Reviews on the internet will let you know that the Nukkad Teafe is one of the coolest places in Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, with a bohemian ambience with over 30 varieties of tea being served there. But Nukkad is not your average daily cafe where you saunter in for hanging out with friends over a cuppa and some cake. Nukkad stands out because 85 per cent of its staff comprises of speech and hearing impaired individuals. That’s what makes it unique.
Priyank Patel, the brain behind Nukkad, is an engineer by training and has spent some time working with a leading corporate house in the country. A fellowship from ICICI in 2011 changed the course of his career and his life as he ventured out to work with NGOs in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha. His experience in the field with these NGOs fuelled his vision to create a social enterprise which would contribute to making the world a better place.
Priyank wanted to start an enterprise which would help him achieve his dream to work for the society and also be self-sustaining. He thus conceived the idea of a cafe. When it was time to recruit the staff, he thought of his work with an NGO ‘Miracle Couriers’ in Mumbai who recruited hearing and speech impaired persons to carry out the daily work and that piqued my curiosity, Priyank explains. Only, ‘Miracle Couriers’ was working in a sector which involved little interaction with clients, which was completely opposite to Priyank’s plan for a cafe where client has to be engaged continuously.
But Priyank was hooked to the idea of hiring hearing and speech impaired staff for his cafe. “The reservation policy that the government has does not allow hearing and speech impaired individuals to benefit from it much as they have to compete with others in this category and I was keen to do something which involved them and gave them a better opportunity”. His search led him to Neelesh Kushwaha. “Neelesh runs an NGO for the hearing and speech impaired and he not only helped me find my staff but also helped with the training in sign language”.
When Nukkad opened, the staff had 20 to 30 per cent hearing and speech impaired employees as part of its posse. They were employed in the kitchen and also as waiters. This gave rise to its own set of challenges. Neelesh and Priyank devised a method where the staff was to take orders from clients in writing or use sign language to communicate. To make things a tad easier, they hung placards and boards with the basics in sign language to help customers interact with their staff. But it was not smooth sailing all along. “Initially, it was very challenging for us as the clients were not used to this kind of a set up where the orders were not dictated to the waiter but had to be written down. Some orders would get botched up and we had to face furious customers. Neelesh and I worked hard to placate the customers and over time people began to get used to our novel concept more because it was new and it was a noble initiative.” To draw more customers, Priyank began to dole out incentives, which, along with the uniqueness of the vision behind the cafe, spread the word about Nukkad in all of Raipur.
That Nukkad is changing the lives of its staff, giving them a shot at equality when the rest of the society is busy cold-shouldering them, is evident from the number of individuals from Nukkad who have gone on from the cafe towards newer employment opportunities. Rajeev, a young shy kid who “doesn’t like to express much”, was groomed at Nukkad under Priyank and Neelesh for three years. And the change in his confidence is inspiring.
“There was a job opening in UBI at Raipur under the reserved category for persons with disability and we encouraged Rajeev to apply. His training and the things he had learnt at Nukkad got him through and now he is happy in his new job,” Priyank says with great pride. Priyank is also quick to share the credit for the success of Nukkad with Neelesh who has been putting in as much effort to take Nukkad to greater heights.
“I have to give all credit to Neelesh who has been a huge help in training the staff, smoothening out issues with the running of the day-to-day affairs and in sorting out issues with customers,” says Priyank. He also credits his customers for being understanding and patient, coming up with ways to help Nukkad with sponsorships, funding, sign language tec hniques, etc.
Nukkad is changing the lives of its staff by giving them a shot at equality even as the rest of the society is busy cold-shouldering them. A number of individuals from Nukkad have gone on to newer employment opportunities.
Three years on, Nukkad Teafe is only growing in its fame and reputation, as is the size of its staff. Today, they have two outlets and two kiosks in Raipur and 85% of Nukkad’s staff is hearing and speech impaired and the progress evokes feelings of immense pride and satisfaction in Priyank. “My journey, our journey and our efforts have managed to trigger a change, and that is what makes me happy about the entire enterprise. Because I never wanted to start a business alone; Nukkad was visualized as a social enterprise which would transform lives and that dream is being fulfilled.”
If you happen to be in Raipur, do visit Nukkad Teafe. Apart from the ambience that is surely worth soaking in, the overall experience of the unique vision and initiative
will take you by storm. It has shaped this cafe and made it another cog in the wheel for real, positive change.