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Learn sign language over a cuppa at this Jodhpur cafe

It was a desire to help people with disabilities stand on their feet that led Jodhpur-based entrepreneurs Diwakar and Abhijeet Arora to launch The Daily Grinds, a first of its kind café in the city that employs disabled people.

Less than two years after it was launched the café has become a popular go-to joint, known for its friendly staff and trendy food. Sample some of these comments on Facebook for an idea.

"Fun atmosphere. Awesome food and service Keep it up. Surprised by the fasting menu".

"Creative cocktails・Stylish interior・Late-night menu Amazing food 🥘 .Super friendly staff".

So, what led these young men to quit well paying, cushy jobs to start such a venture? We will let you hear it in their own words.

"I was a banker in Dubai and was also involved in training people with disabilities", says Abhijeet. "I felt that India too needs such efforts more than any other country and I decided to create an employment opportunity for them instead of just doing charity. I quit my job in Dubai and came back to India".

Abhijeet's brother and co-founder Diwakar too left his job in the automobile industry and partnered his brother in the initiative. In the initial months, the café employees were mostly students at a local school for deaf and hard of hearing children.

Our family is associated with a school for deaf and hard of hearing youth and we thought why not start with employing them. Today we employ people from surrounding villages. We also have youth with intellectual disabilities working here. - Diwakar Arora, Co-founder, The Daily Grinds

Changing mindsets

From cooking, taking orders to serving the food, the staff has been trained in every aspect by the two brothers. A process that came with many challenges and it took some time for the brothers to build rapport and trust.

"They knew the local sign language, which is very different from Indian or American Sign language (ASL)", recalls Abhijeet. "The local sign language of Jodhpur is not available on the Internet to learn. So we spent a good amount of time to learn their language and to teach them the global sign language, ASL so they could interact with the deaf community from around the globe. The other issue was that non- disabled people like us taken advantage of them like bullying them, giving them no days off or paying them low salaries. Much of our time went in making them comfortable".

Breaking attitudinal barriers was also a major challenge, which the brothers tried to overcome by promoting the initiative on social media through creative ways.

"We spread the word on social media asking people to visit us, try our food and learn sign language", says Abhijeet. The idea worked, especially with the youth. "Now our guests spend hours interacting with the staff. We have customers coming in not to eat but engage with the staff!".

An experience that the employees enjoy too. Rajendra, who is deaf and hard of hearing enjoys teaching visitors sign language. "We never feel like this is a workplace, this is like a family. Our birthdays are celebrated with the visitors, we work eight hours a day and get weekly offs. Friends and family who visit the café are given a 50% discount. And we are free to sit with the guests and teach them our language".

Ramesh, also deaf and hard of hearing, is pursuing his graduation while working at The Daily Grinds. "We get to learn something new every day. We love interacting with the guests and this is new for us as we never got to meet with people without disabilities before this".

For manager Jeevraj, the attraction lies in the many skills he is getting to acquire from "kitchen duties like preparing mocktails, garnishing food, to service, and even billing on computers and learning restaurant software".

Going ahead, the brothers plan to open a college for deaf and hard of hearing youth in Jodhpur. At present, there is none, which means they have to travel to Jaipur to appear for college exams. Clearly they are invested in enabling the disabled community in more ways than one.

Also Read:Mumbai's Cafe Arpan is brewing a change, along with great coffee

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