A 12 feet X 10 feet beacon of hope sprouted in the heart of Kolkata, in the form of Cafe Positive – Asia’s first coffee shop run entirely by a group of HIV-positive youngsters. Located in the prime location of Jodhpur Park in South Kolkata, the shop aims to dilute the stigma of HIV lurking in the minds of people. At the same time, it is determined to set an example for other HIV-positive individuals to come together and be independent, both financially and socially. The cafe is the brainchild of Kallol Ghosh, a social entrepreneur working with the United Nations.
The Background Story
‘Offer’ is a well-known NGO in Bengal with one of their urban centres, Anondoghor, solely dedicated to housing orphan children who are HIV-positive. Anondoghor (The House of Joy), at present, is home to 75 orphan children and teenagers.
Around four years ago, the Government of Japan installed a bakery unit in the organisation campus, complete with high-quality equipments and ingredients. Around ten teenagers were assembled to form a self-help group where they were professionally trained to use the bakery unit to prepare delicious baked goods.
However, some negative comments surfaced soon, with a few people expressing concern that the children cannot be kept in the orphanage beyond eighteen years and they would not be accepted in the mainstream society to earn a decent livelihood.
This led Mr Ghosh to chalk out a detailed plan to start a business venture for these kids once they turn 18, which finally culminated in Cafe Positive.
The group, guided by Mr Ghosh, struggled hard for six months to rent a plot for starting their dream coffee shop. People would close doors on their faces the moment their HIV positive status was revealed. Others would put up excuses like even if they were okay with it, their family or neighbours would be displeased. None of them co-operated with even an inch of space until finally, one gentleman agreed graciously to lend his small garage space. A display shelf, a semi-automatic coffee machine and a few chairs and tables were arranged. The interiors were decorated in accordance with the positive vibrancy that these youngsters wished to spread. Thus Cafe Positive was born and opened for public on 14th July 2018.
What Does The Cafe Positive Offer?
“Coffee is an indispensable part of our social life. People bond over coffee. So our vision was to use coffee as the medium to create awareness among people that HIV-AIDS is just another viral infection.” Mr Ghosh elaborates.
He believes that if people drink coffee and eat food prepared by the HIV-positive workers, they can show the world that HIV is nothing but an age-old myth fed by our misconceptions. HIV-positive people are in no way different from everyone else, and they are an integral part of our society.
On the other hand, due to extreme discrimination, the HIV-positive people are mostly left traumatised. Cafe Positive also wishes to extend their hand to those sufferers who are afraid to step into the social limelight, by giving them skill-based training and encouragement.
Cafe Positive features freshly brewed Lavazza coffee and the Bengal’s favourite Cha (tea) on their menu along with everyday favourites like muffins, cookies and sandwiches.
All The Workers Are Professionally Trained
Aside from their flawless baking skills, the ten workers are also experts in managing and operating the cafe all on their own. They work in three teams entitled to the tasks of preparing the food, management and service to the customers, respectively. The management and procuring team has received three months of certificate business management training. After that, they were placed as interns at two other notable restaurants in Kolkata – Travelistan and Snackings.
Response So Far & Future Plans
“The people of Kolkata have warm-heartedly welcomed us”, asserts Mr Ghosh, who counts at least 35 to 50 footfalls every day in their small cafe. Their unique venture has featured in the pages of international newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post and almost all national newspapers. BBC and CNN have also covered the Cafe Positive story – which has inspired the workers to continue their sincere efforts.
In the next few years, plans are there to expand the cafe with seating provisions for around 30-40 customers together.
Coffee Without Boundaries
The tagline of Cafe Positive on their menu chart reads “Coffee for a cause.” “We wish to invite everyone to Cafe Positive. Please come and enjoy our coffee without boundaries.” Mr Ghosh appeals to our readers. He strongly believes that all marginalised people have every right to be a part of our society. It is the duty of the educated people like us to welcome them with open arms.