EAST VILLAGE — Two years after closing down their cafe, the Hare Krishna cultural center in the East Village is reopening an affordable vegetarian buffet restaurant this week.
The Bhakti Center on First Avenue between East First and Second streets will open the Bhakti Buffet with a menu of wholesome vegetarian meals on Thursday, aiming to serve those who attend programs at the center as well as outside customers.
"The concept is to provide healthy, fresh, wholesome vegetarian food at a very reasonable cost," said the center's program director David Ramella, 47.
The menu at the new cafe will change daily, with the first day's menu featuring vegetarian meatloaf and fresh tomato sauce, lemon rice with cilantro, baked jalapenos and bread made in-house that can be washed down with strawberry and mint lemonade.
Guests will serve themselves, with a plate of three items from the buffet costing $9, access to the entire buffet costing $12 and a soup and salad going for $6. A single buffet item will be $3.
The nonprofit center, which showcases Indian culture through art, drama, music, dance and yoga classes in the Hare Krishna tradition, previously had a cafe in 2009 but closed it in 2011 because of difficulty managing it, organizers said.
"We have always had food as a big element of our programs," Ramella said, adding that since the first cafe closed, the center has undergone renovations including the addition of a rooftop deck and a theater space.
"We are just reopening a place where people can sit down and buy a meal," he said, adding that the new changes to the space will hopefully make the cafe easier to run.
"The Bhakti Center has a broader appeal. You may go there because you like the yoga or you like the cafe," he said.
Like all of the staff at the Bhakti Center, Ramella is a Hare Krishna. He took on the spiritual name Kaustubha Das when he joined the movement, which started in a nearby East Village building in the late 1960s.
The cafe will be open Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with plans to expand the hours in the future.
The cooks, Chaitanya Kapadia and Krishangi Chander, both grew up in the Bhakti tradition in New Jersey and will abide by Bhakti rules when preparing food, which includes being in the right state of mind and upholding extreme cleanliness in the kitchen, according to Ramella.
"The state of mind of the cook is very important — [the food] should be prepared in a state of devotion and love," Ramella said.