With rising social inequality becoming one of India’s top issues in recent years, it is time to think about how we can contribute not just to the environment, but also to our society. Be it through participating in recycling efforts, spreading awareness, contributing to charities or simply adopting an eco-friendlier lifestyle, all of us can, and should, play a part.
Taking the lead are some unique cafés on the Indian dining scene that are serving up scrumptious food for a good cause.
From feeding the needy to offering jobs to the differently-abled, these establishments are dedicated to making the world a better, more inclusive place.
So, if you want to help bring about a positive change, have your next meal at one of these 12 Indian cafés that are redefining the concept of ‘coffee with a conscience’!
1. Seva Café in Bengaluru, Karnataka
Started by Sushil Nair and friends, Bengaluru’s Seva Café works on a ‘pay-it-forward’ basis. It is run entirely by volunteers who cook and serve meals to visitors that are already paid for by previous contributions. They are also invited to make a contribution to help keep the circle of giving going at this café which also has branches in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Pune. Imagine a place, where at the end of a delicious meal, you are handed a small handwritten note stating that your meal was a gift from someone who came before you.
To contact Seva Cafe, click here.
2. Food-On-Wall Eateries in Malappuram, Kerala
Launched by Malappuram municipality, Food-On-The-Wall eateries are part of a unique welfare scheme aimed at providing food to the needy by roping in the restaurants in and around the town. People who would like to help can be part of the scheme by making a payment for a meal or two at a restaurant that has joined the scheme. The food token generated by the payment will be hung on the restaurant wall at a visible and easily accessible place. All the poor need to do, is collect the already-paid-for-token from the wall and eat from the restaurant by using it.
3. Kalakkal Café in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Established in 2012 by the NGO Vidya Sagar, the Kalakkal café is one of the rare places in Chennai where the disabled can enjoy a leisurely outing. With menus in Braille, slip resistant flooring, double coloured hand rails and ramps to enable the wheelchair-bound to enter, this wonderful café is truly an inclusive space for hanging out.
Contact Kalakkal Cafe here.
4. Mirchi & Mime in Mumbai, Maharashtra
A novel and heart-warming social experiment, Mirchi & Mime is a place where food speaks so loudly that the servers don’t need to. This place is entirely supported by hearing and speech-impaired wait staff, and has an easy-to-follow gesture glossary is attached to the menu. Visitors can simply point at their selection and indicate the number of portions! The co-owners, Prashant Issar and Anuj Shah, were inspired by Signs, a restaurant in Toronto, Canada, which is also wait-staffed by hearing-impaired servers.
5. Sheroes Hangout in Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Tucked away between trinket shops, in a tiny alley near Taj Mahal in Agra, lies a café that has made itself a place of refuge and recovery for India’s acid attack victims. Started in 2014 by Stop Acid Attacks, an NGO that works to empower survivors of acid attacks, Sheroes Hangout aims to foster confidence in women by employing them at this cafe. Other than serving delicious food, the wonderful café also sells paintings and crafts made by its employees, and has a gathering space for performances.
Contact Sheores Hangout here.
6. Café Toto in Kolkata, West Bengal
Run in collaboration by NGO Tomorrow’s Foundation and the French NGO Life Project 4 Youth (supported by Kolkata’s French Consulate), Toto Café employs young adults from deprived backgrounds: orphans, disabled, victims of domestic violence and others. These youngsters are trained in English, IT skills, communication, personal skills and cooking over a period of one year by French volunteers. This one-of-a-kind cafe-school can seat 20 people at a time, is open two to three days a week for lunch and even runs a home delivery service.
7. Pappadavada in Kochi, Kerala
Minu Pauline, owner of the Pappadavada restaurant, in Kerala decided to combat both hunger and food waste after seeing people scavenging scraps of food from waste bins. She installed a fridge – nicknamed nanma maram, meaning ‘tree of goodness’ – people can leave food (along with the excess food for the restaurant) for poor and homeless people. Left unlocked and unsupervised for 24 hours a day, the fridge feeds dozens of people every day and has become a community hub, with people from across town donating to it.
8. Cat Studio Café in Mumbai, Maharashtra
Established by animal lover Mriidu Khosla, this unique café is not just a food joint, it is also a shelter for rescued cats and kittens, an adoption centre and a place where you can go hang out with the friendly felines without any additional costs. Around 15 rescued cats – healthy, de-wormed, de-flead and litter-trained – can be found lounging here on any given day. The adoptions are completely free and encouraged after a background check on the adopter. The café team also take care of all the stray dogs in the area; right from feeding them to spaying them and even treating maggot injuries.
Contact Cat Cafe Studio here.
9. Taste of Darkness in Hyderabad (Telangana) and Bengaluru (Karnataka)
Taste of Darkness is a part of Andreas Heinecke’s Dialogue in the Dark initiative that aims to sensitive commoners through tours and dining experiences in the dark. Every employee at this restaurant is visually challenged or blind. As they help you to your tables, serve you food and make sure you are having a good time, they open your eyes in the dark to show you that their world is not poorer – just different.
10. Tihar Food Court, New Delhi
A rehabilitation effort started by the Tihar jail, South Asia’s largest prison complex, Tihar Food Court employs inmates who have proven themselves through good behavior during their years in prison. These convicts have been trained in cooking, baking and serving by a nearby hotel management school under the ‘from talent to employment’ programme. Lined with wooden tables and walls adorned with paintings made by prisoners, the spacious 50-seat restaurant has no iron bars or armed guards and serves everything, from sandwiches and samosas to vegetarian thalis.
11. Nukkad, The Teafé, in Raipur, Chattisgarh
At the Nukkad Teafé in Raipur, having a good time means a lot more than just drinking a delicious cup of steaming chai. It means participating in poetry sessions, discussing books with like-minded people, making new friends and communicating in sign language with hearing and speech impaired staff members. Started in 2013 by Priyank Patel, this cafe hires only deaf and mute staff members for regular duties like managing the orders, handling the cash counters and serving the customers. Their warm smiles, indomitable spirit and positive energy is what makes the place truly unique.
12. Writer’s Café in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
A beautifully-decorated Swiss bakery in Chennai, Writer’s Café gives burn survivors a new lease of life. Not only does this café employ them, it also provides training in culinary arts. The owner, M Mahadevan, decided to start this cafeteria after a deeply-moving visit to the Prevention International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC). Launched in a tie-up with PCVC, this wonderful food joint is helping burn survivors wear scars on their sleeves with utmost dignity and confidence!
Contact Writer’s Cafe here.