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Sarma's got answers


About 1 month ago we asked WLIR readers if they had any questions for restaurant owner + chef + entrepreneur and guest blogger, Sarma Melngailis. Today, on her 36th birthday, we excited to bring you Sarma's answers.

But, before we do that, we'd like to take a moment to say: Happy Birthday Sarma! Thank you for everything you'd done for the raw food community. Your work is an inspiration and your friendship is always appreciated. Here's to changing the game!

Much Love from Anthony, Shannon, Philip and Dhrumil.

Ask Sarma

Andie asks: "What's your favorite/least favorite parts to your job? is it overall enjoyable or do you ever get really stressed out? plus, what's your favorite snack?"

Sarma: My favorite parts to my job? First, it feels weird to even call it a “job.” It’s just me, it’s what I do, it’s what I am, and I wouldn’t do anything else. But that’s exactly one of the best parts… having all the certainty imaginable about what I’m doing. Another favorite part is getting to work with ridiculously lovely talented people. And I love meeting new people at the restaurant and making people happy. I love when new dishes, desserts, ice creams or cookies are developed at the restaurant. I love finding really cool new products to add to the oneluckyduck site. Except… right now we have a huge backlog of things I want to add to our inventory and we can’t yet add them. So, this brings me to a less favorite part of what I do.  It would have to be that I still feel that my hands are somewhat tied. This will change soon, but for now it’s challenging. I want to do so many things and not being able to do them can feel frustrating, but I’m working on that! I would love more space and resources. Sometimes I wish I could forget about it all for a while. That part is hard. Building a big business is maybe a little bit like having kids. You can’t put them back, or walk away from them. And you wouldn’t ever want to, because it’s so great and you love them (it) with all your heart and they are a part of you. But, still… sometimes my soul longs to do something mindless and without weight and responsibility. My work and home are combined into one, so there isn’t much separation, which is okay. But I really do want to take a true vacation one of these days. No laptop, no blackberry. Some of my favorite parts of what I do are also the hardest parts. Being in charge is great. But sometimes I don’t want it all to come back to me, and I wish I could just defer to someone else and go take a nap instead. Sometimes I actually do this. I have good support all around me—that’s really nice too. People I love and trust who know the overall vision, so if I need to take a mental break and run off, I can in fact sometimes do that. I should do that. Hmmmm.

I do get very stressed out sometimes and that’s also not easy. I love to focus on building things and creating things rather than just sorting out problems or responding to everything that appears before me all day long, which is a lot. I would like to delegate more. A lot comes back to resources… more resources would be amazing. Overall, I love knowing that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing and there is nothing else for me… that’s a good feeling. Not to mention, every day I think how lucky I am not to have to squeeze into a suit every day and then squeeze into a subway car like a sardine, and then be confined in an artificially ventilated cubicle or office all day and have to do what someone else tells me to do. Sometimes working from your pajamas is really nice. And being able to work in the garden at Pure Food and Wine is insanely nice.

My favorite snack? Right now I’ve been noshing on frozen green juice. I take the bottled “Jolly Greens” juice from our juice bar, add a few extra drops of stevia, and pour it into ice cube trays. So good. And our new coconut chewy fruit bars. Yum. Those will be up on the oneluckyduck.com site soon.

Debbiedoesraw asks: "Hi Sarma. I loved your first book but are you going to write one solo? Please say yes!"

Sarma: YES!!! It’s all written and done, with the publisher. It was hard. I only submitted the final manuscript a full year past the original deadline. Oh well. I’m excited though!  It’ll be great… the food photos are so beautiful.

Lee asks: "Are you really raw or are you just pretending for the money?"

Sarma: For the money? I’m still waiting on that part! I left behind a money career long ago so it’s not about that. But that part will be good, looking forward to it. I’ve never claimed to be 100% raw. I’m VERY raw. I’m probably almost all raw, almost every day. Mostly raw, most of the time? Whatever it is, it works for me!

Deborah asks: "Sarma, Deborah here. The good folks at your restaurant tell me that you are working on a new book. You are such a genius, we'd love to know when the next addition will be available. Thanks! (And how's the toe?? Your own pee, really?)"

Sarma: New book will be out in 2009. It takes a LONG time to print, apparently. Toe is great! Thanks for asking. The one that I broke still hurts but now at least I can walk fast again. The other toe that was stung by a bee… well, that one’s fine too. I’m sure because I soaked it in pee. Most people know said that if you get stung by a jelly fish, you want someone to pee on you really quick. So, follows it would be good for a bee sting too. Right? Plus, it’s nice and warm.

