The My Plate Showcase: Sri Lanka

Lanka Grocery Feted on Oct. 7, 2016

Jilly Stephens, Executive Director of City Harvest, left, Barbara Turk of the Mayor's Office in the center and Ellen Auld, Community Development Director for Citi emcee the ribbon cutting of Lanka Grocery in Tompkinsville. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)

Lanka Grocery, one of the locations the SINFI team identified, became one of City Harvest's Healthy Retail stores. On Oct. 7, the store had a ribbon-cutting to officially open the outdoor display that City Harvest bought for the store and that Raul Barrios, Healthy Retail manager, helped set up. Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services, and Ellen Auld, Community Development Manager for Citibank, also announced a new training program for bodega owners, designed to help them with inventory management, cash-flow management and compliance with government regulations.

Here is coverage of the event:

The Sri Lankan Digital Showcase

Introduction to Lanka Grocery, Little Sri Lanka, Staten Island

Manager Shashi Kapoor provides a tour of the vegetables at Lanka Grocery

Sumana Gomes shows how San Rasa's chef makes the "9 Vegetables" dish

During March and April discussions with the restaurateurs, it became clear that a competition or showcase in which they had to leave their restaurants on a Saturday or Sunday would never work. There aren't enough people working in the kitchens to spare one for the afternoon. So we decided to switch to a virtual, digital showcase instead.

Chefs Greg Tortoriello, as well as Sri Lankan movie star Sumana Gomes, interviewed San Rasa about one of their vegetarian dishes. Also filmed was Lanka Grocery, recently redone by Raul Barrios of City Harvest, with Chef Dean Kropp as the interviewer.

Bill Sherman at Lanka Grocery, which was recently redone by Healthy Retail expert Raul Barrios from City Harvest.

Bill Sherman at Lanka Grocery

The videos have been posted on our new YouTube channel.

Learn More about Sri Lankans on Staten Island

Two faith-based organizations:

To learn more about Sri Lankan food and the restaurants and grocery stores that will be part of the My Plate Showcase, see the very cool Off The Eaten Path: Little Sri Lanka (Staten Island, NY).

See also an article about a walking tour through the North Shore: Sri Lankan Food on Staten Island.

Dec. 12 and 14 Meetings

Tour of Tompkinsville, Dec. 12: Susan Fowler, Stephanie Ovaduke, Bill Sherman, Robert Stein, Samantha Telle. Conference Call, Dec. 14: Erica Bailey, Susan Fowler, Dean Kropp, Lou Marfoglia, Kathy Kim, Robert Stein, Samantha Telle.

San Rasa

At San Rasa Restaurant, Dec. 12.

Lanka Grocery

At Lanka Grocery, Victory Blvd. and Cebra Ave., Dec. 12.

The Sri Lankan Challenge: Dec. 12 restaurant tour and Dec. 14 phone meeting


Two competitions, not three

The original proposal was for three competitions: People's Choice restaurant crawl, professional judging, kids and delis compete for the best healthy snack or deli makeover.

The group agreed that the restaurant crawl will be too difficult to plan and pull off, especially considering difficulties parking on Victory and traveling to all the restaurants. Although most are on Victory within walking distance of each other, at least two are not—Lakruwana and John’s Halal. Also, crawls usually last six hours and it’s hard to guarantee that people will come, especially the first year.

Jody Stoll and Susan Fowler will work on the second competition, which will be tied to a school garden summit--students will compete to come up with the best My Plate meal. More to come.

Restaurant competition

The competition will now be a “Chopped” style event held at a single location with both People’s Choice and professional judges.

Prior to the competition, the video crew visits each of the restaurants to record them cooking a My Plate version of a Sri Lankan meal. These videos will appear on YouTube and ultimately on SICTV. See “Ideas and Suggestions” below for some ways to advertise the My Plate dishes continuously at the restaurants.

The morning of the competition, SINFI delivers a mystery basket of ingredients to each restaurant and they create a set of dishes in their own kitchens based on the basket. They then bring the dishes to one location and the judges and attendees judge the dishes for originality, taste, nutrition, and the correct proportions as per the My Plate. They also bring the My Plate dish that we videotaped.

Samantha Telle said that ShopRite might consider donating the contents of the mystery baskets.

Lou Marfoglia said he’d contact the chefs who judged the last competition to help with this one.


Says Dean, for a full-scale competition like the Culinary Olympics, you need a large kitchen with multiple stations. Chopped, he says, has four or five stations set up and they film for 16 to 18 hours straight, with chefs being “chopped” (eliminated) as the day goes on (the show is shown over multiple nights, though).

No one on the call could think of a location like that for our competition. However, we should be able to set up multiple catering-style stations with burners or chafing dishes and cold setups in a parking lot, gym, or cafeteria.

Possible outdoor tented locations would be

  • the triangle on Bay St. near the new Crunch gym
  • the Henry Kaufmann Campground (acknowledging that there is no bus service on the weekends but perhaps the JCC might be able to bus people from the North Shore to the campground)
  • the Albanian mosque’s parking lot on Victory.

Possible indoor (or outdoor) locations would be

  • College of Staten Island’s gym
  • St. John’s University
  • Wagner College
  • Mt. Loretto’s gym

Costs to SINFI, restaurants, and attendees

The costs for the event include the mystery basket food, catering setups, printing for flyers and posters, videography, and advertising. The restaurants have to create a My Plate and pay staff for their help during the videotaping and the competition.

Question: Do we need to give winners a money prize or is recognition enough? What will the recognition consist of?

Erica said that, since the goal is to encourage people to eat better, we really want to reduce barriers to attendance: The event should be free to attendees. (Free events are also easier to publicize at the NY Public Library and other venues.) This is especially important in a family-oriented event where the cost is multiplied by the number of people in the family.

