By Ralph Melcher
George Epidaurus, young businessman-jogger of Grecian ancestry does his daily early afternoon run around the park before stopping in at the New Deli for a large carrot juice, and if inspired, an order of Muriel's Spanakopeta. This particular Friday afternoon he stops before the door to peer through the painted window at chairs stacked neatly on counters and a sign indicating that the Deli is "Closed For The Weekend." Very irregular.
Turning to leave, he faces an enormous brand new Buick Electra which has pulled over to the curb. A familiar voice calls from the interior, "What's up?"
"The place is closed," George replies, recognizing that the voice and accompanying face belong to a person he met and befriended at this very same Deli some weeks ago.
"Figures," responds the face, inexplicably breaking into a wide smile. "Well, we're off then. How do you like the transport?"
George shrugs in reply. He is acquainted sufficiently with his friend to know that nothing in his recent employment record would warrant the purchase of such a " class" mobile.
"It's a driveaway. We're off to Portland to see the Lord. See you next week."
Just like that, with a knowing smile and a wave, he's gone. Oh well, a few extra blocks to The Grainery for that carrot juice…
Three weeks later the same George on the same self-appointed round pulls up to the very same destination, this time to find the sidewalk in front of the Deli overflowing with a happily milling throng of unrecognizable customers. Making his way inside and up to the counter he orders his carrot juice and askS almost simultaneously, "What's going on?"
"Maharaj Ji's in town! Along with about 3500 premies from all over the place. It's pretty incredible."
George watches six or seven people zip busily back and forth behind the counter, in the kitchen, at the dispensary, clearing tables. People sit and stand. Voices ripple in all manner of conversation. Old and new friends gather together. People pass and meet, waiting for a sandwich or refreshment, paying the tab, leaving tips and moving out the door to be replaced by two or three coming in. Sometimes it looks like impossible confusion, but in some way order manifests. At least George's juice manifests, though wandering wide-eyed about the room he barely notices.
On the faces of everyone there is a kind of rosy glow as if some part of each were floating in a gorgeous paradise having little to do with all the activity around them.
We leave George, wondering …
A year ago Phil Seldes and Kate Ricard were working at Rainbow Grocery. A plan was afoot to set up a wholesale-retail warehouse that could sell food in bulk quantities to customers for less than they would pay off the shelves of a retail store. Attached to the warehouse would be a natural food Delicatessen that could serve lunches and refreshments as well as herbs and bulk refills. The warehouse plan was eventually scrapped, but the Deli part continued to develop with Phil.
Phil: "I'd been unemployed for 11/2 years until I began doing service at Rainbow. I couldn't face working for someone else and I wanted somehow to continue serving Maharaj Ji. The idea of starting a restaurant was something I'd been carrying in my head for a while."
Kate: "I needed a change from Rainbow and I really liked Phil's vibe a lot. I thought we'd be able to co-exist pretty well."
Phil and Kate opened the Deli on July 10th, 1976, the weekend of another of Maharaj Ji's programs. Work had moved furiously to meet the occasion but as the weekend approached it seemed there would be no way to make it. However, somehow it was announced at the program that they would be open. Dozens of premies from out of town came until Phil gave in to it all and the Deli opened its doors.
This day a year later three new items are added to an ever growing menu: Waffles and ice-cream, Tahini-Miso Spread and English Muffins. Along with the expanding menu, the addition of an herb and bulk dispensary and an accumulation of goodies; the clientele has expanded to include many neighborhood people as well as premies. There's a loyal group of regulars who can be found here any day they're in the area; Eddie and Fats and the Chums, Claire and Pat and Ellen, Jim and Rebecca, George the Jogger and a small host of others. Satsang, conversation, and moral support are shared over the counter, out back and in the kitchen as well. Some of the regulars get into helping out when things are moving a bit too fast. Faces familiar and unfamiliar, people recognized from all kinds of meetings and circumstances pop in at one time or another.
Some of the faces transform over time. "People seem to open up in here," Kate tells me. "Even if they're stiff as a board the first time they come in, after a few visits they begin to loosen up. It's neat to watch."
The vibe at the New Deli is one of service. It took me a few weeks to catch on. The weekend that Maharaj Ji last came to town a half-dozen people worked the kitchen and counter, more than half just for tips and the opportunity to serve premies. There was almost no way to forget what was really going on …
I asked both Kate and Phil how they related to the realities of operating a small business.
Kate: "I just do what I'm doing and usually don't think about it. Sometimes I'll get into it. It's difficult these days to make a small business work, unless you've got lots of time and patience to put into it. Sometimes it seems that it's going too slow, but it's actually grown very naturally and organically; not too fast for us to handle. If I start thinking into the future I just start flipping out. So I try to be in the present and just watch it happen."
Phil: "If I weren't devoting the Whole thing to Maharaj Ji it would really be rough. If I didn't feel it was service I don't think I could keep doing it. I'd probably go crazy or just get sick of it. I'm into being able to live and enjoy the things on this planet as much as I can. I just want to do this the best I can without letting it put me under. The key is relating to it as service to Maharaj Ji and letting his Grace flow through everything."
A call came from the residence the first day Maharaj Ji was in town for what became the Festival of Love. "Last time we were in Denver the Deli sent a gift-package of salads and goodies that Maharaj Ji and Durga Ji really enjoyed. We were wondering if you'd like to do it again? Maharaj Ji especially liked the New York Potato Salad." Whooppee! For the next couple of hours as regular business streamed around us, we scooped and sliced and packed lunch for our Lord. Phil bought a couple of heart-shaped cake tins which were filled with N.Y. and "We Love You" spelled out in grated carrots on the top. I got to slice some Baklava and Cheesecake. Everything assembled, Phil and Eddie Scheps drove it over to Dahlia Street. The Family was waiting.
This weekend we're on the road again. Closing up shop and heading for Montreal (or Acapulco, or wherever). As Phil said before Portland, "When it comes to Darshan, what's the New Deli anyway?"