People Issue 2016: Ruhel Islam, the steward of mother nature

The eco-friendly restaurateur created a model of food sustainability.

The eco-friendly restaurateur created a model of food sustainability.

The City Pages People Issue celebrates ordinary folks who do extraordinary things. Though their triumphs are rarely acknowledged, they make the Twin Cities a better place.

Ruhel Islam and his brother didn't want to just open a restaurant. They started a restaurant to launch a revolution.

The siblings from Bangladesh opened Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood in 2008. Splashes of purple and orange accent the decor as neighbors, business associates, and friends gobble continent-sized portions of avocado chutney and Bhuna Bulabala, a thick meat stew with some kick. But it's the philosophy behind the plate that makes Islam's restaurant shine.

It's built on three pillars: environmental stewardship, where healthy foods are grown in nearby urban gardens. Sustainability, in which the natural cycle is honored with such practices as using fish waste to fertilize vegetables. And ethical economics, in which profit benefits the entire community, as evidenced by the community room within the restaurant. It's free to use for anyone with a good cause, be it urban farming instruction, aquaponics classes, or interfaith meetings.

"I am passionate about food and food security," Islam says. "At the restaurant we want to bring a diverse group of people together through food by pleasing the palate. Everybody has a dream. This is mine, bringing everyone at the same time to the table. Then we can have a conversation and dialogue, and bring real change and peace. We will no longer be strangers to one another."

All of Gandhi Mahal's deliciousness comes from sustainable, locally grown sources. Islam started with one garden for vegetables. This spring, there will be multiple plots of curry, green chilies, and spinach. Honey is also harvested from beehives on the roof.

Islam's devotion to Mother Nature is also on display in Gandhi Mahal's basement. A school of tilapia flourishes in a tank. Its wastewater provides nutrients to plants such as turmeric, lemon, and peppers, which do the filtration work. The water is then piped back into the tank purified. The cycle begins anew.

"Freedom and food security through sustainable, locally grown food is what I want for my community, for Minneapolis," says Ruhel. "I have learned America is a dream. No one should go hungry here. We are leading as example, trying our best."

Click here to read the rest of our People Issue 2016 profiles.