Suggestions for raising or finding the money to put on the competition:

  • 50-50 raffles
  • Donation box
  • Ask Debi Rose and other elected officials for support
  • Ask for sponsorships from ShopRite, banks, other organizations
  • Apply for grant money (the various SI foundations, Citizens Committee, Ioby, etc.)

Suggestions and ideas for publicity

Stephanie Ovaduke and Samantha Telle made a strong case for using Instagram—we can take photos of the My Plates or other healthy dishes up to and including the day of the competition. We should also create a hashtag for the event: #myplatechallenge, for example.

Samantha suggested running a City-Harvest-style supermarket tour using Sri Lankan dishes or ingredients at each of the stations. If the restaurants help out, they can bring their menus for distribution. Note that ShopRite would consider carrying frozen food made by any of the My Plate Challengers—Mexican, West African, and Sri Lankan.

Bobby Stein suggested tying in a display of Sri Lankan food or ingredients in ShopRite leading up to the competition.

Video will be an important part of this Challenge. Dean and Greg are planning to tape the competitors, probably in 3 to 5 minute segments (thank you, Claudia Toback), ahead of the event and we need to tape the event itself. The short segments can be published on YouTube but also put together into one or more shows on SICTV. Bobby would like to see a regular show on SICTV about healthy cooking and the Challenges.

Samantha said that SINFI could take a photo of the My Plates at each restaurant and make a laminated poster with SINFI logos that the restaurants can put on their walls.

Nov. 14 Meeting

Here is the tentative schedule for the Sri Lankan My Plate Challenge:


  1. Find interns to help with social media and publicity (meet with HEALTH for Youth, Wagner College, St. John's University, CSI)
  2. Visit/find all restaurants, delis, and organizations
  3. Set up a schedule for video interviews
  4. Sign up two chefs from earlier My Plate Challenges for video interviews


  1. Tape and show two videos with Mexican and West African chefs
  2. Sign up at least one deli for the Healthy Retail program
  3. Work with delis and SIPCW on a healthy snack competition, with students as judges and recipe-developers
  4. Sign up 5 to 7 restaurants for the My Plate Challenge
  5. Decide on prizes


  1. Tape and show two videos concentrating on Sri Lankan chefs and the Challenge itself
  2. Sign up additional restaurants and delis for competitions
  3. Decide how to run the competitions (see April)


  1. Tape and show two videos concentrating on Sri Lankan chefs and the Challenge itself
  2. Chefs and nutritionists meet with restaurateurs to prepare them for the competition
  3. Business consultant evaluates stores and restaurants


Note: These dates are tentative.They fall on Saturdays; Sunday, April 3, could be the rain date for the restaurant crawl.

  • April 2: Restaurant crawl on Victory Boulevard, Tompkinsville, for the People's Choice competition
  • April 9: Professional judging based on People's Choices (visit all restaurants? do at one location like the Hilton or the Buddhist temple?)
  • April 16: Deli and healthy snack competition--students judge


  1. Interview competitors.
  2. Write final report
  3. Business analyses and consulting for stores and restaurants that are interested

Sept. 12 Meeting

Greg & Sumana

Bill Sherman, leader of the West African Challenge, with chef Greg Tortoriello and Sumana Gomes, Sri Lankan movie star.

Notes, Sept. 12 meeting

Attendees: Susan Fowler, Sumana Gomes, Dean Kropp, Bill Sherman, Bobby Stein, Gregory Tortoriello

The group agreed that Sri Lanka is the next My Plate Challenge. Sumana Gomes said that there are about 7,000 Sri Lankans on Staten Island who belong to various ethnic groups and religions--Hindu, Buddhist, and Roman Catholic.

When: We decided on early Spring for the event. Easter is March 27; Spring Break for the schools is April 23 to May 1 (thank you, Dean). May 22-23 is Buddha's birthday and May 23 is "Full Moon Day" (thank you, Sumana).

Explanatory Flyer: Susan promised to create a one-page flyer that Greg and Sumana can take to the stores and restaurants to introduce the Challenge to the owners.

SICTV Publicity: The last My Plate Challenge had too little publicity. The longer lead time for this Challenge will help make it easier to promote the event.

Dean Kropp had an excellent idea: He will interview the competitors, judges, and nutritionists for all three Challenges, but starting with the newest, on SICTV. Coincidentally, Greg is taking the SICTV training. Once the videos are aired, we can post them on YouTube.

Help from Partners: Attendees asked that we repost the videos and other materials on the City Harvest Facebook page and YouTube channel. Susan said she would follow up with City Harvest and SIPCW.

What: The Challenge will probably be a combination of

  • events at the Sri Lankan delis--a City Harvest makeover, free samples of healthy children's snacks, etc.
  • a restaurant stroll in Tompkinsville, from Cebra to Bay St. on Victory Blvd., plus a side trip to Lakruwana on Bay St. There would be both a People's Choice vote and professional judging.
Note: Claudia Toback, a SINFI member and tour guide, says that she has set up a Sri Lankan restaurant/Tompkinsville tour already and is willing to use her tour to promote the Challenge.




The Staten Island Neighborhood Food Initiative (SINFI) is a coalition of City Harvest, Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness, and other businesses, organizations, and individuals committed to making Staten Islanders healthier one neighborhood at a time by increasing access to and demand for healthy fruits and vegetables.

Our Partners

Staten Island Neighborhood Food Initiative (SINFI) created with support from

City Harvest


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  • Phone: 646-412-0721 
    Fax: 646-412-0764


    Address: 6 E. 32nd St., 5th Fl.
    New York, NY 10016

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