Cafes for good causes
It's more than just coffee at these places
The next time you feel like hitting up a cafe, consider one of these five spots where you can enjoy a good cup of coffee while supporting a great cause.
Yimsoo. Just the name alone fills one with a positive feeling. It means "to deal with inevitable obstacles that life throws your way with a smile" and it is a coffee shop in Bangkok Noi district that is serious about service with a smile. Once you step into the cafe, you'll realise that the place does so much more than serving quality coffee and Thai comfort food. The entire operation is run by an energetic group of staff who all live with impaired hearing. A big sign on the counter reads, "I'm deaf but happy to help you. Please pick from the menu. Thank you."
Professor and ex-senator Wiriya Namsiripongpan, who is the founder of the Universal Foundation for Persons with Disabilities, decided to turn the ground floor of the foundation into a cafe in 2016. He saw the cafe as a means to instil useful career skills into people with hearing or other physical impairments. Right now, there are two Yimsoo cafes, the other one being in Thammasat University Tha Phra Chan Campus.
"Several years ago, I came across a set of figures from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. They showed that Thailand had 2,000,000 disabled people. Amongst them, 800,000 were of working age, yet only 200,000 had jobs. It alarmed me that such a high proportion of working-age disabled people were unemployed. That's when I decided to try to make an impact on this," Wiriya explains.
Apart from providing employment to people with disabilities, the coffee shop serves as an example for businesses across the city, which might now consider doing the same or engaging more with groups in society that do not receive many opportunities. The foundation, located above the cafe, also offers free classes for people with disabilities that teach them how to make a variety of beverages, food and desserts.
Speaking about the inequality in opportunities provided to disabled people, Wiriya says, "I see a big difference between Western and Thai perceptions about the potential of disabled people. In Western culture, everyone is believed to have unlimited potential. In Thailand, it is fairly obvious that many consider the disabled to have less potential than others. This incorrect view may be prevalent because people may observe disabled people famously achieving great things less often. But I wish to point out that this is not because they have less potential, but because they are given fewer opportunities to utilise their potential. My goal is to provide them with more of such opportunities."
After the visit to the cafe, visitors can head upstairs to Seksilpha Art Gallery, to marvel at masterpieces painted by people with disabilities. Entrance is free.
Arun Amarin 39 / Call 02-055-1901, visit fb.com/YimsooCafeandCuisine.
Cook & Coff @ Ratchaburi Central Prison
It all started when the inmates housed in Ratchaburi Central Prison had to be moved to a different facility due to space constraints. Ratchaburi Central Prison Commander Yutthana Nakreungsri decided to find a use for the old space that would benefit people who were undergoing sentences. This led to the idea of converting it to a cafe that would be run by prisoners who were about to re-enter society. Another noteworthy fact is that all the work associated with bringing this idea to life was carried out by people in the correctional facility. This includes renovating the space and staffing the cafe once business commenced.
Nestled in a lush 11,200m² space, the cafe blends itself seamlessly with its surroundings thanks to its glasshouse structure and the plentiful plants, flowers and big trees growing around it. When you walk into the cafe, you will be greeted by live music performed by the cafe's band of six prisoners. They are there every day to entertain visitors from 9am-5pm. The light-filled interior has modern decor and is inviting and unpretentious. It also has decorative knick-knacks made by the hands of inmates and earth-toned furniture. Looking around, you'll certainly notice the prison bars that have been kept intact, which give the place a sense of authenticity and tell the story of its past.
(Photos: Cook & Coff)
When you're there, you cannot miss out on their lattes because the baristas create unique latte art. Designs include chains and jail bars, fitting the theme of the cafe. The assorted desserts on offer here are made fresh daily by female inmates on the prison's premises, before they are brought over to the cafe. On a daily basis, visitors can find the cafe's signature Thai sweet treats, such as thong ek and ja mong kut, along with a variety of cakes.
One small corner of the cafe is dedicated to a souvenir shop, featuring handmade goods from prisoners, such as carved shoes, bags and knitted pillows. Interestingly, there are also three female inmates who provide manicure services and read tarot cards.
"The main purpose of this cafe is to provide vocational training for inmates who are about to be released into society. We wish to equip them with the basic skills required to re-enter society, on which they can build upon when they are released," Yutthana says.
