CHENNAI: Priyadarshini R serves us a cup of hot cappuccino to kickstart a refreshing morning. We are at the Writer’s Cafe outlet in Taramani. She is fondly called the coffee queen, and handles the beverage and juice department. The outlet opened in April this year and has employed acid-burn survivors and people from Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu (dealing with people affected from muscular spasms). The warm vibes from the staff, the pocket-friendly menu and of course, the finely stacked books and stationery from Higginbotham for sales sets this cafe apart. “The employees are trained in their areas of strength.
They handle different sections like beverages, ice cream, confectionery, hot kitchen and attending to staff. The cafe aims to tie up with the NGOs in its ambit and provide opportunities for the differently abled. Sankalp, a school for differently abled, is the next one on their list. The funds from one outlet are used for opening another one. It’s a self-sustaining model and we want to adapt to the market to function effectively. Our outlet at Gopalapuram is packed during weekends and this one is buzzing during weekdays. It’s a favourite hang-out spot for college kids,” says Tarun Mahadevan, the business development manager.
The space is bustling with staff meticulously packing chocolates into gift boxes for Diwali. While Pragadeshwari is focusing on the ice cream cones, K Asma is making a set of delicious ice creams, which she specialises in preparing. “Our day begins with cleaning the counter. We ensure the orders are sent to other outlets from here. After ticking off the checklist, we start with the production of what is required for the day. All of us have been here since the cafe’s inception. There is always a burning desire to learn more. Someday we will achieve the perfection in baking,” says Asma.
There are six to eight women staff in the confectionery and ice cream department. They work eight hours a day. The team is trained by executive chef Bhupesh Pitchaimani. “Earlier, we were very much used to being turned down by employers for job opportunities. We would be isolated by society. Coming out of our house was a huge task and shying away from camera was frequent. Look at us now, sporting aprons and chef hats. People who visit the cafe hug us and pat on our shoulders as a symbol of love and support. This job has given us confidence, a sense of belonging and a purposeful life. Our success has proved all those who did not believe in us wrong. We want this for all the women out there and set an example,” says Priyadarshini R, one of the survivors. Jules, one of the spastic staff, shares, “I completed my schooling at SPASTN and joined here. I love cake mixing and help with ice-cream making as well. The job gives me an identity and helps me perfom better every day.” Besides him, there are around five to six spastic staff with different responsibilities at the cafe.
At this cafe, you will find focus and patience in copious amounts. “The staff listens to what we say and sticks to it. We might have to repeat it a few times. Once they get a hang of it they can manage on their own. The in-house pastries and baked products are all their creations. We don’t push them beyond their boundaries,” says Tarun. Each employee is allowed to perform a task that he or she is good at or comfortable doing. “I visit the outlet twice a week to ensure the staff is happy. The requirements of a needy employee are different from the regular ones. We talk it out and come to terms with each other. To make work easier we have imported machines from Italy to give a better finish to the ice creams and pastries. Our manpower might be small but given some time we can achieve even bulk orders. The employees are extremely dedicated and trained by our executive chef,” says Tarun Mahadevan.Writer’s Cafe will be opening another outlet in VR Mall by the first week of December. By next February, expect five more outlets in the city.
Secret of success
The outlet employs acid-burn survivors and people from Spasic Society of Tamil Nadu. The staffs are trained in their areas of strengths. They are assigned different roles in the hot kitchen and confectionery.