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Home » Community, Local Good News

‘Gift Economy’ cafe operating successfully in Golden Bay by Charlotte Squire

Submitted by on May 18, 2012 – 7:20 am

Local Good News/Golden Bay

Sruti Stojchevski is conducting a social experiment from the Golden Bay Community Organic Gardens. He’s serving up fresh food, lovingly prepared daily according to Ayurvedic principles from mostly local organic produce, at his cafe ‘Space of Love’.

Now here’s the interesting part, as a customer: once you’ve finished your meal, you get to choose how much you think the meal was worth and deposit your koha anonymously into “the magic box” on the counter.

What a concept. Sruti calls it ‘the Gift Economy’ and he finds it seriously fascinating to watch how people deal with this relatively new approach to customer service. He successfully ran a cafe along the same principles from New Brighton, Christchurch until the earthquakes meant he no longer had a cafe. Sruti moved to Golden Bay and took a leap of faith in setting up the Space of Love within a much smaller, but close knit community.

Playing an important role in his venture are the high quality foods he uses. Many of the ingredients Sruti are from the organic community gardens (which are literally right beside the cafe), and he sources his organic grains, nuts, flours, seeds and more from a local organic wholesaler.

Sample menus include ‘Italian Calzone with Pumpkin Coconut Soup’; ‘Rosemary Yogurt Baked Potatoes with Green Mung Dal and Zucchini in Cashew Tomato Sauce with Paneer Cheese’ and ‘Vegetables au Gratin with Basmati Rice and Tamarind Chutney’.

People have been known to eat his food and return to work alongside him in the kitchen to learn his recipes.

So this cafe, which obviously serves a well balanced, professionally designed menu, just happens to one hundred percent reliant upon, well, people’s feelings at the time of payment. I just had to ask, does this new style of business work financially?

Well, yes. Sruti covers all his business costs, and supports himself with the Space of Love.

“I’m not earning much, but I always seem to have enough,” he says

“People pay according to how happy they are with what they have received; instead of always being told how much to pay here they have the opportunity to value the
quality of food, service and the ambience; besides that the other consideration is people are donating according to their means”.

Sruti doesn’t like to place a figure on how much he charges for the service he offers the community, he leaves it to people to be “guided by their conscience.” And he says the thousands of people he’s served have generally all given enough to keep him in business.

“Everyone is welcome to contribute in their own way. We wouldn’t want people to feel that if they are on a tight budget that they can’t afford to eat the food we serve. I am happy to feed one and all, and no one should feel excluded. I say that not because of naivety but out of deep conviction that no one should go hungry.”

Apparently younger people tend to ‘get it’ much easier than those aged sixty plus. Those of the older generation have been known to stand and ask Sruti to give them a figure, any figure.

The figure I finally did wrangle out of him was anywhere from five to fifteen dollars (well actually I found it in an article that was published about him in the Christchurch Press and Sruti nodded). He said that over the past few years in Christchurch there had been a handful of people who continuously gave a coins or two, meaning that others were paying their way. In those very rare cases he would watch them for a while, and if they kept coming back to eat and pay very little, he personally sat down with them to try and work out a way to even up the exchange, wanting everyone to feel welcome at his cafe.

“I want to develop and encourage ideas of trust, generosity and respect,” says Sruti.

The concept of paying what ever you think the meal is worth is a novel one for us Kiwis. I must admit that when paid for my (delicious) meal at the Space of Love I gave ten dollars while somewhat nervously hoping it was ‘enough’. Sruti expressed nothing but generosity and happiness that I was enjoying the food, and suggested I take another helping, and I got the sense that it really didn’t matter what I gave, he was simply there to feed people.

Sruti loves his work, he enjoys the freedom of changing the menu as his moods change, and he loves watching his unique ‘social experiment’ play out. For him, this is the ultimate job.

“It’s really easy, you’re just being yourself, living life right for you and if others feel inspired, then that’s great.”

The Space of Love is open week-days from noon until four in the afternoon. Sruti also sells Ayurvedic supplements from the Space of Love and offers cooking lessons.

Check out www.spaceoflove.co.nz for more details.

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