In a first for the Mother City, a coffee shop run solely by Deaf staff will officially open its doors in Claremont in June. Called I Love Coffee, the entirely Deaf-operated shop will launch with the aim of breaking down communication barriers between the hearing and the Deaf.
The initiative, in partnership with Tribe Coffee, is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Gary Hopkins, who explains: “It’s more than just coffee shop space; it’s about a mind-shift and correcting the perception that Deaf people are disabled. Deafness isn’t a disease and should be recognised as a culture, much like American, Italian, South African etc.”
The new shop will be a space where customers are encouraged to engage verbally as well as visually with the Deaf staff. Coffee drinkers will also be given the opportunity to be taught the fundamentals of sign language while placing their orders. Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and The National Institute for the Deaf are assisting the I Love Coffee team with the recruitment of staff who are also receiving barista training from Tribe Coffee.
While South Africa (with an estimated 500 000 citizens classified as deaf) recognises 11 official verbal and written languages, it has yet to recognise South African Sign Language (SASL). Gary adds, “Most people know very little about Deaf culture and even fewer understand it; we are hoping that by bringing an ordinary everyday experience, like ordering a cup of coffee or a toasted sandwich with the use of sign language, or by service expectation being met, we can bring a better understanding about the capability of the Deaf.”
The self-funded coffee shop is based at X-Body Fitness in Draper Street, Claremont, with a long-term goal to expand the national footprint of the brand. Having had a tight budget to launch the initiative, Gary and the I Love Coffee team are also running a crowd-funding campaign and fundraising event to aid in purchasing more equipment and cover initial running expenses. To help out, head to Indiegogo or buy tickets for the Amadeus Rocks 4 I Love Coffee event.