Bengaluru: In a corner of Kerala, the ruling communists are trying out an innovative cashier-less restaurant to feed the poor, suggesting they may have improved on the Amma canteen model popularized by the late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Unlike the Tamil Nadu model, where the state funds subsidized canteens, the communists’ restaurants offer their fare entirely free of charge to anyone who walks into the restaurant.

The Janakeeya Bhakshanasala (people’s restaurant, in Malayalam), a two-storey restaurant opened near Pathirapally in Alappuzha district, works on a charitable model—it redistributes voluntary donations made by its rich patrons to fund free food for the poor. Customers who wish to pay for food put whatever they feel like into a box at the entrance. But it’s all voluntary.

In order to drive its middle- and upper-class patrons, the restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes—from porridge to prawns—and also invites celebrities to dine in and strengthen its popular appeal. Vegetables used in the dishes are taken from a one hectare organic farm at the back of the restaurant—another attraction.

One month into its launch, the restaurant has served more than 30,000 people at a cost of about Rs7 lakh, according to Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac, a major supporter of the movement. In return, the restaurant has received an almost equal amount of money from donations, he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Buoyed by the success, the government is now thinking of opening at least three more such restaurants—in three other districts within the next three months.

“The market value of the food served here would be Rs15 lakhs... It is not Amma canteen. There (in Tamil Nadu) it is working solely with the support from the state. The first lesson from here (in Kerala restaurant) is that this can be done without any state support, as a mass movement. The state support, if any, is restricted to loans to establish kitchens and provide food and vegetables at subsidy rates," said the minister.

“There is no cashier, no bill for the food. But the numbers show that they are paying the market value of the food, or more than that," the minister said, adding that once capital loans and volunteers’ times are taken into account the restaurant is probably running at small loss.

The restaurant is the brain-child of Snehajaalakam, a local pain and palliative care forum whose members, associated with the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), have been distributing food to 400 mostly bedridden patients or elders in the locality for the last two years, funded entirely by voluntary donations.