It is a café with a difference! Café La Gravitea in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, on the face of it looks like any other one in all ways except for a single factor. The staff who serve you on the tables are hearing-impaired – they are deaf and mute — thus lending a touch of inclusivity to the place.
Offering employment to the hearing-impaired youth only, Café La Gravitea at present employs 10 of them. As to how the idea germinated, Avinash Dugar, the owner of Café La Gravitea, says he was inspired to launch this initiative in 2016. It was when a young person accompanied by his sister — hard of hearing – came to Dugar’s tea stall and told him that his sibling was more than willing to work but could get any employment because of her hearing disability.
This indeed proved to be a life-changing moment for Dugar. Talking to the New Indian Express, he said: “It was a turning point in my life as after quitting my job as Vice President at a steel company in 2015, I wanted to do something for the society. Meeting with the girl, I realized that the opportunity I was looking for was right in front of me and decided to open a Café where all the employees will be hearing impaired.”
With the concept firmly in his head and heart, it took Dugar a few months to give it a concrete shape. He told NIE: “Now, the Café is being managed by all the 11 employees, out of which 10 are hearing impaired and talk only in sign language.”
Dugar told India Narrative that the biggest obstacle he had to surmount was convincing the parents of these boys and girls who work in the Café. “The initial challenge was to convince the parents that their children can work and also convince myself that I can make them work. As I did not know sign language, I had to pick that up from them to be able to communicate with them. I learnt it in the course of time.”
What lends this café a distinct identity is the fact that it is probably one such café in the country which employs only hearing impaired employees who do not limit themselves to merely serving the food but also cook and do all other jobs that go to run an eating joint, informed Dugar.
Talking about their initial training, he said with a sense of pride, “all of them picked up cooking very well in a few months. They soon became deft in other aspects of operations of the Café.”
Sharing information about the Café with India Narrative, he said, “We are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and serve 150 plus varieties of tea and tisane sourced from 12 countries besides iced tea, cold coffee, flavoured tea, etc. The Café’s fare includes pizzas, pastas, burgers, sandwiches, noodles, momos, fried rice, pav bhaji among others.”
Agreeing with India Narrative, that being in hospitality business, quick response to customers is important, Dugar observed: “Those coming for the first time are a little surprised but when they see the efficiency and expertise of the staff in cooking, in serving gracefully and welcoming people with a smile, people start liking them.” He goes on to add with a broad smile, “most of the first timers become our regular customers.”
Being a trained Chartered Accountant, Dugar feels his business model of hiring specially abled people is feasible and workable. “Based on our model, others too can bring in people who are specially abled in their businesses or start new ventures with them. What is needed is patience and becoming a part of their world. The moment, forbearance comes into play, things become easy and when we include them in our activities or become part of theirs, then the feeling of oneness comes.”
Dugar doesn’t confine his interaction with them to work only. “In La Gravitea, be it events, or any kind of function or outdoor activities, we all go as a team…it fosters unity and a sense of belonging.” Some of the events he attended with his team include MelonSeMilan, TangoWithMango, KiteKrantea, KhamoSheWithLife, HonkFreeTata among others.
Thrilled with the success of his maiden venture Dugar is looking beyond India to open new cafes. “We have already visited Phnom Penh in Cambodia twice and are soon going to start a café there. We have plans to open 10 such DeafCafes in different countries.”