideas, trying what works and what doesn’t. Yesterday, we hung the lights which will be above our tables, last night, our beautiful crockery finally arrived at the restaurant and today our store will receive its final touch so that we have lots of space for the supplies we soon need to buy.

Every day, we lead interviews with job applicants who want to work at our restaurant. Managers, accountants, cooks, store managers, waiters, cleaning personnel – there are a lot of posts to fill!

We are finalizing our menu, have installed software for the billing computer and are considering where to do advertisement. We go to Delhi again and again to buy things we need but had not thought of yet or which we had ordered and had to pick up ourselves.

Apart from that, the Ashram is running as usual with guests enjoying the Ayurveda and Yoga Weight Loss Retreat with massages and yoga. The school is in full swing as well, the kids starting prepare for the last months of the year. Oh yes, and of course our little Apra also needs our attention.

But all, the Ashram guests, school kids, Ashram boys and also Apra are looking forward to the opening of our restaurant. We, too, can hardly wait anymore – and of course I will let you know once the day is here. It won’t be long anymore!

Stinky and polluted Delhi gives me a Headache – 31 Jan 16

Yesterday, Purnendu and I spent the day in Delhi. It was a trip that we knew would take us the whole day, as we had a lot of things to do. And having returned safely after a long and exhausting day, I definitely have to say: Delhi is too full, too loud, too stinky and too polluted for me!

Purnendu and I had started in the morning – but not very early, as shops in Delhi usually don’t open before 11 am. Already when entering Delhi, we saw something which is rather unusual: there was garbage lying around everywhere! Nowhere did we see any of the otherwise quite hard-working cleaners and sweepers in town! Instead, on every corner we saw huge piles of plastic, dirt, papers and indefinable dirty objects. That’s when we remembered news we had read in the newspaper the days before: Delhi’s cleaners were on strike!

I don’t actually know the outcome but I assume it is in the favour of the cleaners, judging from the amount of chaos their strike caused in town! It was dirty everywhere and of course smelling badly, too!

On top of that, there is the well-known problem of pollution in the city of Delhi. With 1400 cars daily added to Delhi’s roads, you can imagine where this is coming from! If you want to go from one side of Delhi to the other one, it can take you hours.

At the beginning of this year, the Delhi government put a rule into place called ‘odd / even’, with every other day only cars with odd or even numbers being allowed to drive in town. And you know what? When we were driving around in Delhi in that time, it was indeed better! Less traffic, less time to get from one place to another and I even imagined that the air was a bit better. That was a two-week experiment however and yesterday, it was all back to normal or, with the strike of the cleaners, actually worse!

When shopping for pots for our restaurant’s kitchen, lights and lamps and more, we obviously had to cross nearly the whole town – partly by car, partly by rickshaw and partly by foot. Walking by the garbage piles, sometimes covering our noses, taking good care where to put our feet – it was exhausting, to say the least! And you can imagine how difficult it is to find a half-decent place to pee when you have to!

In the end of the day, I had a headache, something which I have really very rarely. I was nevertheless satisfied: we had been able to run all our errands and get more of those things together which we need for opening our restaurant next month!