People, Planet and Profit: Living Your Values in Business
Vimala Rajendran is a chef and restaurateur who deeply believes that we grow our community by engaging intentionally in the farm to fork process and living our vision of creative resiliency. She proudly states that food is a human right and her business motto is “Vimala cooks, everyone eats.” No one is ever turned away at her restaurant – yet she still makes a profit. Her business, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, prioritizes worker, environmental, and social justice; accessibility through affordability; and sustainability at every level. Her award winning restaurant, founded rather unexpectedly in 2010, pays a living wage. Their producers and investors are local, and their long-term goals are about transforming the local economy. They source produce and meat from nearby family farms; organize their workplace around joy and liberation; honor the land and our relationship to it; and practice interdependence with other organizations and small businesses with whom common values are shared. The idea to be a triple bottom line business came naturally to Vimala, given her mission to be sustainable on every level possible. The three areas they focus on are people, planet and profit. The people they are committed to caring for include the farmers who grow the food, the hands at the back of the house that prep the food, and all the others who contribute making the food come to the table and the guests who come to their business to eat. They pay the farmers a fair price for the food, pay the workers fair wages, and have some benefits like flexible hours, allowing staff with kids to be home with their families at dinner time, offer paid sick days and vacation. Care of the Planet Earth is honored by intentionally reducing waste. Vimala composts all food waste, utilizing all edible parts of vegetables and fruits by trimming off as little as possible, which keeps food costs down. The restaurant is mindful to keep an eye on making a profit. This is surprising to some of their supporters and that is understandable because they are so thoughtful in everything done for the community’s farmers, workers, and guests. Vimala’s presentation takes us on a journey from India to Canada to the US – telling the story of a woman’s path from memories of her mother cooking, immigration, domestic violence, liberation and how she ultimately became a triple bottom line business owner. Her story teaches us the power of ethical business and intention in our work – and that profit CAN be attainable through this model.
Vimala Rajendran grew up in Bombay, India where she learned to cook from family, street vendors & friends. In 1994, a single mother of three, Vimala started cooking donation-based community dinners in Chapel Hill, North Carolina home. Sixteen years later, in 2010, thanks to the support of our beloved community, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe was born. Despite being an “unexpected chef,” her restaurant has won the INDY Week’s 2015 Best Indian Restaurant in the Triangle (beating out all Indian restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary). She is an immigrant, survivor of domestic abuse, community activist, social entrepreneur, mother of three and mentor to countless people.