A smiling face greets you on entering, the dishes here bear distinct codes and signs, the customers are given notepads to write their orders, there are placards for frequent requests, and each table has a light bulb, much like those in aircraft, to call out for the servers. Welcome to Echoes, a café in Delhi’s Satya Niketan area that employs people with hearing and speech impairment.
Started in December 2015, Echoes is the brainchild of a group of six friends – Sahib Sarna, Shivansh Kanwar, Gaurav Kanwar, Sahil Gulati, Prateek Babbar and Kshitij Behl, all driven by the same passion.
“We all wanted to pursue our dreams and set up something that reflected our vision. We wanted to motivate people to follow the path they choose and hence came up with Echoes. We worked on building a place with high level of interactivity, motivating interiors, scrumptious food and a social purpose,” says Sahib.
With a seating capacity of close to 40, the café currently employs six to seven differently abled persons who manage the guests by taking their orders and making them comfortable.
“We will soon be expanding and increasing the number many folds. The staff is indeed wonderful to work with. With procedures designed to suit them, they are fully capable of managing the guests on their own. We will soon be training them in other areas as well,” says Sahib.
Initially, Sarna and his friends had visited the Noida Deaf Society, a school for the hearing impaired, who helped them get the right people to recruit as their staff.
“We then trained them on our procedures and now we get people through our existing staff contacts and open online sources. There are no special tie-ups with any group,” he shares.
He adds that they the staff just need to be trained in certain soft skills. “We believe that domain-specific skills can be imparted on the job. When they are hired we train them using our standard set procedures for a few days and few days of on the job training,” he says.
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The café serves a mix of Continental, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and American cuisine. It’s a hit among students in the area, which has many Delhi University colleges.
“Students are the building block. We wanted to start with this market so that our message reaches the right ears. However, we don’t serve any specific community or age group. The place is open to all and we managed a place where all age groups can have a good time together. From families to corporate staff to students, you can see all enjoying at Echoes,” says Sahib.
However, every success story has its share of stumbling blocks. And Sahib agrees that they too faced challenges while setting up the place. Among the major ones, he points out, was the communication gap and designing the system that allows customers and staff to be able to interact efficiently.
But they managed to surpass it, and have received an overwhelming response over the years.
Talking about their pleasant memories, he says, “There have been many interesting experiences like customers learning sign language from our staff. It is a pleasure to see differently abled people visiting the cafe to have a good time. Daily challenges are there but we make sure we are getting permanent solutions for such challenges.”
Twenty-three-year-old Ajay, who has been working at Echoes for a year now, is more confident than he ever was. “I love to serve the guests and interact with them. And what gives me utmost happiness is when our customers try and talk to us in our language, using signs,” he says.
After making their presence felt in the capital city, Echoes is aiming to be up and running in Bengaluru’s Koramangala area in first week of March, which will have a seating capacity of 70.
You can get more information about the cafe from their Facebook page here.