Miin asks: "How does one go about applying for a job at purefoodandwine? my best friend is moving to nyc and has a lot of service experience from Australia.. he would love to work in a raw food, loving environment."

Sarma: One must audition, much like one does for American Idol. We sit on a panel and harshly judge your talents. Not really. Your friend should just send a resume and letter… to my attention is fine, I can pass it along to the appropriate manager. Through regular snail mail, or you can always find my email through Dhrumil or the restaurant. And we are for sure a loving environment. I should mention that one time someone dropped a resume for me with a box of raw chocolates, along with a lovely letter. In the end, she was offered a job. Chocolate helps.

Mueller asks: "What are your current favorite dishes on your menu? What would be an average days food intake for you? Do you workout at all and if so what's your routine? What hobbies or activities do you enjoy partaking in or around NYC? What's the name of your EFT woman? P.S.How the heck do you make your ice cream so good? It should be criminal."

Sarma: Right now there’s a new okra dish on special. It’s like fried okra, but of course, not fried. If anyone remembers the ‘fried calamari’ we had years ago, it’s similar, but much more flavorful.  Also, I am in love with the squash blossoms, those won’t be around too much longer. The cheesecake with figs and buckwheat honey ice cream is lovely. OH, how could I almost forget! We have new chocolate chip cookies in the juice bar, YUM and oreo ice cream by the pint, and the true geniuses are in the kitchen.

My average day food intake is hard to imagine… I don’t have much of an average. So far today, I had about a quart of green juice and I ate half of an S&M salad that I had left over in my fridge from yesterday. Yesterday I had a lot of green juice, and then the first half of that salad. Then I had a business meeting at the restaurant, so I ate small bites of a lot of different food off the menu. And I drank a few white light tinis.

I do work out, or at least I try. I used to go to a trainer, then I stopped when I was pushing to finish the book. I’ll start going back. His name is Lamont, at New York Sports Club. He’s the coolest. In the meantime, I work out in weird ways trying to fit little things in here and there. I have a rebounder at home (a mini trampoline). And yes, we sell them on oneluckyduck.com. I love my rebounder. It’s in the middle of my apartment. Sometimes I check out what’s on TV or put on good music and propel myself up and down and hope my assistant doesn’t walk in and see me. But it always helps my mood and it’s pretty serious fun, and really good for you. Since I broke my toe a few weeks ago, so I haven’t been able to walk around much in the city. I love long iPod walks. So now I’m getting back to doing that finally, without the limp. If I have a meeting in midtown, I’ll try to walk up and walk back. Or just go out and walk. I like walking by new restaurants that have opened up to check out their menus and peek inside. Then I know if I want to go back to try it sometime. I don’t go out much, but I do love restaurants and yes, not raw. It doesn’t happen too much. I don’t really have any hobbies. If I can find time, it’s good to spend it with people I love. And my EFT lady can be found at roadtoemotionalfreedom.com. She’s cool. I’m going to see her this afternoon! And glad you like the ice cream. We infuse it with secret good energy. 

Andthroughcreation asks: "How long did it take you to open up Pure, taking into consideration floor plans, menus, business loans and such?"

Sarma: It took a full year.

Ben asks: "Since raw restaurants are becoming easy to find in major US cities, what do you think is the next big thing that's coming with raw food?"

Sarma: I think raw food will continue to be more and more available, and that’s a pretty big thing.

3amchef asks: "I am a professionally trained chef and yoga teacher. Any suggestions on how to start a private raw chef for catering & parties? Any suggestions about how to create a successful raw blog? Any suggestions for starting a healthy raw business? (food, products, spa, consultations etc..) How do you come up with ideas for a cookbook? As a new author how do you go about getting published? Thank you for any ideas."

Sarma: That’s a loaded question! I’m never sure how to answer these questions. It’s kind of like asking how to find a husband, or buy a house, or get pregnant. Um. Well. There’s a lot to it, or it can be very simple. I’m going to have to pass on this one… too much of it depends on your individual circumstances, where you live, who you know, what resources you have or don’t have. Just follow your heart. Look for the clues that come your way, talk to people around you. I can’t answer this question without knowing any specifics. Wish I could help more!!

Nimisha asks: "What do you visualize 5 years from now for your self as well as the raw movement? Any plans to open franchises in other cities? What are some of the cool things that your readers don't know yet about you?"

Sarma: Pure Food and Wine opened four years ago, and it was five years ago that I first found raw food. It’s a much different “raw” world out there now than it was then, so it will keep getting more “raw” at an accelerated pace, and I plan to be a big part of that acceleration. Yes, we’ll do things in other cities.

