Conscience and Cuisine: Social Enterprise in Nepal

13 - cafe.jpg13 - momos.jpgVeg chilli momos. Delicious. For anyone who has not experienced Nepalese cuisine, momos are essentially a type of dumpling that can come steamed or fried, filled with vegetables or meat, and can be ‘spiced’ in a sweat and sour chilli sauce. For me, on any menu, it is impossible to look beyond the veg chilli momo in Kathmandu. They are absolutely delicious, and pretty much every cafe in Kathmandu has their own twist on the national dish.

The best is the Bakery Cafe in Pulchowk. Great food, wonderful staff, and only a short walk from the office. (Yes, I am biased). It is also a cafe that is run as a social enterprise, providing employment and training opportunities for people who are deaf. It started in 1990 as a cafe, and has been credited (according to their website) to introducing a cafe culture to Kathmandu. Today there are 10 outlets across the city, employing more than 290 staff in total. Of those, the Bakery Cafe trains and employs 45 staff who are deaf.

The one in Pulchowk, near the office, is a little sanctuary away from the daily grind. You take your life into your hands as you cross the street just to enter the café, avoiding scooters, cards, bikes, people, and the occasional cow. On stepping up onto the curb, you are momentarily distracted by a few street dogs curled up in the gutter, enjoying the sun and hovering around the row of parked bicycles in hope of some food or attention. You enter the cafe past a tantalizing cabinet of cakes, like something straight out of a cabinet displayed on the streets of Vienna. Layered, creamy and sweet looking, it takes a lot of will power not to take a slice or three of these beauties home after lunch.

On walking into the cafe, you are greeted by a smiling statue of a personified 5-foot-tall momo, and some equally friendly staff. Trees surround the courtyard where most diners sit, and the soft dulcet tones of Kenny G tunes and 70s classics waft out through the speakers.

13 - machiato.jpgWithout a doubt, combining conscience and cuisine, the veg chili momos at the Bakery Cafe are the best in Kathmandu. And they have a pretty good macchiato to go with it too. It is the perfect place to duck away from the traffic and incessant emails, to take a break and be nourished inside the heart, soul and stomach.

With just a little creativity and a touch of conscience, like that shown by Shyam Kakshapati when he employed the first deaf people as staff in 1997, a business can be transformed into a social enterprise – a profitable idea that is not only making money, but one that is also sharing profit in the development of a community.

Lucy Stackpool-Moore

13-team

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