One cafe, with 30 varieties of tea to serve, offers a free-spirit ambiance. Colorful interiors flocked with youngsters having a good time with friends. Everything sounds like a cafe next-door. But what makes it any different from all other cafes is the fact that over 85 percent of its crew have speech and hearing impairment. Welcome to Nukkad – The Teafe, nestled in a residential colony in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
This place is a breath of fresh air to its customers and a boon to the people working here in more ways than just one. The owner has given a shot at equal employment opportunity for deaf and mute people which has worked like a charm.
What makes this even better is the fact that the owner Priyank Patel does not limit his employees to working in cafe, but also grooms them in numerous ways making them eligible for other jobs outside the cafe.
One such case is Rajeev. A young but shy guy, who had a hard time expressing himself, was groomed for three years by the proprietor of the cafe, went on to get a job at Union Bank of India at Raipur under reserved category for persons with disability.
This is a place where people rise above differences and join hands to make a spectacular life. Instead of reading out your order, you write it on a piece of paper and give it to the waiting staff. Well, that or sign language does the work. It a place you do not come across so often for more than just one reason.
Priyank Patel, the heart, soul and owner of the cafe, is an engineer, who was working with a leading corporate house. He joined a fellowship from ICICI Bank in 2011, which made him work in NGOs around Odisha, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
After the fellowship was over, Priyank was left for wanting for more to do for the underprivileged and the needy in the society. Thus, he started his journey to making a social enterprise to make the world a better place. To not get carried away by his emotions, he wanted to make a venture which will also be self-sustainable.
This got him the idea of starting a cafe and for staff recruitment, he remembered reading the story of daily operations of an NGO ‘Miracle Couriers’, which recruited hearing and speech-impaired personals for it’s activities. So, as he started with his search for this initiative, he ran into Neelesh Kushwaha, who runs an NGO for the hearing and speech impaired people.
Not only did Neelesh help with recruitment, but also helped the staff with the training in the hospitality side of the cafe.
At the start of the cafe, 20-30 percent of the cafe were these special persons in both kitchen and as waiters. To make the place more interactive and people to socialize with each other, Priyank came up with the idea to offer 10 percent discount to customers who submit their phone at the counter for a short, digital detox. They can have them back when they are to leave the cafe.
Initially, there were numerous challenges for the customers to communicate with the staff in sign languages and placing their orders. Customers had to write it down to them or order using sign languages. Huge placards and posters with sign languages were hung around to make it easier for the customers.
Some orders were messed up, some customers got furious with the hassles. But, slowly and steadily, people got used to the cafe and backed them because of their novel initiative. Soon the word about Nukkad and it’s unique story started spreading and people around the city began visiting it in huge numbers. Priyank also thanks some of his customers for coming up with ways of funding, sponsorship and helping with sign languages etc.
Years later now, Nukkad has two more outlets in Raipur, which 85 percent of the staff includes hearing and speech impaired personals. Priyank has gone one step further and added transgenders to its staff in Bhilai. He says, even though working with mute-deaf people is hard, people are open enough to the idea, but transgenders have a even harder time to get accepted in the society.
To change this mindset, he has recruited his staff in Bhilai especially from that community. To anyone who is visiting Raipur and Bhilai, Nukkad cafe is a must-visit spot to blow away your mind, with it’s ambiance and it’s equally special staff.