Carrots: Bangalore’s first vegan restaurant

An interview with Krishna Shastry, who’s hopeful that health food restaurants will soon become the trend although Veganism will take time.


Being vegetarian comes naturally to most of us in India. However, despite that, the vegan movement remains limited to a very niche circle of urban hipsters in the country. That’s when one begins to understand the finer differences between vegans and vegetarians with the latter being a choice of taste and, in many cases, religious adherence, whereas the former being a bigger choice of lifestyle and consumption pattern.

While India may have a vegetarian friendly culture, it has very little awareness, resolve or choice for vegans, that stands against consumption or usage of animal based products. Recognizing this challenge, Krishna Shastry started Carrots, the very first vegan restaurant in Bangalore and the state of Karnataka along with his German partner, Krsna.

Krishna talks to Makepeace about the benefits of serving vegan commercially and the challenges of going 100% organic in India.

Tell me a little bit about your journey with food and what you were doing before this. 

I have been a vegan since the last 15 years. Before that, I was always a vegetarian and occasionally ate eggs, but I quit that after sometime. It was in my engineering days when I turned vegan post a self introspection. When I became vegan, I did not even know the term vegan since I came from a small town where there wasn’t so much awareness. My dream was to start a restaurant. As I was exploring the idea, a mutual friend introduced me to my current partner. He runs a health food restaurant in Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh and has been involved in several projects helping out organic farmers in India for about 12 years.

What were your motivations to start a vegan restaurant?

Veganism is not just about food. Veganism is a lifestyle. Even Carrots is intended to be more than just a place that serves food.  People are vegans because of animal cruelty, health and because of the environment. My goal is to promote all three and grow this place as an information center where various kinds of groups can meet and activists can use this place for campaigning. We wanted to sow the seed for awareness and action here.

Do you call Carrots an organic restaurant as much? What is your stand on organic food today?

We don’t call ourselves an organic restaurant at all.  It’s not just organic that food should be, it must also be local. My ultimate dream would be that the food has to be local, organic, healthy and vegan – these four elements will make the food perfect.

We’re 100% vegan but we’re not 100% organic because it is practically not possible. The supply for staple ingredients is quite constant and reliable so we always source it from organic certified places but organically grown vegetables and fruits are not abundantly available. Whatever we cannot get organic, we try to source it from places like Namdharis because they are known to main certain standards with respect to no usage of pesticides. Although they might also have controversies attached to their brand but then I like to go with a basic belief system that their pesticide levels are relatively lower. I wouldn’t buy it from any regular sabzi mandis because it’s not just about how food is grown, but also how it is transported and handled.

Vegan salad at Carrots, Koramangala.

Tell us about some of the key principles your restaurant is firm to follow (from ethical sourcing to local or seasonal food etc.) and how do you communicate this value?

Different people give different weightage to the four elements I spoke of but I think Carrots has a good balance to this being 100% vegan, mostly organic, 70% local since most of the supplies come from Karnataka and our food is health conscious as well. We’re not putting MSG or taste enhancers nor deep frying anything so we’re serving healthier versions of food.

For e.g. you can get organic white rice but we use healthier versions like brown or red rice. We also concentrate on the different kinds of allergies people might have like, for instance, our desserts are gluten free and we’ve also come up with gluten free pizzas, which you cannot get anywhere else in Bangalore.

I also wanted to start a business which is very ethical in treating employees fairly, considers them its shareholders, maintains a lot of transparency to the customers so if anyone wants to walk into the kitchen, they’re most welcome.

Through our Facebook page and our website, we try to make sure that we communicate the idea of who we are, which is more than just an eating place. And in our menu, we explain some of our philosophy and we might consider putting up messages in the form of posters or something on the walls if it goes well with the ambience and décor.

Secondly, we’re also conducting various kinds of events that we promote online so people come to know more closely about the values that we associate with. For e.g. when we conduct a healthy cooking class, then the conscious mind of the reader knows that these people care about healthy cooking and sharing information.

How is the market reacting? What kind of people do you see coming in? And how do you ensure it is a diverse, non-stereotyped mix?

