Any restaurants or cafés are not about the food alone. It is about the ambiance, service and, most importantly, the experience you have in it. Eateries these days try to come up with unique, quirky ideas and themes to gain attention or footfall. But some have taken up social causes to win hearts.
As the café culture is growing and evolving in the country, owners are experimenting with a variety of ideas to make their establishments different, especially in the metros. But what is interesting is that while there are many that work on fascinating themes, there are some that are trying to do something good while they’re at it – and doubling up as hubs for social awareness.
Not only do these cafés serve delicious items for foodies, but also seek to stir up one’s conscience. These have also been focal points to create awareness, support many social causes and even fight social stigma.
Here are eight such cafés that are redefining the food industry with their initiative and courage. These humbling experiences simply cater to the soul and not just your tummy.
Sheroes Hangout Café, Agra: Café run by acid attack survivors
The historic city of Agra that is host to the Taj Mahal and is the hub of tourism for both national and international tourist also boasts of this beautiful café. Sheroes is run by women who have fought back for life and survived heinous acid attacks. The café management believes their staffs are “courageous fighters who walk with scars”. The café is a step to empower these fighters. A readers’ cafe that conducts regular workshops, is also a community radio hub and exhibits works crafted by these powerful women. Located very close to the Taj Mahal and launched in 2014, it is quite popular among tourists. The café runs on a pay-as-you-wish concept and offers free Wi-Fi. It also has a library, that gets books through contributions. Not just for the tit-bits or beverages, head to this café to know the stories about these fighters and to imbibe their spirit of never to give up. The world’s first café chain run by female acid attack survivors hopes to provide opportunity to these women to be back in the mainstream society. The chain is also planning to spread into other parts of the country. They have other outlets in Lucknow and Udaipur as of now.
KunZum Travel Café, New Delhi: Travel inspired café where you pay-as-you-wish
This place in South Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village tries to capture the essence and joy of travelling. Just by visiting this café and seeing the amazing pictures that are on display on its wall, one would feel the ardent desire to just pick a backpack and to start a voyage. With an aim to let fellow travel enthusiasts meet in real life and not only virtually over some social media site, the café was set up in 2010. It offers free Internet and staple food and beverages; and patrons can pay as they wish. There are books and photographs about beautiful places around the world to act as inspiration, as visitors swap travel stories with others. There are also regular lectures and live music sessions. So, head to this café if you are planning to take a trip to anywhere in the world, there are enough veteran travellers who would be happy to share their learnings with you.
Seva Café, Bengaluru – Restaurant run by volunteers and works on “pay forward” basis
Imagine a café where the menu booklet has no prices of items written on it and bill reads Rs.0 with only a footnote: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.” Here volunteers cook and serve meals as a gift and guests are invited to make a contribution from the heart to keep the circle of giving going. The café has other branches in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Pune. The volunteers also carry out these ventures in different cities and offer ‘seva’ to provide meals to organisations with needs. Anyone can join them and participate in their humble effort and experience joy.
Tihar Jail food court, New Delhi – Canteen run by prison inmates
Tihar Food Court in New Delhi, a rehabilitation effort started by the Tihar prison, is sited half-a-kilometre away from prisoners’ dormitories. In South Asia’s largest prison complex, the inhabitants have been given an opportunity to transform their lives in a better way. To be eligible to leave prison and work in the restaurant, inmates must have kept up an “unblemished record” through at least 12 years of imprisonment, and have a high school education. Prisoners eligible to be released within two years are picked for the job, to minimise their temptation to escape. They travel to work by cycle or on foot, as authorities “trust them enough” not to need a security escort.
The ‘Giving Tree’, Pappadavada, Kerala – A free community fridge for the poor and hungry
Millions of people in India die of chronic hunger and hunger-related diseases every year. In an attempt to contribute to society and feed the needy, Minu Pauline — owner of Pappadavada, a restaurant chain in Ernakulam, Kerala — has installed a fridge, accessible 24×7, where the restaurant keeps 50 food packets every day, and people willing to donate excess food are welcome to do so as well. The restaurant requests people to mark date of preparation of the food on the packets they donate to check and take out the food that expires. Reportedly, the restaurant bears the electricity bill for the fridge and has decided to clean it twice a week. It has also installed a CCTV camera for security. So head there for the authentic Kerala cuisine and help others get food too.
Café Toto, Kolkata – French café that employees people from underprivileged background
With support from the Kolkata French consulate, this café in the southern part of the city is run in collaboration between NGO Tomorrow’s Foundation and the French NGO Life Project 4 Youth. Trained by French volunteers, young adults from deprived backgrounds serve up delectable European fare at the one-of-a-kind restaurant-school Café Toto. Aged between 18 and 24 years in a one-year course divided into three sections spanning five days a week, these luck ones get to learn English, IT skills, communication, personal skills and a micro-economic activity, which – in Toto’s case – is cooking. The café that can host only 20 people at a time is open two to three days a week for lunch; but they even run home delivery services.
Cat Studio Café, Mumbai – A cat-friendly café that’s home to rescue cats
The Cat Café Studio is a shelter for rescued cats and kittens. The animal lovers who run the café ensure that all of the rescued cats are healthy, de-wormed, de-flead and litter-trained. They also wish that the rescued cats are adopted and taken to loving homes. The adoptions are completely free. They accept donations in cat food, treats, medicines and other necessary things.
Puppychino, New Delhi – India’s first dog-friendly café
Puppychino, located in south Delhi, is said to be India’s first dog café where canines and humans can socialise together. An offbeat restaurant for dog lovers fits snugly among the concept showrooms housed in tall buildings. Inside the café, the walls are cool and pale, the furniture minimalistic and there’s synergy in design that caters to two sets of clientele — that come on four feet as well as two. The enclosure, where around 10 dogs can romp at a time, is uncluttered but for two benches. Two sisters in their twenties started Puppychino because they were guilty of leaving their own dogs behind when they went out.