Turtle Bay residents, United Nations representatives, and Department of Parks & Recreation personnel alike sipped strawberry-mint-lime seltzers and tasted colorful vegetarian platters in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on Thursday to celebrate the opening of Peace Garden Café.
Nestled between the United Nations, Katharine Hepburn Garden and Trump World Tower, the café, which is vegetarian, operates out of a concession stand on East 47th Street and First Avenue.
To Shashanka Karlen, the founder of the café, owning a vegetarian restaurant only a stone’s throw away from the United Nations is “the fulfillment of a dream.” A native of Switzerland, Karlen worked for his nation’s Mission to the UN in Geneva before moving to Queens, where he has operated two vegetarian restaurants. He hopes Peace Garden Café will serve as “a nice place where people can come relax, recharge, have a moment of peace, [and] have good food.”
Sherrill Kazan, the president of Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza — an organization that finances the maintenance of the plaza — said that the restaurant will unite the people who make up the neighborhood, including midtown working folk, United Nations officers and Turtle Bay residents. “We are such a diverse community,” she said. “What better place than a café to share culture and different points of view.”
Parks spokesperson David Cerron told the crowd of over 100 people that the café complements Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which Kazan said is the largest greenspace in midtown Manhattan. “Concessions are vitally important to the life of public parks. As we see today, they help activate our parks, they help bring people together, [and] they enhance the enjoyment of visitors.” Cerron also noted the café’s commitment to the environment through its eco-friendly menu and usage of compostable materials.
The menu boasts bowls, salads, burgers and sandwiches made with meat substitutes, ice cream and specialty drinks. Though the menu is vegetarian, Karlen said his café is “absolutely open” to everyone. He noted that 95 percent of the patrons of his vegetarian cafés in Queens were not vegetarian. A vegetarian himself, Karlen said his favorite items on the menu include the souvlaki and the Korean spare ribs, which are made using a soy-flour base.
Karlen believes the mission of his café parallels that of its neighbor, the United Nations. “If you cook with good feelings, with a good spirit, with good intentions, I think it can be felt. It can come into the food and it can contribute to a more peaceful world,” he said.