Tracking a lead on a great restaurant is as vital to my survival as locating the nearest herd of bison must have been to a caveman. I’m lucky, because San Francisco has mastered the art of providing delicious daily grub – even take out. After 12 years of living in the Bay Area, I’ve come to expect courteous wait staff and organic, fresh food. What I didn’t expect is that how I ordered my food also mattered. Who knew that it could not only fill my stomach, but also nourish my soul?

I remember the day I discovered Cafe Gratitude, a quaint restaurant in Berkeley that grows its own food and makes each dish with love. They took customer service to the next level.

Instead of listing typical names of food descriptions, the menu read:

I AM THRIVING—Soup of the day (ask your server)
I AM WORTHY—Kale, beet, celery, apple and ginger juice
I AM BUENO—Butternut squash tacos served with guacamole, fresh salsa, rice, beans and spicy cashew cheese topped with pumpkin seeds

During my first visit, my server, Ashley, pen and pad in hand, inquired,
“Welcome to Café Gratitude. Are you ready to order?”

I found myself, looking down and giggling,
“Yes, I am thriving, I am worthy, and I am bueno.”

As I placed my order, my muscles were tense and my throat constricted. It brought to light the stark contrast between these words and the normal unspoken commentary running in my head.

She began writing on her notepad (as if my response was perfectly normal and she actually believed what I had just said). Meanwhile, I felt almost silly saying such self-directed positive affirmations out loud.

I was more familiar with self-talk like:

“Of course, you have another grey hair Neha. You’re clearly not getting any younger.”


“Great comeback, Neha. Too bad you didn’t think of it five minutes ago during the conversation.

Once Ashley had taken my order, she continued,
“Are you interested in hearing the Question of the Day?”

“Sure,” I replied hesitantly.

She responded with:
“What do you love about your community?”

Really?!? How much time did she have? Didn’t she need give my order to the kitchen? More importantly, did she even care? I looked up to double check that she really meant what she had said and was met with her big blue eyes looking back at me and an inviting smile. She already knew the value of what came next.

For a split second, I wondered how much was appropriate to reveal to a complete stranger. Then, I mustered my courage and replied, “What I love about my community is that they’ve known me for years and are genuinely happy for me when things go well. And when I feel down or make mistakes, they’re the ones who inspire me to get back on my feet and try again.”

“That’s beautiful,” she replied.

And then to my own surprise, I asked, “What about you?”

“Well, I’m actually in transition, she began, “a few friends have moved away and I just transitioned out of a 5-year relationship that had expired a long time ago, so right now I’m inspired by the new people I’m meeting. What I love about my new community is they see me as I am now and are a reflection of who I have become.”

I was stunned. “Wow. That’s amazing,” I remarked.

In less than one minute, by genuinely listening to our own hearts and having the courage to express them to one another, we had shared an authentic connection. I could just tell, there was something special about this place.

Ashley returned 15 minutes later, setting my beautifully garnished lunch on the table and she reminded me, “You are thriving, worthy and bueno.” Somehow, the second time was a little easier to digest. What a scrumptious meal it was.

As I was signing the bill, I noticed my taste buds were singing, my belly was satisfied and my heart was full. I felt nourished, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I thought, I sure could get used to this!

Going to Café Gratitude is about so much more than hunting down my next meal. It’s an experience that taught me that deep listening doesn’t take more time, it just requires that I’m present and focused. Now, I semi-jokingly call Cafe Gratitude my second kitchen…where someone else does the dishes!

In the comments below, I’d love to hear about a place that feels like home and why it’s important to you.

To nourishing your body, your heart & your soul,

Doctor Neha logo


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