10 Cafés and Restaurants with a Social Conscience in India

Thanks to their community-minded endeavours, these restaurants and cafés are more than worthy of your appetite

Annabelle D’Costa

In a time when being ‘foodie’ has become hipster and trending activity. One must stop and think can we look at food beyond the perfect Instagram post and one-upmanship amongst peers. Here’s a guide to some altruistic eateries, where you can nosh on tasty eats while being certain that you are spending your money’s worth at a good place.

Every restaurant on this list is driving change—from creating awareness, supporting social causes such as skill development to creating job opportunities to fight social stigma.

Sheroes Hangout, Lucknow and Agra

With the help of Chaanv Foundation and supporters of the Stop Acid Attack network, Sheroes opened its doors in Agra in 2014. With a menu that has no prices, allowing you to pay what you can, the café in Lucknow mainly aims at spreading awareness towards victims of gender-based violence and so far has already managed to bring hope into the lives of 40 women.

Bollywood actor, Deepika Padukone, who's portraying the role of a real-life acid attack survivor in her latest Chhapaak,  celebrated her birthday on January 5, 2020 with these real-life acid attack survivors. Along with husband Ranveer Singh, co-star Vikrant Massey, director Meghna Gulzar, and Laxmi Agarwal, the gang celebrated the undying spirit and hard work of acid attack survivors, at Sheroes Hangout Lucknow, by cutting a cake together and exchanging gifts.

“Sheroes Hangout is not only a café but also a substantial project that helps acid-attack survivors, primarily women, in as many ways possible,” informs Abhay Singh, Director's Associate, Chhanv Foundation. Talking about the café’s concept, he further explains, “As a working project model, Sheroes Hangout makes it possible to reform the stigmas surrounding acid attack survivors and helps them in the direction of fast medical recovery and justice in their criminal cases.” At Sheroes Hangout, the girls are involved in the commercial activity of hospitality as far as their physical condition allows. The model of the project is designed keeping in mind some additional staff that shall be there to help and support them where they lack.” Apart from serving healthy foods, the café also sells crafts and artwork by its employees and also has a library. Moreover, Sheroes was also recognised under the

Inclusive FnB Establishments

category at the

third edition of the LF Epicurean Guild Awards 2019

Taste of Darkness café, Dialogue in the Dark, Hyderabad

and Bengaluru

Taste of Darkness is a concept restaurant where diners literally dine in the dark. The concept originated in Germany with the aims of creating awareness about visual impairment. The restaurant offers a sensory experience to visitors by encouraging them to dine in complete darkness with the assistance of a visually-challenged guide. This allows diners to experience the true dark world first-hand. You are blindfolded led to a four-course dinner, encouraging you to rely on your other senses—hearing, touch, smell and taste. By the end of the meal, you are sure to leave feeling aware of your heightened senses.

Nukkad, The Teafé, Raipur

Priyank Patel once had the vision of starting a special café that would offer more than ‘badiya chai’. Today Patel’s Nukkad, nestled in Chattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, is brewing equal and non-discriminatory employment opportunities for the differently abled. Nukkad works as a bridge between communities, encouraging patrons to engage in non-verbal forms of communication with its staff which include deaf, mute, transgender, and people with Down’s Syndrome and the dwarf community.

“At Nukkad we not just aim at uplifting the marginalised and providing them with employment, but rather work towards empowering them by creating an inclusive space for them beyond work,” informs Patel. One is encouraged to communicate with the deaf community with the use of pen-paper or sign language. Besides, the special café also hosts a range of activities such as open mics and initiatives such as Digital Detox and Gyaan Daan, all of which make Nukkad what it is today, besides dishing some yummy food.

Lemon Tree Hotels

What began as an almost random act, that of hiring differently-abled staff, by the company’s founder, Patu Keswani, back in 2007 has today become a core part of Lemon Tree Hotels’ culture. And as of July 2018, approximately 21% of company’s employees are individuals who are “opportunity deprived” in some way. Working with NGO partners such as Youth4Jobs, Dr Reddy’s Foundation and Muskaan, among many others, the brand is doing its bit to create a more inclusive and respectful workplace and the kind of environment where employees feel welcome. Spread across 48 hotels in 30 cities of India, so far, the brand has managed to take wheelchair users, people with Down’s syndrome, Autism, missing limbs and other disabilities, acid survivors, orphans, widows, divorcees, and even people who are illiterate under its wings. It is for this reason that they were ranked amongst the ‘Best Companies to Work for’ in India for seven consecutive years (2011 -2017) by the Great Places to Work Institute.

