Former Tibetan monk opens new Sacramento vegan restaurant

Tibetan prayer flags hold exterior Himalaya Vegan Natural Restaurant. Inside, a framed image of the Dalai Lama smiles down on clients, as does a drawing by the proprietor’s 4-year-old daughter imploring individuals to “please help animals” and “please eat wholesome meals.”

Neighbored by a Subway and a Wendy’s in its North Natomas buying heart, Himalaya Vegan Natural Restaurant has a menu and backstory that stands out from the pack.

It’s owned and run by a Tibetan refugee whose cooking took him from a Buddhist monastery to a high-end Belgian resort to one among Oakland’s hottest vegan eating places, earlier than opening his personal place on Could 1 at 4160 Northgate Blvd., Suite 4.

That will be Luo Rong “Sam” Sang Zhu, who debuts not one however two new menus day by day of the week, first for lunch after which once more for dinner. Whereas clients can order any merchandise à la carte for $6, persons are inspired to order the whole menu for $12.75-$15.75, with pricing depending on portion measurement and time of day.

Sang Zhu is flanked by his brother-in-law Bu Chu, the 24-seat restaurant’s co-owner and prep cook dinner. That’s it. Two males, crafting and executing 14 totally different natural plant-based, macrobiotic menus per week.

Enterprise has been sluggish to this point. However Sang Zhu’s philosophy and purpose for opening transcend monetary acquire.

“I attempt to generate profits, in fact, I’m (in) enterprise. However I’m pondering, ‘how is it doable to make actually scrumptious meals the place individuals prefer it?’ That’s my No. 1 (precedence),” Sang Zhu stated.

Luo Rong “Sam” Sang Zhu, government chef and co-owner of Himalaya Vegan Natural Restaurant stands behind the counter earlier this month close to a photograph of the Dalai Lama. Born in Tibet, Sang Zhu was a monk for greater than a decade earlier than shifting to Europe after which California, the place he began working within the meals business. Hector Amezcua


A 39-year-old father of two, Sang Zhu is a gregarious host to Himalaya’s company, earnestly welcoming every one by a surgical masks. On something surrounding his homeland of Tibet, although, he’s markedly tight-lipped, he stated, out of worry his household nonetheless residing there would possibly endure the Chinese language authorities’s wrath.

His story, then, begins in 1994, when a 12-year-old Sang Zhu and 72 others fled Tibet on foot by the snowy Himalayas. They hiked for 22 days till they reached Nepal, the place Tibetan expats helped coordinate the newcomers’ closing vacation spot. “Do you wish to go to highschool? Do you wish to go to a temple?” they requested Sang Zhu.

He picked Sera Monastery within the South Indian metropolis of Mysuru, and discovered meditation, Buddhist philosophy and the Tibetan language, in addition to cooking. For 14 years, Sang Zhu baked bread and made vegetarian dishes for 200 of the temple’s 5,000 different monks.

That lasted till 2008. Sang Zhu left the monastery to hitch his cousins in Belgium. He cooked first at a sushi restaurant, then made pasta and different Italian meals at a high-end resort.

However these have been distant cousins, and in 2013 Sang Zhu moved to the Bay Space to be nearer to his uncle, a father determine who occurred to personal Shangri-La Vegan in Oakland and Albany.

Named one of many East Bay’s prime vegan restaurant by Thrillist, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Oaklandside, Shangri-La Vegan equally turns over its menu twice each day, seven days per week. There’s an emphasis on complete grains and greens, and lots of the dishes are even the identical as what one can now discover in North Natomas.

Briefly, it’s the mannequin for Himalaya Vegan Natural Restaurant.

Sang Zhu stayed at Shangri-La for 5 years, and met his now-wife, Karen Chayung, whereas residing within the Bay Space. They finally moved to Sacramento to be nearer to her household, together with Bu, whom Sang Zhu calls his finest fried.

Sang Zhu took courses to turn into an electrician, however his English wasn’t developed sufficient to earn his state license, he stated. As an alternative, he grew to become a restaurateur and the fix-it man at Pleased Laundry, his household’s laundromat in South Sacramento’s Lemon Hill neighborhood.

Sam Sang Zhu cooks greens within the kitchen on Could 18. Sang Zhu stated he makes one thing totally different day by day so his menu is all the time altering. Hector Amezcua


Frequent threads emerge all through Himalaya’s ever-changing menu. Different eating places saturate their meals with butter and salt; Sang Zhu and Chu lean as an alternative on the earthy tastes of complete grains and leafy greens.

A typical lunch plate would possibly embrace miso-split pea soup, black-eyed peas, blended salad with carrot-lemon-agave dressing and a brown shiitake-leek sauce over collard greens and kale. Brown rice or quinoa sometimes present some physique, and Chayung makes the chili oil obtainable tableside for individuals who wish to add a kick.

Whereas vegans have supported Himalaya to this point, changing omnivorous clients has been a more durable promote, significantly those that nonetheless affiliate the restaurant’s house with its former tenant L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

“Some individuals got here in right here and noticed that it’s a vegan restaurant, they usually left,” Chu stated. “One girl got here in right here and requested me for barbecue and I stated there’s no extra barbecue, we modified the enterprise title and every little thing, it’s 100% natural and vegan … and he or she stated ‘disgrace on you!’”

Sang Zhu and Chu begin prepping meals round 7 a.m. and put up the day’s lunch menu on Himalaya Vegan Natural Restaurant’s web site at 9. They begin engaged on one other batch of veggies round 1 p.m. — beans may be reheated, however produce must be recent, Sang Zhu stated — and put up the dinner menu round 3:30 p.m. or 4.

Three or 4 pies are all the time on the menu as effectively: Sang Zhu’s daughter is keen on the chocolate one, as she’s fast to announce. Different flavors have included mango, strawberry and coconut.

Don’t anticipate Marie Callender’s flaky crusts and sugary fillings, although.

To make Himalaya’s key lime pie, for instance, Sang Zhu solely sweetens his lemon-lime-avocado mousse with natural agave syrup. An almond-pecan paste and a shredded coconut shell make up the pie’s skinny shell, making a refreshing dessert that gained’t offset the remainder of the health-oriented meal.

Hector Amezcua

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue left behind a soda machine and refrigerated case upon shifting out of what’s now Himalaya’s house, however Sang Zhu draped flags over the previous and left the latter empty, as they don’t align with the brand new restaurant’s values. Drink choices embrace scorching tea and quite a lot of San Francisco-based Lev’s Kombucha flavors.

Himalaya Vegan Natural Restaurant pulled in 10-20 clients per day throughout its first few weeks of enterprise, Sang Zhu stated. The Wendy’s throughout the parking zone can have that many individuals in its drive-thru line without delay.

He’s not jealous, although. Whereas cash has turn into a extra urgent necessity since beginning a enterprise and a household, the Buddhist teachings wherein Sang Zhu was raised stay extra prevalent.

“We want it to dwell, (however) cash’s not essential in your life. Your life could be very peaceable and compassionate. All the time, we’re occupied with (that),” Sang Zhu stated. “I don’t must make an excessive amount of cash. Sufficient to feed my household, and I’ve a peaceable life that I get pleasure from.”

This story was initially printed June 3, 2022 5:00 AM.

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Benjy Egel covers native eating places and bars for The Sacramento Bee in addition to basic breaking information and investigative initiatives. A Sacramento native, he beforehand lined enterprise for the Amarillo Globe-Information in Texas.

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