I own a cafe run by deaf and mute people!
“It was my first conversation with Shivansh that changed my life. I was 23, stuck in a corporate job and looking for a way out when I met Shivansh. He was a hotel management trainee who, like me, wanted to start something of his own. He told me, ‘We have the same vision, let’s team up!’
We stayed connected, went back and forth on ideas before we settled on opening our own café. Shivansh’s friend, Sahil, joined us. We visited cafés for inspiration, and one thing I was sure about was that I didn’t want my cafe to have walls covered in famous quotes; I wanted us to have a real purpose!
During one of our excursions, we came across a deaf person working the cash counter; the way he was being treated by his manager didn’t sit right with me. There was no inclusion, only a demanding annoyance. I thought, ‘They need to be kinder to their staff.’ And it struck me…we could do something for the deaf community ourselves!’
We began by approaching the Noida Deaf Society to recruit employees. We spent over a month on training modules, and had mock customer sessions with friends and family. We told them, ‘Behave like the most demanding customers in the world, it will help us learn how to deal with them!’
One by one, we tackled problem areas. We came up with our own menu that included food codes, cue cards and writing pads so people could order seamlessly. We realized that all we needed was patience, and once that realization set in, everything became simpler.
We opened our first ‘Echoes’ café in Delhi in 2015, and we were overwhelmed by the love we received! Customers came in droves; soon enough, our regulars fought over who could place the order for their table. Some of them even learned sign language! We were so thrilled that people had accepted us with open arms.
Over 5 years, we grew until we were successfully running 6 cafés in India, from Ahmedabad to Bangalore to Kolkata. We went from having 5 to 50 deaf employees. But in 2020, we had to shut down because of the pandemic. We were shaken—we had no idea what to do. But our staff motivated us. They’d send us messages like, ‘We can’t wait to come back to work!’ We knew we couldn’t let them down. So, last year, we pooled our resources, bagged investors and reopened our cafés in Delhi and Hyderabad.
Our deaf staff always say, ‘Thank you for giving us an opportunity to prove ourselves.’ But we’re the ones who are blessed—we get to work with the most incredible people in the world! One of our servers, Saif, got the name of our café tattooed on his arm; I was blown away! Honestly, it’s him and the rest of our staff that keep us going—through every pitfall, we think of their smiling faces, and we get back up!”