What cool things do people not know about me? I pretty much put it all out there, and probably too much… so I’m not sure what else I could say, or if any of it is cool in the first place. I get very personal in the upcoming book. I’ve probably struggled a lot more with food issues than most people know. Though, that doesn’t really qualify as cool either. Also, I find people often assume I’m living some kind of high life of fabulousness, and I’m working on that, but it’s not like that at all. Though I do get to meet and know some pretty interesting people sometimes, which is cool overall, but not a good thing to talk about. I’m trying really hard to think of something cool and not coming up with anything yet. Hmmmm.

ESue asks: "Sarma, hello! Quick questions for you; when will you be expanding your restaurant to the west coast? We need more raw selections here in Seattle! What would be your one tip for losing weight on the raw food diet? I have found a slight amount of weightloss, but I am looking for a bigger decrease."

Sarma: We’ll get out west at some point but other places are calling. I’ve never been to Seatlle… would love to come out there. More so than L.A. sorry everyone from L.A. but you guys are doing pretty well. Seattle sounds like a lovely place to do something.  To lose more weight on raw food, I’d suggest drinking more green juice and eating more greens overall. It think it helps a lot because it’s what everyone could be getting more of and it keeps you feeling full and then you find yourself less hungry for all the heavy nuts and sweets. I love sea vegetables too. I used to make huge salads with orange juice, lime juice, and a drizzle of macadamia oil as a dressing, and then add small amounts of things like avocado or dried currants, and loads of fresh herbs. And whatever food you eat, drinking loads of water in between helps. And if you’re still having an issue, then figuring out what’s behind it all is the real answer, no matter what kind of food you’re eating. This I know.

Debbiedoesraw asks: "YES Come to the west coast, California is the place you ought to be!!! Sorry, channeled the beverly hillbillies theme song there.. just do a place here for us, please?"

Sarma: Thank you!!!  Sorry, I just told the Seattle person we’d get out there first. I will do my best to make it out to California with our goods one of these days!!! Thanks so much….

RawBin asks: "Greetings Sarma! You pick the question. I have two: I understand your kitty is raw. What are you feeding Sydney? Freeze dried raw meat? or is your cat a raw vegan? Do you include any greens in Sydney's diet? Or here's my alternate question: Will you ever be offering a brown with pink letters "EAT RAW LIVE LONG" T-shirt again? That was my favorite color combination."

Sarma: Yes my kitties are raw. Dallas is asleep on my desk right next to my laptop now. His sister Sydney is sleeping somewhere. I get them frozen organic food made from chicken and vegetables, no grain fillers (which is common, even in some raw pet foods). I also feed them lots of Wild Salmon freeze dried treats. I’ve never known any cat to not go totally insane for these. We sell them at oneluckyduck.com. So no, they’re not vegan… cats aren’t meant to be, I believe. I have a section on raw pets in the upcoming book too.

And about the shirts… everyone asks about those!  Here’s the thing… they’re not organic cotton. When I have enough power to design and make shirts to my own specifications, we’ll recreate that shirt in the best organic cotton. So many people want it, we get daily emails about those shirts. So, right now we’re buying out batches of that style of shirt on close-out sale so we may have more colors available soon, but to order the brown and pink we’d have to buy a zillion of them and that costs a lot of money so it’s not the right time, and I’m not sure I want to be buying that many shirts that aren’t organic. But I know how many people want it… we get asked almost every day. I’m a bit conflicted! I will work on it!  Thanks…

LegalMonk asks: "Sarma, I ask in context of having a personal dream that seems scary to just dive in head first: What inspired you to get into this business? Or, how did you realize that this was your calling? What are some of the biggest obstacles you faced (or facing), and how did you overcome them? What keeps you going?" Thanks for doing what u do and keepin it conscious."

Sarma: Okay… well, I recommend diving in head first, no matter what it is. I think you get rewarded when you take the plunge. Or, you’d think that’s how it all works! I’m pretty sure on that. I am a pretty big believer too that if you want to do really well, you should always take away your safety net which then assures that you’ll find a way to make sure you don’t fall (or fail). Or, write a book and put something in it like, “I’ve created an online source for everything raw and organic called oneluckyduck.com” etc etc. Then you send it to the publisher. Then, you realize you have six months until the book is printed and on the shelves to make it actually exist, or else you’ll look like an idiot. That’s how the duck started. I had nothing but the URL when the book went to print, but six months later it was a fully functioning online business. Phew!

