Kiara Devika Galardi is a woman on a mission. Dark curls swept up high out of her eyes, bamboo tattoos adorning her arms, silver piercings giving subtle winks, she lights up a room. And the room we’re in now? Her one-of-a-kind cafe, HARA, which opened just 6 months ago, on a busy road where council estates meet canals in De Beauvoir Town, East London.
Kiara talks to us about her love of sun, a special Golden Ingredient, and why the little things can make a big difference…
Tell us the story of Hara – how it started, and why?
I think the idea of opening a place like this was with me for a long time. I was working in cafes and when I developed an intolerance to gluten and dairy, I was frustrated because it felt like there was literally nothing I could eat when I was out. It was the same pastries and sandwiches everywhere I went. I couldn’t understand why no one was being more creative. You’d have to go to a really nice restaurant, and spend a million pounds just to get something that wasn’t on toast.
The word ‘Hara’ got introduced to me when I did my yoga teacher training four years ago. It was a word that I liked so much, the concept of it … In eastern culture and in martial arts, ‘Hara’ is the energetic center of your body. And I love that. I love the idea of a power that comes from your center. And it relates perfectly to what we do with food…
Does Hara have a food philosophy?
We like our food to be nourishing. We always say ‘happy food’ and we mean that in a deep way – like, how does your body feel after you’ve eaten it? That’s why we’re so focused on seasonality. We believe as long as you’re eating seasonal, tasty, real, whole foods, you should feel good. The challenge is how to keep it interesting and exciting. Particularly in a month like February where it’s all root vegetables. Right now, what’s in season is still endless beetroots and apples and cabbage. And we’re like “oh my god we’re so over apples! When are the peaches coming? [she laughs]
Putting on your fortune teller cape, are there any upcoming food trends or magic new ingredients that you predict are going to dominate the horizon?
Here, we use a LOT of turmeric. It’s in our juices, it’s in our porridge. Ok, so it’s not new, it’s actually pretty ancient, but it tastes truly phenomenal. The only downside is that it stains everything yellow. So I can’t wear white to work… We make Kombucha and Kefir and other fermented drinks in house, and we also make sauerkraut, and other lactic fermented vegetables. I think it’s really cool that’s there’s more awareness about that stuff now.
What does balance mean to you?
To me, balance is actually everything and we’ve tried to keep that in mind as we started our business. In terms of what we offer, it means having healthy stuff that’s vegan and ticks all the boxes, but then also having a cake that’s full of butter and sugar because that’s what cake should be sometimes. For us, professionally, it also means closing the cafe at 3pm so that we can have a work life balance. I’m finding it even more important now to put some kind of guidelines into my life, to try and switch off my phone at six pm.
And you actually manage to do that?
Most days if there’s nothing on here in the night I successfully put my phone on airplane mode at 6, or 6.30. And then I don’t switch it on until I walk out the door in the morning. It’s pretty hardcore but it’s changed my life.
What’s your favourite part of your day?
In my personal life I like my morning routine. After years of getting up far too early and just rushing out the door, I realized that even just half an hour can be so precious and can really set you up for the rest of the day. If you don’t take that time, then you’ll never get it back. Anyway, I get up, I make a big pint of salty lemon water – sounds delicious right? – and then I meditate. I should also mention my SAD lamp as that’s pretty vital…
[She laughs] A sad lamp that makes you happy! SAD, for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a lamp that emits 10000 lux. I realised after my first winter in London that the severe lack of light had made me quite depressed. I wasn’t prepared for it! I grew up in Singapore, and then went to highschool in the South of France, and then lived in Australia for years. But the SAD lamp was one of my best purchases ever – basically, it emulates the sun. I adore it. I even have a little one here at Hara too. Suns, everywhere!
What does happiness mean to you?
It’s a hard question… I think, for me, it shouldn’t be reliant on specific circumstances. I think it’s a state of being. People often think ‘I will be happy if I have this job or if I have this thing, or if I do this, or if I achieve that, or if I have a boyfriend’ and … the list can just go on and on! But, often it’s the simple little things that can make you feel so happy, and so grateful. Maybe your girlfriend brings you a cup of tea in bed. It can be tiny, it doesn’t matter. To me, it’s the little things that are so much more important.
What has surprised you most about starting a business?
First things first: it doesn’t matter if you’re working with coffee, food, with your hands, or even outdoors – there will be A LOT of admin. It’s not romantic, but you might as well see it as heroic – it’s one of those hurdles you can’t avoid, you just have to leap over it. The main surprise though? It feels like a surprise every time people come here, and every time they choose to come back… Six months in, I should feel used to it by now, but I’m still not. And I never want to stop feeling that surprise, because it comes accompanied with gratitude for each person.
Last but not least, do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get as much experience in the industry you choose as you can. It’s definitely achievable. Everything is. Sometimes it just might be a little harder than you think. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves! Particularly if you’re working with turmeric…
HARA can be found at 13 Downham Rd, London N1 5AA, open Wednesday-Sunday.