Thursday, June 8, 2023

I’m the proud owner of a cafe staffed entirely by the deaf and mute community!

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When I initially spoke to Shivansh, everything shifted. When I met Shivansh, I was 23 years old and trapped in a soulless corporate job. He was an aspiring hotel manager like myself, eager to go out on his own. We’re both on the same page, he said, so let’s work together.

We kept in touch, and after some back-and-forth, we came up with the plan to create our own cafe. Sahil, a friend of Shivansh’s, came along. We frequented coffeehouses in search of enlightenment, but I knew I didn’t want our motto framed on the wall or any motivational sayings tacked up there.

On one of our outings, we encountered a deaf cashier, and I didn’t appreciate how his manager was treating him. Nothing smacked of inclusiveness, and everything smacked of demanding annoyance. The idea crossed my mind, “They need to be nicer to their employees.” And then it dawned on me — maybe we could help the deaf community in some little way ourselves!

For starters, we reached out to the Noida Deaf Society in search of potential staff. We put in over a month of training modules and simulated meetings with real customers (our friends and family). We instructed them to “act like the world’s most demanding consumers” so that we could better understand their needs.

We attacked the issues one by one. To facilitate ordering, we devised our own menu complete with food codes, cue cards, and notepads. After we recognised that we just needed patience, things started to fall into place.

In 2015, we opened the first ‘Echoes’ café in Delhi, and the response was incredible. The crowds poured in, and soon our regulars were vying to be the one to place the order for their favourite table. Indeed, some of them picked up sign language. Having been welcomed with open arms was a huge boost to our morale.

We opened in Ahmedabad and by the end of the 5th year we had 6 cafes across India in places like Bangalore and Kolkata. Our number of deaf workers jumped from five to fifty. Nevertheless, in 2020, we had to close due to a pandemic. We were frightened and confused. In any case, we were inspired by our team. The messages we received included, “We can’t wait to get back to work!” We couldn’t fail them, that much was certain. As a result, we pooled our resources, secured investors, and reopened our cafés in Delhi and Hyderabad last year.

Our deaf employees frequently express gratitude for the chance to show their worth. On the other hand, we’re the lucky ones, as we get to collaborate with some of the world’s most remarkable individuals every day. Saif, one of our servers, has a tattoo of our café’s name on his arm. Truth be told, it’s him and the rest of our crew who keep us going; whenever we hit a snag, we just think of their happy grins and we keep going.

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