Tommy Cao is a devout Buddhist and the founder of Dharma Kitchen. After graduating with multiple honour degrees from the University of Toronto, including Commerce and Finance, he began his career in the fields of accounting and finance. However, he found that working in a corporate environment was not conducive to his lifestyle and so planned a business for himself that incorporates Buddhist practice into his management philosophy: “Leadership from the heart.”
When Tommy was ready to open his own business he wanted to stay true to his philosophy of good karma for all. He considered spots in Toronto or New York, where he had lived. But the search brought him to Vancouver’s Kitsilano where he opened Dharma Kitchen, an innovative and non-traditional vegan restaurant. He was drawn to the holistic, community-based neighborhood Kitsilano has evolved into since it’s flower-child days. “I wanted a calm, healing feeling,” he says, “Not just in food, but I wanted customers and staff to feel relaxed and relieved from stress. It’s not easy to find the right place. It’s not just about commerce, but also about community. That’s why I moved here. Kitsilano is especially perfect.”
Opened in the Summer of 2005, Dharma Kitchen is as tranquil as an Asian monastery with its red walls, wind chimes, and lamps that hang like elongated beads, creating a cozy, serene setting. At night, the pale wooden tables are lit by tea lights and world-fusion music plays softly over the sound system. The restaurant is blessed with several tranquil wooden Buddhas that reflect it's ethos as the food of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being in which a person handles every thing with full awareness, compassion, consideration and respect for other beings. Here, it means thinking about what is beneficial for our bodies and the environment, when we take the food.
“You don’t have to be vegan to eat vegan. It’s just like you don’t have to be Italian to eat spaghetti. It is another cultural taste, plus healthy and environmental friendly”. Tommy doesn’t expect you to become a full-time vegan like he is. However, he feels the natural clarity of the cuisine (low salt, low sugar and no cholesterol), made with fresh, whole ingredients and with no-animal-by-products, is beneficial for the mind and body regardless of one's dietary preferences.
As reflected in the philosophy of Dharma Kitchen, multiculturalism is present in both the culinary style and in the staff. Dharma Kitchen has welcomed Brazilian, Finnish, French-Canadian, Fijian, Israeli, Japanese, Jewish, Korean, Mexican, Swedish, Thai and Vietnamese individuals into its staffs. Until this day, Dharma Kitchen's former and current staffs reunite twice a year at its traditional New Year's party and its anniversary.
Dharma Kitchen continues to bring together friends of multiple backgrounds by way of delicious, whole food and a welcoming environment. Through the meals Dharma Kitchen seeks to promote a peaceful existence based upon mutual understanding of one another, and thereby seeks to reflect the spirit of mindfulness in more than just the cuisine.