Nairobi’s Pallet Café, as it is known, has a unique business model with a majority of its staff having a hearing impairment. This pioneering approach has provided a lifeline for the differently-abled, who often face difficulty finding employment opportunities in Kenya.
Nairobi’s Pallet Café is a unique coffee shop that provides opportunities for the hearing impaired community in Kenya. Founded in 2017 by Edwin Ngugi, the café has become a haven for people with hearing impairments who often struggle to find employment opportunities in a country where discrimination against people with disabilities is still rampant.
The café’s mission is to empower the hearing impaired by creating a safe and inclusive environment where they can work and thrive. To achieve this, the café employs both hearing and hearing impaired staff members, and all staff members are trained in basic sign language to facilitate communication between the two groups.
The inspiration behind the creation of Pallet Café was to empower people who are differently-abled, rather than just helping them. “We need to empower people who are differently abled. Not help them, empower them. Give them a life. And that is what is behind Pallet Café,” explains Susan Watkins, the General Manager at Pallet Café in Lavington, Nairobi.
The recruitment process for Pallet Café varies, with walk-in job seekers, as well as referrals by different people or institutions for the differently-abled. New staff members undergo a two-week training course before they are allowed to handle patrons. This training ensures that the employees are equipped with the necessary skills to provide excellent service to customers.
Regular patron Kabiru Mwenja, who frequents Pallet Café, praises the amazing service and notes that he has had the opportunity to learn some sign language. “The service here is amazing, I think I come here more often than I should, but I am a big fan of the people as well. So far, I have learnt the sign for thank you, and I am still working on other alphabets,” he said.
Thanks to the positive reception of the café, Pallet Café has opened two more branches. One is located in Gigiri in Nairobi, while the other is in Diani on the Kenyan Coast. The café’s expansion demonstrates the success of the unique business model and its popularity among customers.
Moreover, beyond offering a unique experience and delicious food, Pallet Café provides a serene environment for clients who would like to work away from their offices.
In addition to providing employment opportunities, the café also offers training and skills development programs to help the hearing impaired build their careers. These programs include barista training, hospitality management, and customer service training. The café also partners with local organizations to provide additional resources and support to the hearing impaired community.
The Pallet Café’s commitment to empowering the hearing impaired has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, the café was recognized by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights for its efforts to promote inclusivity and equality in the workplace. The café has also received international attention, with coverage from media outlets such as CNN and Al Jazeera.
Overall, Pallet Café’s innovative approach to providing opportunities for the differently-abled is an inspiration to others in Kenya and beyond. It is a testament to the power of empowerment and the ability to create positive change in people’s lives.