Nampu sub-district / Call 098-260-2916, visit fb.com/cookcoff.
Steps with Theera
Part cafe, part vocational training centre, Steps with Theera is an organisation that has a strong focus on helping people with learning differences. The vocational training centre here provides inclusive, UK-accredited vocational training programmes for young adults with special educational needs, while the cafe gives the trainees a platform to display their capabilities and be a part of the community.
"Steps with Theera provide training and employment opportunities for people with learning differences as well as providing great service and tasty food. As a social enterprise, all profit from our branches go back into the organisation and we use that to fund growth, which in turn funds more training and employment opportunities. Our long term theory of change focuses on employment equality and by buying a coffee or cake from us, you can help contribute towards that mission," says founder Max Simpson.
(Photos Steps with Theera)
In 2019, Steps with Theera extended its roots to Phuket with another branch called Steps with Nakita, located at Blue Tree Phuket, which is run with the same concept. In Bangkok, there are now two more branches: one in St. Andrews International School Sukhumvit 71 Campus and another in Sukhumvit 42, operating under the name Theera Healthy Bakeroom.
"As specialists in the fields of inclusion and social innovation, the founders knew that to change perceptions of disability and create sustainable change, they needed to create a platform that enables society to see the many capabilities of the neurodiverse community. At the same time, they needed to provide high-quality training and qualifications for their trainees and the same high-quality products and environments that make customers want to come back," Simpson adds.
Support Steps with Theera in its mission to create a more diverse and inclusive community, by visiting their branches. There, you can find plenty of wholesome and vegan eats, along with healthy smoothies and coffee concoctions. People with food allergies are also very well catered for, with the cafe offering desserts that are free of either eggs, dairy, sugar or gluten.
Ekkamai 10 / Call 02-381-6590, visit stepswiththeera.com.
Cafe Amazon For Chance
When a big player in the market decides to get behind the idea of providing opportunities to the less privileged members of society, they change the entire game. Everyone else in the business environment can't help but notice this and could be motivated to implement similar changes.
Cafe Amazon is a well-known Thai coffee shop chain, which has launched a line of stores that have been uniquely designed to be friendly to employees with disabilities. There are ten such branches. Some of the special features of these cafes are dual screen POS systems to decrease the instances of incorrect orders and digital coffee grinders to ensure consistency in every cup of coffee. These allow employees who are hard of hearing to work comfortably.
(Photos: Cafe Amazon)
Recently, Cafe Amazon has opened a branch in partnership with the Royal Thai Marine Corps in Sattahip district, Chon Buri. This branch is dedicated to providing opportunities to injured veterans and their families.
Other branches can be found in Bangkok, Samut Prakan and Nakhon Pathom.
The Adoptable Puppy Cafe
Fancy a cup of coffee with the option of taking an adorable puppy home with you? If you do, head on over to The Adoptable Puppy Cafe. However, do take note that this "cafe" is more like an event that happens once every two Saturdays. So be sure to check their FB page first to see if they're open.
The cafe is within an industrial style room in a corner of Union Space's second floor and you would see puppies of different breeds wandering amongst the tables and chairs there. One of the things you might quickly realise is that playing with puppies can work up an appetite. When that happens, pop over to the long counter to pick up a treat and order your favourite coffee.
I visited the cafe and found the place packed. Most of the puppies had already been adopted. If you want a good amount of cuddle time with all the puppies, try to visit early. The cafe opens at noon and closes once the puppies are adopted, usually around 4pm.
"The cafe came about when we were looking for a way for potential adopters to meet adoptable dogs, in a comfortable relaxed setting. We are individual rescuers who rescue, foster and adopt dogs from the street, temples and communities. We do not have a shelter space, so apart from advertising our rescued pups for adoption on social media, there wasn't a place for people to come and meet the pups. Union Space offered their cafe space to us for free and it went from there," the founders says.
Visitors can adopt the puppies directly from the cafe. They will first be interviewed and asked about their homes, lifestyles and backgrounds to see if they're a good fit for the puppy they choose.
Union Space, Sukhumvit 61 / Visit fb.com/theadoptablepuppycafe.