We do have a mix of audiences coming in and vegetarians and non-vegetarians are also coming in apart from vegans themselves.

Recently, we were featured in the Times of India and we suddenly got a lot of bookings and customers. But the customers who came were not part of the general audience. These folks care about certain things like their health, environment or folks who had certain restrictions like being lactose intolerant.

At the same time, we don’t want to come across as a place that looks down upon anyone who don’t fully agree with our values. We are happy to motivate them towards it but don’t want to push anyone.

Gluten and dairy free desserts at Carrots, Koramangala.

What kind of food is most often requested for or demanded?

We started out with Ala Carte but then moved towards Buffet, which is a reflection of our Ala Carte menu. Many people have special requests like they can’t eat gluten or whole wheat so we come up with customized versions of the dishes for them.

We’ve also introduced this option for customer to pay as much as the weight of their food so a person doesn’t have to stuff themselves beyond their capacity just because they’ve paid a full amount for the buffet.

From the walk in customers, generally they have stereotypes built into their minds, like they don’t believe in a fusion kind of food. There are those who come with an open mind towards it but 50% of them come in with asking for what they are familiar with and don’t really care about organic food.

One of the common feedbacks we’ve also received is that the menu is too small but then again those customers are not accustomed to health food restaurants. If you go to a Shanti Sagar or any of these restaurants, they’ll have a 10 page menu because they have so many things prepared well in advance. But in a health food restaurant, where you don’t keep many things prepared well in advance and try to do things as fresh as possible then you will have a limited menu. It’s a well accepted fact throughout the world but India has a limited number so the concept hasn’t sunk in. People here want to be treated like royalty and want to have 100 options to eat from.

Our price levels are also moderate but for middle class sections, they do look for more options within that price range. The buffet was the answer to this and after we started this, there have been lesser complaints of the same as people find the spread to have a wide variety. On top of that we also have started our specials that is apart from the Ala Carte menu that we serve.

Krishna Shastry, Co-founder of Carrots, Bangalore’s first vegan restaurant.

How do you see this vegan/organic food movement growing in India not just among upwardly mobile classes but also in the lower sections of society?

I don’t have any unrealistic dreams that lower classes would convert to veganism because of the holy cow concept in India. There’s too much baggage in people’s mindsets and they don’t want to leave meat even though the cow is getting tortured in many ways by people through confinement, artificial insemination, slaughtering processing, people want to live in denial and consume milk.

Organic movement, on the other hand, is actually catching up especially with the prices becoming more affordable than they earlier were. People have started also becoming more health conscious alarmed by the level of pesticides increasing in food ingredients.

Do you find that it is a commonly believed myth that organic food is more expensive? And how economically viable is it in running a business based on it?

Let’s not call it a myth. Let us not pretend organic products are equally priced. Let us also not pretend that organic products are unnaturally priced in each and every case. With the increase in organic movement in the last few years, the prices have come down and in some cases, it is very much comparable as well. In some cases, like whole wheat atta as compared to Aashirwad atta, it is actually even cheaper. However, soy milk in the regular market is 80 bucks but the organic variety is for 220 bucks.

From the restaurant’s perspective, there’s a huge difference because bulk purchases from the market comes out much cheaper as compared to organic suppliers. But inspite of that, we’re trying to keep our prices competitive with restaurants of the same class. We offer an unlimited buffet for 499 (inclusive of taxes) which is about the same with restaurants in the same league.

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Makepeace is a freelance writer and a make believe selfie model. She formerly served as a Community Editor at The Alternative and now works with an international non profit in Bangalore. The only kind of marathons she loves are the ones on the idiot box. Follow her at @makeysitlhou more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Makepeace is a freelance writer and a make believe selfie model. She formerly served as a Community Editor at The Alternative and now works with an international non profit in Bangalore. The only kind of marathons she loves are the ones on the idiot box. Follow her at @makeysitlhou more

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  • Deanna Widner

    Thanks so much for featuring this restaurant. I am a vegan in Bangalore and this place is heaven on earth. I go at least once a weekend!