Sectarian Restaurants: Eating Your Way To Spiritual Growth

Partially inspired by this article in Time Out Chicago about restaurants sponsored by quasi-religious institutions, we thought we’d take a tour of your better-known groups’ restaurants that we dare not call “cultic” for fear of legal retribution (not to mention eternal damnation!)

A surprising number of religious sects have restaurant fronts; they make money, increase visibility in a non-threatening way, and can serve as a meeting space when necessary. Some are even said to have good food! Also, religions have used eating as a metaphor for absorbing spirituality for some time — consider the Eucharist.

Let’s start out with the redoubtable Scientologists and their Renaissance restaurant in Los Angeles. It’s located in the garden of the Celebrity Centre and features an American/Continental menu with dishes like Orange Roughy served on fettuccini, tomato, basil, garlic and a white wine butter sauce for $22. The name “Renaissance” refers to the Scientologists’ belief that by rescuing artists, musicians and movie stars from their heathen ways, some sort of cultural renaissance will occur. Okay!

The Hare Krishna have Indian-style vegetarian restaurants all over the world, including in Stockholm, Madrid, Fiji, and Los Angeles. Govinda’s offers a $7 all-you-can-eat buffet that somehow made it onto the 2008 Saveur 100. Even if it wasn’t good, it would be hard to beat the value. Most Govinda’s have temples attached in case you feel the need to call out to Krishna.

For our third example, we’re compelled to return to LA. Why does Los Angeles have so many cults? An anthropologist friend of ours pointed to a “complicated blend of culture and geography,” and we’ll judiciously leave it at that. Anyway, back in the mid-1970s, a cult called The Source that mixed hippyism, free love and celebrity in a non-violent fashion opened a raw/health food restaurant on Sunset Boulevard that closed only recently. A former member describes some of the restaurant’s dishes on a fascinating personal website:

One of the Source Restaurant’s most popular salads was the “Aware Salad,” which was a salad in a huge bowl, featuring lettuce, grated beets and carrots, red cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado. In the 1990’s, I used to like getting their brown rice pancakes for breakfast, and their “Peasant Lunch” (a bowl of soup, apple, and cheese) in the afternoons. For dinner, I liked their “Aware Salad.” I also really liked their iced hibiscus tea and the “High Potency Drink” which had orange juice, banana, wheat germ, honey and egg.

Healthy food seems to be a major theme of these cult restaurants; after all, people who join cults are usually looking for a way to purify and better themselves, something most immediately accomplishable through dietary choices.

A few addenda to round out our list:

Opus Dei, a Catholic fringe organization recently popularized by the Da Vinci Code, runs the United States’ only all-women’s hospitality management college, in Chicago. The school offers programs in hotel/restaurant management and culinary arts, so its graduates could be anywhere!

• The Heaven’s Gate cult’s final meal was at Marie Callender’s in Carlsbad, Ca. All of the members had the same order: salad and chicken pot pies, with cheesecake for dessert. Wow.

• The Miracle Restaurant Group owns 58 Arby’s in the Midwest. Some of their locations have Bible quotes on the walls.

• The Mormons don’t have a signature restaurant, but there was a joke going around the LDS section of the internet last September about a Mormon-themed chain of steakhouses called “The Steak Center.” The joke contains a lot of religious references we don’t understand that make us somewhat uncomfortable, like “they’ll have breakfast items, including Pearls of Great Rice and Frosted Minivans, as well as Adam-ondi-Omelettes” and “[t]he waiters will be 12- and 13-year-old boys wearing white shirts and their fathers’ ties.” Actually, can they please make that restaurant happen? We’d fly to Salt Lake City to try it out.

[Photo: DON’T WORRY, via Stephanie Andrews/flickr]

Sectarian Restaurants: Eating Your Way To Spiritual Growth