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Meet the Dream Kitchen team at Café Able, Thoothukudi’s first run by disabled people

Café Able, located inside the District Collectorate in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, is acquiring quite a name for itself. Managed by 12 disabled people, this is the first of its kind cafe in this town.

Waiting to meet the district official at Thoothukudi is no longer such a bore for the people here. They now have a place to hang out at. Café Able.

Located inside the District Collectorate, Café Able has made quite a name for itself in this Tamil Nadu port city since it opened its doors on 8 July. Managed by a 12-member team of disabled people, who call themselves Dream Kitchen, the café sells breakfast, lunch and dinner items that include traditional South Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare. There's also juices, desserts, puffs and other bakery items, all reasonably priced between ₹6 and ₹70.

Café Able is the brainchild of District Collector Sandeep Nanduri who was always flooded with petitions from disabled people seeking jobs. Given the limited number of government jobs, he decided to start enable them to run a venture.

We keep getting petitions from disabled people asking for government jobs. Although there are many loans and schemes available, they are reluctant to start something on their own as they are unsure of sustaining it. They feel more secure in government jobs. So, I came up with the idea of starting a canteen. A group of us, which includes people from the disabled community, identified potential people, organised a training programme and Café Able was born. - Sandeep Nanduri, District Collector, Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu

Fifteen people were identified and put through a 45-day training programme in catering by a local NGO. Finally 12 stayed on to be a part of the café, most of them have locomotor disabilities, while one is deaf. Three of them are women. "They manage the café entirely on their own", says Nanduri. "They don't pay rent for the premises but the aim is that they should sustain themselves". All the refreshments and food for staff meetings now come from the café and the staffers eat here as well. "The café earns about ₹10,000 a day of which about 50% is spent on buying ingredients for the next day and the balance is deposited in the bank", adds Nanduri.

Managing the operations at Café Able is K Kannan, who earlier worked at Sriram Finance. "We can seat about 25 people and through the day there's quite a crowd. Lunch time is especially packed and by dinner, its considerably lower". The fish and chicken dishes are a huge hit, he adds. "For dinner, we make chapati/paratha and korma". The staffers hold daily meetings to decide the menu.

Kannan says he loves the experience. "I took this up as a change and now I love the job. It's business oriented and I don't have to depend on anyone. It makes me feel self-reliant".

A former electrician, M Lakshmanan, loves working at the café. He does the shopping for the café, manages the store and makes refreshments. "I always wanted a business of my own but never pursued it. Thanks to the Collector, I have this opportunity and I want to make the most of it".

Café Able is open Monday to Saturday, 6 PM to 8 PM.

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