After studying yoga and Ayurveda (traditional Hindu medicine) during college, Kei J. Kurimoto knew she wanted to dedicate her life to achieving balance—and helping others do the same. She had a background in the restaurant industry, having helped her father launch a successful sushi bar, but she wasn’t sure how to begin reaching others. The inspiration finally arrived in the midst of a yoga retreat, when she realized that the one thing in her hectic lifestyle that she refused to live without was her daily coffee. Coffee shops act as community centers, Kurimoto thought, and she decided she had both the skills to run a café and the know-how to make it a healthful one.
Down Dog Healing Café (named after the yoga pose) offers herbal tonics, healthy snacks and smoothies, organic One Village Coffee and lots of tea: both Western and Chinese herbals, Ayurvedic blends for treating colds and stomach aches, and spiritual standards like chai.
In a Zen-like atmosphere, Kurimoto and an educated staff serve up more than just mindful refreshments; they also offer wisdom garnered from Kurimoto’s extensive study into healing medicine and resources to Philadelphia’s wellness practitioners. A tight-knit community has embraced the concept, with Philly’s yogis and massage therapists making time to strike a pose in front of the shop’s eye-catching mural, and curious locals stopping by for regular workshops on Ayurveda or acupuncture. If the idea of herbal healing is new to them, Kurimoto says her customers are excited at the prospect of being more healthful, as well as glad for a chance to explore and recharge so close to home.
Q: What is the mission of Down Dog?
A: The mission really is to give people tools so that they can live a more balanced life, and a life of health and happiness. What I think is so amazing about Ayurveda is that it’s not just eating certain vitamins or exercising a certain way, it’s so much about the spiritual aspect in your life of feeling fulfilled and feeling grounded and happy. We want to provide tools to help people achieve balance and health and feel inspired to love what they’re doing.
Q: Why create a wellness café?
A: I really wanted to be able to make Ayurvedic concepts more accessible to people, and everyone makes time to get their cup of coffee or their cappuccino. So that’s really where it clicked for me, that maybe I could present this in a really friendly and very comfortable and familiar environment. And also the coffee shop is usually the center of a community, so it’s a great place to build community and educate people. We present it as a coffee shop, but it’s really a wellness café, and it gives us this amazing platform to educate people on how they can be healthier and what healthy actually means.
Q: What sort of tools do you offer customers looking to learn more about wellness?
A: We’ve been very fortunate to have a number of staff members with expertise in the wellness field. We have one that’s a yoga instructor, another who is a Thai massage therapist, and for the most part most of the staff is very interested in beginning to study Ayurveda. So we have this great network within the staff that we can refer people to. But we also have a really great network of different wellness practitioners here in Philadelphia, so we’re constantly recommending life coaches to people or Ayurveda practitioners or cooking classes. And we host workshops in the café: We did an intro to Ayurveda where we had an acupuncturist here. Just with my problem of only having time to run to the coffee shop every day, how amazing is it if people can run to the coffee shop, get nourishment, maybe get a mini detox treatment and be able to go back to their lives? It seems like a way that people can really incorporate it more, versus penciling in a time or even having the money to get a massage.
Q: Who designed Down Dog’s photo-worthy mosaic?
A: There’s a famous artist here in Philadelphia, Isaiah Zagar, and people travel from all over the world the study with him. He has a place that’s all mosaic that’s called Magic Gardens. He’s really special to Philadelphia. Every month he teaches a class and needs a new wall (he has more than 125 mosaic murals throughout the city). There was an ad in one of the local blogs looking for wall space, and I thought that would be so amazing. Because you become part of a tour and it becomes a destination for people. He really spent time with us and listened to my story and my mission, and he really captured that with his mural. I was really grateful. And we really formed a friendship; he actually went to an Ayurvedic practitioner after we met.
Q: How has the community embraced Down Dog?
A: There are different customers. Of course there are people who come in for a cup of coffee because it’s convenient on their way to work. And then because we live in this great community where we have a park across the street with a bocce court and a bocce league, and there’s a community garden where people grow food, we have people who support us because we’re a local business and we source locally. And then we have people from the yoga community, and because Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga, they know about it already and are very interested in it. Then we have the people in between, who maybe the first couple times will come in and get their usual coffee, but over time they’ll be like, “You know what? Let me try that tonic,” and then they try it, they love it and they start coming back for that.
—Photos by Doerthe Externest