Mirchi and Mime, Mumbai

Launched in 2015, Mirchi & Mime, in Mumbai, is a socially responsible restaurant that serves more than just modern-Indian delicacies in Mumbai’s Powai area. Supported entirely by a hearing and speech-impaired wait staff, patrons are encouraged to sign and dine, thereby leaving it up to the food to do all the talking. Expect educative and informative menus with sign language illustrations next to the dishes, to help you place your orders.

When asked what their idea of inclusivity means, Raja Shekhar Reddy, one of the founders of SquareMeal Foods, the parent company of Mirchi & Mime says, “Our workplace has primarily Speech and Hearing Impaired (SHI) persons, so inclusivity, to us, means including speaking and hearing staff into the world of SHI. As we put it, ‘our staff might not be able to speak or hear, but they can certainly smile and serve’. We train them to deliver a seamless service experience.” With salaries that are 35% above industry standards, the staff has also been allotted ESOPs, which can be vested after completing one year of employment, informs Reddy.

Sharing with us the brand’s vision, he says, “We plan on opening around 20 restaurants in all, in a span of three years employing over 500 SHI employees. Our third restaurant will be opening in Indore by March 2019. Other cities in the pipeline include Pune, Hyderabad, Nagpur, etc., apart from other metros.” Besides, Mirchi and Mime Mumbai, too, was recognised under the Inclusive FnB Establishments category at the third edition of the LF Epicurean Guild Awards 2019

Café Toto, Kolkata

Opened in 2016, this European café is a one-of-a-kind-café-school that not only trains but also provides jobs to those unemployed and socially deprived. The joint efforts of two NGOs--Tomorrow’s Foundation and Life Project 4 Youth—and the French Consulate, this café-school offers hope and skills to orphans, disabled and victims of domestic violence. They are trained in English, IT, communication, personal skills and cooking. With only 20 seats, this café-school is open only two to three days a week for lunch as the main purpose is to concentrate more on the training of the youth than the sales. Once the café serves its purpose, that of empowering the youth of tomorrow, it will be open on more days during the week. For now, the café does run a home delivery service and introduces patrons to excellent French and European fare.   

Writer’s Café, Chennai

Little did M. Mahadevan, a restaurateur, know that a visit to the Prevention International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) would lead him to pilot Writer’s Café, a safe haven for acid attack victims and domestic abuse women. Started in the December of 2016 as a cafe to help rehabilitate survivors of domestic abuse, acid attacks and fire accidents, this Swiss bakery-cum-bookstore provides an equal opportunity work setting by training its employees in the art of baking and confectionery. Affiliated to the PCVC, a non-profit that aims at giving such women who find it difficult to find employment and grapple with self-pity, this unique café in India runs on a non-profit business model, wherein all the proceeds are shared between the women and Higginbothams, the bookstore chain housed within the cafe, which also donates to PCVC’s causes.

Echoes, Delhi and Bengaluru

Since December 2015, this café, which currently has three outlets, has been encouraging patrons to listen with their eyes, talk with their hands and eat with all their heart. Started by six like-minded friends, Sahib Sarna, Shivansh Kanwar, Gaurav Kanwar, Sahil Gulati, Prateek Babbar and Kshitij Behl, this restaurant takes pride in visually and hearing impaired workforce. To facilitate a smooth sailing dining experience, expect a set of cue cards placed on every table, dishes with distinct codes and signs, notepads to write your orders and a light bulb to call out for the servers. 

La Gravitea Café, Jamshedpur

Expect up to 105 international varieties of tea at this café that also boasts an extensive menu comprising breakfast, lunch and drinks. In addition to revolutionising the tea scene in the steel city, the unique café, owned by Avinash Duggar, ex-vice president of Kohinoor Steel, has been creating employment opportunities with its inclusive hiring policy. The hearing-impaired staff are also Olympic athletes and medal holders from Sonari’s BalVihar, an institution that works with the hearing impaired. Combining food with philanthropy, this café is also working towards shifting people’s attitudes and creating awareness about people with disabilities.  

Café Positive, Kolkata

You could be forgiven for missing this café, hidden away in Jodhpur Park in Kolkata. This 40-seater café takes pride in being called the first café in Asia run by HIV+ young people, success didn’t come easy. The major challenge faced before setting up was finding a dedicated space for the café to function. It was only after a kind-hearted citizen, Indrajyoti Dasgupta moved his car out of the garage that Kallol Gosh, the owner, and his army of young men and women were able to treat the world to their coffee and cha (tea), a range of muffins, cookies, sandwiches and more. The idea behind setting up the café was that if people drink and eat food prepared by HIV-positive staff, it would help them understand that HIV positives are just like normal people.

Featured image: Shutterstock.com


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