First Love, Santosha
Though this storefront is innocuous, I peer through its ground level glass and see the back of my head, 19 years ago. A fork in my mouth and a look of–well–contentment on my face. But with confusion. Tofu.
Not a cold, wet yet strangely dry slab of white sponge under a tremendous piece of Napa cabbage inside a Saran-wrapped Power-fu sandwich. Those ones with the moist, sprouted bread; those ones that you bought and threw out half way each time; those ones that sometimes had real mayonnaise and, in turn, real egg, yet looked exactly the same as the other ones and you read those labels too quickly. (Oh if you only knew what the world would offer you one day, 19 years ago me.) Not that at all.
This tofu: A first.
To me. I still haven’t forgotten it. Circular as you would expect “scalloped” tofu to be. Porous white with a rimmed browning, pores filled with flavor, oils, seasoning. For the first time. I took a break and pretended to be half as interested in the carrot and seaweed medley on the side. I delicately hoed the quinoa (another first) into the scalloped tofu’s lemony juices. A tease. I ate each piece of tofu slowly with deep and immense satisfaction and simultaneous regret as the plate emptied. I had never loved eating like that before, it was never close to as sensual, my first food love: Santosha.
Much like a first love, Santosha left abruptly in a confusing way. I remember the day I called the restaurant last in the early 2000’s, inquiring when they’d be open. The young lady on the phone seemed distressed and panicked. The assumption of a family emergency plays in my memory, but the truth is, I never knew for sure what happened to Santosha. After the research below, I believe I know now. Regardless, this post is part memoir, part archival, part research and all an attempt to honor my first vegan food love.
Santosha opened in 1977 in Amityville, Long Island, New York. Yes, 1977. The restaurant was an offering of Yoga Anand Ashram, established in 1972 by Gurani Anjali Joseph who wished to share her teachings and spiritual practice. There was also a bookshop, Moksha Bookshop, that operated a quarter mile west of the restaurant. Currently, this space is home to a seemingly active yoga studio offering classes in meditation and yoga under Gurani Anjali Joseph’s established name, Yoga Anand Ashram. One of her many legacies. Though I had no idea at the time, Gurani Anjali Joseph, also known as Guruma, was a very influential female guru–an author, lecturer, musician, poet and artist. Born in Calcutta, India in 1935, she found her way to Long Island’s South Shore in the 70’s to spread her teachings. She died in 2001. This corresponds with the restaurant’s closing and the memorably confusing tone of the call I made during this time. The loss of Gurani Anjali Joseph created a reprioritization on the part of her practicing disciples. Santosha, though thriving in its own right and on the precipice of steering away from Guruma’s spiritual beliefs, would be no longer.
Here are some relics I have collected in its memory. This book, published in 1981, is a great collection of “real food” places around the country. Such a delight to page through.
An ad from a 1989 Yoga Journal.
An ad from a 1991 Vegetarian Times.
And a 1996 ad from Vegetarian Times.
A picture before our Santosha meal, my old pals on the stagecoach thing at the shop next door. 1997, I believe. Below, that same stagecoach still stands.
A transcript from the May 15, 2002 issue of Newsday that announced Santosha’s closing, courtesy of Thirdmill.
In lieu of a link following are a few “facts” from the article to avoid any copyright issues while still providing the news to you-L.K.
Opened in 1977, Santosha was built for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to provide income to the non-profit Yoga Anand Ashram – a yoga study community.
Santosha was one of the first vegetarian dining spots in the area and survived, yes thrived for 25 years before finally closing their doors.
The decision to close the restaurant was not an easy one for the Familia family. Greater participation in yoga programs lessened the Ashram’s reliance on the restaurant for income. Further efforts to grow the business would have taken more time and attention away from the Ashram’s dedicated community.
Head Chef Mary Pregent was shocked and disappointed to learn of the restaurant’s closing. She, along with another Santosha employee Demi Green have plans to open a small vegetarian catering business operating at the same location using a new name. They plan to be offering cooking classes and a take-out weekly meal service.
Ashram members will be foucusing their energies on a new endeavor, the East West Center for the Arts scheduled to open in Autumn.