I was inspired from the start with raw food, and one day I was sitting on the porch reading a book (about raw food) and I just realized all of a sudden that everything was different for me. It was just a feeling, but I remember it exactly: when it happened, where I was, etc. Before that, I felt like I was just wandering along. In college, I decided on an Economics major by process of elimination (because I wasn’t interested in anything else). I went to undergrad business school there because… well, why not? When I was graduating, there wasn’t anything I really knew I wanted to do. So I just looked around me to see what the most challenging thing was that everyone else was going out for… Investment Banking! So that’s what I went for too. And even while I was in that job, I knew it wasn’t right and that it was just something I was doing along the way. It took me a while before I finally left, but I’m glad I did all that, it was all part of the preparation I guess. Sometimes things happen and you just know. With raw food, it was one of those things. I just knew this was what the rest of my life would be about, even though I wouldn’t have been able to explain it to anyone at the time. I think everyone knows what’s going to happen, but some are more open to seeing it and trusting it. When someone says something, and it keeps repeating in your head, or you keep reliving a certain moment… it’s significant. I have loads of these kinds of moments that I remember. And they’re hard to explain. When I got my oneluckyduck tattoo in 2005, I was on the subway coming back and some guy looked at it and goes, “Hey, what’s that duck?” and a very loud voice in my head responded that in a few years, he wouldn’t have to ask that question, he’d already know. I didn’t say that out loud, but I heard it really loud in my head. I just told him it was my company logo. It’s now been a few years and the duck isn’t quite like the Nike swoosh yet, but I’m still working on that. Anyway… all of that is part of what keeps me going. I’m also still working on the obstacles but those are getting moved out of the way one by one too. I’d say they’re mostly financial and a lot of that has to do with the past. Some obstacles are more personal, such as figuring out how to not get unraveled by stress. I also try not to pay too much attention to some of the things that feel like they’re blocking my path, huge and looming as they may be. I figure I have a lot on my side, and one way or another, they’ll get moved out of the way just in time.

A huge part of what keeps me going is emails from people… one time I came home and was feeling tired, mopey, and weak. I was checking my emails and came across one from a lady with two autistic sons who was sending me a letter of thanks and telling me how much her kids love our cookies and snacks and how much they’ve improved now that she’s changed their diet, and more, and it was truly heartbreaking in the best possible way. Then I cried like a baby, but then felt totally renewed and determined. That kind of thing keeps me going for sure. Anyway… thanks!!

Alexandra asks: "10 years from now looking back -- What would had to happen for you to be fully satisfied, happy and empowered?"

Sarma: We’ll see! Sorry, that’s a cop out answer, but that’s kind of how I feel. I’m not sure I’ll ever be fully satisfied because that’s just my nature… there will probably always be more that I want to do, but I also don’t think that’s a bad thing. I really want to keep making and doing good stuff. But a feeling of freedom in doing all of that would make me feel empowered for sure.

Breanna asks: "Hi Sarma! I was just wondering what does your daily meal plan consist of?"

Sarma: See above… I don’t really have a daily meal plan. But lately, lots of green juice. I haven’t had a lot of extra time to be making my usual thick green shakes… now I’m craving one of those! You would think living so close to the restaurant and being there a lot I could eat whatever I want, whenever, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Maybe I’ll make a huge green shake tomorrow for my birthday.

Jessica asks: "Hi Sarma, I am going through a major skin detox since going raw about 9 months ago it started about 4-6 weeks ago. I have been a vegan for 20 years but ate lots of starch and processed vegan foods. I believe it to be candida from all the years coming out of my system. My question is did you ever experience such a detox and if so how long did it last?"

Sarma: I’m not sure what you mean by a major skin detox. I’ve had weird detox for sure but nothing terribly alarming and nothing that lasted for more than a few days. Everyone is different so it’s hard to say. It also seems surprising that it would begin so long after going raw, but again I’m not really sure. I wish I could help more on that! I should have some kind of in-house raw food practitioner/doctor/cleanser/guru/expert/guide to help with these things!

Seattle70 asks: "Hi Sarma. I'd first like to say that you have been such a beautiful, intelligent, pioneer in the Raw Food world and such an inspiration for me. My question is about entrepreneurship and building a great Raw Food business. I'm in the process of opening a Raw Vegan Cafe/Retail store. What is one piece of advice that you wish someone would have passed onto you when you opened yours? And what do you feel has been the source of your incredible success? Thank you so much and thank you for being real."

Sarma: Thank you! I don’t know what else to say. I can’t even think of any advice. One thing is that I’ve always stubbornly stood by everything we do and have been very open about it, which helps. It also helps to make sure you don’t bring in any judgment. I won’t hire over-zealous raw food people to work in any part of the business. It’s not helpful energy and not very welcoming to the rest of the good people out there. Again… thank YOU!