Introducing: The Blue Bird vegetarian café

In The Beginning...
The Kettledrum Café first opened its doors to the public on 15th March, 1995.

Several months of hard work preceded this phenomenon, starting with finally summoning up the courage to tell my Dad that I was not going to be taking up an overseas post-doctoral fellowship after all but was instead going to walk away from my career and many years of training to open a café in Auckland. He just looked at me and said, "So do you need any appliances for this?" Just like that. No big deal.

Toshala at The Kettledrum Café during Sri Chinmoy's visit in 1995

Toshala at The Kettledrum

Buoyed by Sri Chinmoy's encouragement, in August of 1994, to open a café representing the Sri Chinmoy Centre, I moved to Auckland from Hamilton and took a short business course, then obtained a hygiene certificate so that everything would be above board and 'proper.'

The next thing was the actual location of the shop and I decided on a small mall in Elliott Street initially because it was tiny and affordable. And, looking back, it was a good place to cut our teeth on and hone our skills for although I was a keen amateur cooky-type and enthusiastic foodie, I had no idea how to run a business and had never worked in a café or restaurant before. Two very good friends, Subarata and Jogyata, chose all of the decorations, the crockery, tables and chairs, etc, whilst I organised (ergonomically, of course!), and decked out, the kitchen.

There are some rare and special people on this earth who are extremely generous and even when they have nothing at all to call their own – they will still give you everything. Subarata only owned one (albeit battered!) pot, two plates and a fork and on the day before we opened, she walked into the Kettledrum kitchen with these in a box – she was donating her entire kitchen paraphernalia to the enterprise! She said that Jogyata and she would eat off napkins and takeaway plates from now on. Also when her sisters sent her any money from Ireland, she would buy things for the café – things that would enhance the food display or could be used to decorate something. She really liked making things look cute.

We decorated the menu boards and we also recruited others to help us set up. The day before opening I cooked all day and all night. Then the Robert Harris representative turned up with our cappuccino machine, on which he gave us a quick demonstration. He made a cappuccino, took a sip, then offered the same cup for Subarata and myself to sample from. Very quickly Subarata said, "Oh, we only drink tea!" Phew!

So then we opened and the public swarmed in. We were very busy for that week as we had two stilt-walking clowns walking around outside on 1 metre stilts, handing out leaflets about The Kettledrum. They did a very good job. Since that fateful day we were open at the Elliott Street location for two and a half years, and Sri Chinmoy came to visit us on 30th June 1995 – and liked it!

Sri Chinmoy meditates at The Kettledrum Café

Sri Chinmoy at the Kettledrum Café in 1995

On 13th April 1997, Sri Chinmoy gave The Kettledrum the name The Blue Bird. The phrase, 'Blue Bird' is often used by poets to refer to the soul and Sri Chinmoy uses this avian metaphor in his own poetry:

REVELATION (abridged)

No more my heart shall sob or grieve.
My days and nights dissolve in God's own Light.
Above the toil of life, my soul
Is a bird of fire winging the Infinite.

   – Sri Chinmoy.
From: My Flute
Full version: Revelation

This theme is also prevalent in Sri Chinmoy's art – he has drawn millions of birds in a series of drawings and paintings collectively called the 'Dream Freedom Peace Birds', which represent the light and delight of the soul and it's flight to freedom and happiness. These have been displayed in many galleries and cities throughout the world. There is a very tiny selection of these on the walls of The Blue Bird.

Eventually the Elliott Street location became too small so we moved to bigger premises at 299 Dominion Road, Mt Eden, which opened on 22nd July 1997. Again it was a team effort to set up – Subarata again as our interior decorator and purchasing officer.

Over the years we have changed and evolved – as has our menu! However two things have remained constant: we all love spirituality and are avid foodies!

Sri Chinmoy came and visited us on the 30th of November, 2002 – and liked it! On that day he wrote a song for The Blue Bird. This has been recorded by the spiritual music group Shindhu on their CD 'Shindhu 8', which is one of the recordings of Sri Chinmoy's music that we play in the café to set a spiritual theme and to offer a little of Sri Chinmoy's beautiful and peaceful world to everyone who comes in. The Blue Bird song can be heard on the About page of The Blue Bird's website.


Sheet music for The Blue Bird song and Sri Chinmoy at The Blue Bird on the 30th of November, 2002.

The Blue Bird is one of the many international vegetarian cafés and restaurants owned and operated by the students of Sri Chinmoy. Each one has a distinctive name and atmosphere; they can be found in cities such as Christchurch, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Paris, Montpellier, Zurich… to name a few! There is a list of links to some of these vegetarian cafés and restaurants on the links page of The Blue Bird's website which is also home to The Blue Bird Gallery.

We believe that universal harmony begins in the heart of each individual and our goal is to nourish that harmony by offering delicious vegetarian food prepared in the spirit of love and oneness.

Return to: The Homepage of Toshala Elliott