Sunshine story: Mumbai to get its first special cafe run by staff with developmental abilities

Oct 14, 2017, 08:28 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty

Their dabba service is a rocking success, and now team of autistic and Down Syndrome culinary enthusiasts will launch restaurant that's run entirely by staffers with developmental disabilities

For years, they were too afraid to talk to anybody, worried that no one would accept them because they were autistic. It was a love for cooking that changed their lives, after they started a dabba service two years ago and won the appreciation of their customers. Now, they hope to share the joy of food with more people at their very own cafe - the first of its kind in the city.

From the group of eight foodies, seven are autistic, while one has Down Syndrome – both are conditions that can hamper a persons' ability to communicate, making it hard for them to find a job or have social interactions.

Once, they would sit at home all day, too afraid to step out and speak to people or look for work. Today, though, they are all together, cooking in a makeshift kitchen that is filled with laughter and the aroma of cookies and other snacks being made. Soon, they will pack the food and deliver it in tiffin boxes to hundreds of customers at various offices in Juhu.

The eight aspiring restaurateurs started their culinary journey in 2015 by supplying dabbas to office-goers
The eight aspiring restaurateurs started their culinary journey in 2015 by supplying dabbas to office-goers

Complete transformation
everyone in the group - Aarti Nagarkar, Anand Jangir, Chetan Jawale, Nazneen Kagalwala, Pratibha Kamat, Raees Shaikh, Sudha Chhabria, Bunny Amani – is aged between 20 and 45, but most had similar difficulties before they started cooking together.

The difference between their lives from two years ago is stark. "One boy never used to talk earlier, but now he is the most talkative in the group. One of the women did not have a job earlier, but now she proudly carries a bag to the kitchen every morning, like other working women," said Ashaita Mahajan, manager of Yash Charitable Trust, which started the Arpan dabba service in 2015 to empower people with special needs.

Currently, they work out of a makeshift kitchen from 9 am to 3 pm. "This small kitchen is like their home. They have all become friends, and they celebrate their birthdays and festivals together. It has helped them to come out of their cocoon," said Ashaita.

"We started the dabba system in 2015 and taught them how to cook. This group has a strong work ethic. They are extremely attentive and very focused on their work. Starting from buying groceries to cutting vegetables, cooking and delivery, they handle everything meticulously," added Ashaita.

Bigger dreams
The appreciation of their customers has helped to build their confidence. So much so that the octet now dream of starting their own cafe, where more people can enjoy their food and become more accepting of those with developmental disabilities.

While the location is yet to be decided, the cafe's construction will require around Rs 10 lakh. The trust has already raised as much as Rs 7.5 lakh through crowdfunding. They now need another Rs 2.5 lakh to the dream come true.

"In foreign countries, there are cafes that are successfully run by people with special needs. In India, the idea is yet to gain popularity. With this initiative, I hope more number people will come forward to accept them," said Ashaita.


For a good cause

Speech and hearing impaired: Mirchi and Mime, which was started in Powai in 2015, has a waiting staff who are speech and hearing impaired. In 2016, taking off from the success of their first outlet, the owners expanded the idea to open Madeira and Mime, a gastro pub beside its first outpost.

Underprivileged kids: Amin Sheikh launched the Bombay to Barcelona Cafe in 2016 to support other underprivileged kids.

Destitute women: Tea Villa Cafe at Nana Chowk employs underprivileged women. The eatery trains these women on how to handle the counter and the kitchen.

Want to contribute?

Payable to: Yash Charitable Trust 

Send a cheque to: Fiona, third floor, Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai 400049

Make an online transfer to: Account number 7711476797, Kotak Mahindra Bank, JVPD branch (IFSC: KKBK0000661)

Rs 2.5 lakh
Amount team is falling short of from budget to launch eatery

Rs 7.5 lakh
Amount that has already been raised for the cafe

This cafe in Navi Mumbai employs transgender staff

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