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Blessing from Buddha gives restaurant karma

Pacific Wave, a new eatery that will offer a fusion of Eastern and Western cuisines, gets off on the right foot with a blessing from a Buddhist monk.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A banner hanging over the entrance of Pacific Wave announced that the new restaurant would soon be opened.

That would not happen, though, until certain rituals were performed.

Resident spirits would have to be welcomed or banished, depending on their temperament, the essences of the owners and employees blessed, and good luck ensured for the new business at 211 Second St. S.

Such a ceremony was held Sunday, performed by the Venerable Lamphone Xayathep, a Laotian Buddhist monk, who chanted over a spool of string that was unwound and used to encircle the inside of the restaurant to keep good luck in and evil out. Pieces of blessed string were also used to make bracelets for the restaurants' two owners.

The program appeared to fascinate the multicultural staff hired to work in the restaurant that will offer a fusion of Eastern and Western cuisines. It is owned by Joseph J. Chouinard, a white American of Roman Catholic background, and Peter Tanhnavong, a Buddhist who was born in Laos.

Chouinard said he welcomed the blessing ceremony, which was suggested by his fiancee, Nancy Lasavath, Tanhnavong's sister, and other members of her family.

"They came to me and said to me, "We have a certain belief system about good karma and good health and harmony and happiness and we do these things and would it be okay with you, knowing that you were brought up Catholic,' " Chouinard said Sunday.

He added, "I'm finding the more reading that I do on Eastern religion and philosophy and Buddhism, the more I read and the more I absorb of that particular philosophy, the more I see the similarities (between Western and Eastern faiths). Basically, Christ and Buddha said the exact same thing, which is love each and treat each other as you would be treated. Primarily, that's all there is. I think that fits into my beliefs."

The weekend ceremony began about half an hour after the announced 11 a.m. start time. The delay allowed Xayathep to eat, since he is allowed just one meal a day and must consume it before noon. A slight man, he was presented with two round bamboo trays laden with a colorful variety of dishes that included vegetables, soup, rice, noodles, fish, chicken and beef.

"This is very important to the ceremony," Chouinard said of the array of food.

"You're offering up to the monk as many dishes as possible for good will, to make the Buddha happy, to put the monk in the right frame of the space, the right centeredness to perform the ceremony, to bring the good luck in."

Added Methouna Nanthavong, a friend of the owners, the monk is supposed to taste a little bit of every dish.

"After the monk eats, then the people eat," he said.

As Xayathep dipped balls of rice into bowls of sauce and tore small slices of cucumber into bite-size pieces, he chatted quietly with the Laotian women and men squatted in front of him on brightly colored rugs.

The ceremony began as soon as he finished his meal. Those gathered in front of him at first chanted and bowed in deference to Buddha. At one point, the monk chanted blessings over a silver bowl in which he burned sticks of wax representing the essences of Pacific Wave's owners and employees. He also draped blessed string around several Buddha statues that sat on a temporary altar and handed the string over to Chouinard and Tanhnavong for them to hang on the inside walls of the restaurant.

He also sprinkled consecrated water throughout the building. According to tradition, the remainder was used by Chouinard, former chef and partner at The Redwoods, and Tanhnavong, former teppanaki chef at Arigato Japanese Steak House in St. Petersburg and sushi chef at Shiki's Sushi Bar and Restaurant in Clearwater, for their baths that evening.

Chouinard seemed pleased at the ceremony's completion.

"I am quite a bit superstitious myself," he had said earlier.

"A lot of people ask me, do you really want to go into that location, with two failed restaurants? That is why this (ceremony) is even more significant to me, because I want to get whatever bad karma and bad influence and evil spirit, if you will, out of here."

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