First ever cof­fee shop sup­ports King­dom’s deaf and non-ver­bal

The Phnom Penh Post - - LIFESTYLE FOOD & DRINK - Hong Raksmey

SWAP­NIL Deshmukh’s first en­counter with a restau­rant hir­ing ex­clu­sively deaf staff was on hol­i­day in Viet­nam in 2017, when his server handed him a menu with a pen and a note pa­per with­out say­ing a word.

“I didn’t know the staff were deaf. I asked where to sit and what to do but I didn’t get a re­sponse. Then I read the menu, it said: ‘All our staff are deaf, please write what you want. There is no Wi-Fi, no mu­sic and we ask that our guests do not talk,’” Deshmukh ex­plains.

At that time, In­dian na­tional Deshmukh was vice-pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal bank­ing for May­bank in Cam­bo­dia. But his ex­pe­ri­ence in Viet­nam in­spired him, leav­ing him cu­ri­ous about how he could ap­ply the con­cept in Cam­bo­dia.

Soon af­ter the 36-year-old left his job in bank­ing and de­cided to travel the world to learn about cof­fee. And de­spite not hav­ing any ex­pe­ri­ence in run­ning a cafe, he de­cided to re­turn to Cam­bo­dia and es­tab­lish So­cials Cof­fee and Hu­man­ity. The con­cept was sim­ple; a so­cially re­spon­si­ble en­ter­prise set up with the aim of gen­er­at­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the deaf and non-ver­bal com­mu­nity.

But though So­cials has a so­cially con­scious el­e­ment, he doesn’t see the deaf and non-ver­bal com­mu­nity as peo­ple to be pitied.

“Deaf peo­ple don’t need sym­pa­thy. They need op­por­tu­nity to work and we are pro­vid­ing that op­por­tu­nity. In fact, we want other cof­fee shops and other busi­nesses to hire deaf and non-ver­bal peo­ple,” he said.

At first, find­ing a lo­ca­tion for his new ven­ture was a new chal­lenge, but he forged a part­ner­ship with PPCBank that solved this prob­lem.

“I started to look for lo­ca­tions in BKK 1 and Tuol Tum­poung but they are so ex­pen­sive. If I tried to start like Brown [Cof­fee Com­pany] and Star­bucks, I would have failed. They are big com­pa­nies and I am just on my own. But we part­nered with PPCBank, and we now have a branch ac­tu­ally in­side the bank.

“The first opened in PPCBank on Preah Monivong Boule­vard in Novem­ber, with a sec­ond open­ing in Orussey in De­cem­ber, and a third one is to be launched in Fe­bruar y. Be­fore bank cus­tomers had to wait 30 min­utes be­fore the bank opened. Now cus­tomers are happy that they can have a drink and sup­port deaf peo­ple while t hey do it,” he said.

Meng Huoy, a 28-year-old from Tboung Kh­mum prov­ince who was born deaf, is one of So­cials’ three non-ver­bal em­ploy­ees. He learned sign lan­guage at the Deaf De­velop- ment Pro­gramme (DDP) – a Cam­bo­dian char­ity help­ing deaf and non-ver­bal peo­ple in­te­grate into so­ci­ety – and was pro­vided on-the-job train­ing at So­cials.

Huoy is now able to com­mu­ni­cate with other non-verba l peo­ple and even with his co­work­ers thanks to the train­ing he re­ceived.Through a sign lan­guage in­ter­preter, Huoy said he did not think he would be able to find em­ploy­ment in a cof­fee shop, ad­ding that it made him happy to have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as ot her peo­ple.

Deshmukh said even non-deaf em­ploy­ees were re­quired to un­dergo train­ing in or­der for them to com­mu­ni­cate with their co-work­ers.

“We in­vite a teacher from DDP to teach us how to com­mu­ni­cate with deaf peo­ple. It is easy for us to work with them. All em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing me, a lso study sign lan­guage,” he said.

Prom Phally, a 23-year-old with three years’ ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in a cof­fee shop, said she en­joyed study­ing sign lan­guage to com­mu­ni­cate with her col­leagues and that there were no is­sues so far.

Be­sides its so­cia l ly con­scious goals, So­cia ls a lso prov ides un­usual bev­er­ages in­spired by Deshmukh’s ex­pe­ri­ences abroad. The most pop­u­lar drinks are Iced Co­conut Latte, Av­o­cado Espresso and Iced Hazel­nut Latte.

So­cials is cur­rently look­ing for part­ners to es­tab­lish new lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing uni­ver­si­ties. Its branches are open be­tween 8AM and 4PM on week­days. For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit So­cials’ Face­book page: @iloveso­cials or call: 016 888 216.


The So­cials Cof­fee and Hu­man­ity is set up with the aim of gen­er­at­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the deaf and non-ver­bal com­mu­nity.

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