VILNIUS - When the new salad bar Mano Guru opened its doors at the beginning of September, it was something of a talking point in the local press. The buzz was all about the fact that it was a smoke-free, alcohol-free and even drug-free environment. Nothing too extraordinary about that, you might think, except Mano Guru is not just a health conscious restaurant, but a new sort of social project in Vilnius.
In cooperation with the Vilnius City Council, the restaurant's owners decided to hire former drug addicts who had successfully undergone a rehabilitation program and who were in need of a helping hand to get their lives back on track.
The idea is that the young ex-addicts can gain new work experience while working as waiters and cooks at Mano Guru for a six-month period. The skills they learn there will then hopefully help them find lasting employment afterward.
Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas came up with the idea after he learned of a similar project in Prague during a visit there a couple of years ago. Only the Prague scheme involved mentally disabled people instead.
The idea has proven so popular in Vilnius that, believe it or not, the restaurant's owners are currently enjoying something close to national hero status. They have even been nominated for the "enlightened person of the year" award on national television for their unique and practical way of giving a little hope back to some of society's most marginalized people.
But all the media attention has largely forgotten to mention something else that is rather admirable about Mano Guru. Not only does the restaurant have a wonderful lounge-style ambiance, but it also serves up some pretty outstanding food as well.
The minimalist decor and pleasantly discreet staff have made the place into a magnet for local people, regardless of who's really serving who there. The menu contains no less than 46 salads, some of which are quite possibly introducing entirely new strains of vegetables to Vilnius. There is also a range of good soups that are blended, pureed, chilled and warmed just to perfection. But for rather obvious reasons, don't expect to find any alcohol on the menu.
Mano Guru is a truly charming place that, in more ways than one, finally breaks away from the tired old Lithuanian restaurant scheme of things.
22/1 Vilniaus St
Open: Mon. - Fri.
7 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sat. - Sun. 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Tel: (370) 5 212 0126