Anything but Silent: First Bar in Croatia With a Staff of Deaf People

Total Croatia News

A heartwarming example of successful social entrepreneurship coming our way from Zagreb

At first glance, Silent Caffe in Zagreb looks like your average local coffee shop: it’s spacious and tastefully decorated, a perfect location for anyone looking to sip on their macchiato and read the morning paper in peace. However, the café has a unique feature that makes it stand out among all similar venues in Croatia: half of its staff are deaf, reports Novi list on January 24, 2018.

Located in Mislavova Street, Silent is the first café in the country to employ deaf people as waiters. A large TV screen is mounted on the wall behind the bar, displaying footage of people talking in sign language with subtitles running underneath. Occasionally, a message flashes onscreen, appealing to the customers to make their interaction with waiters easier by using provided tablets to place an order.

The café was opened by the company Znak tišine (Sign of Silence), headed by the director Goran Basta. Every deaf employee shares a shift with a hearing one, as the hospitality business often requires the staff to place phone orders and communicate with the delivery service. “In the beginning, we had three deaf waiters and three hearing ones. The staff has recently decreased. One waitress has found another job in a tourist agency and I couldn’t be happier for her. Another has quit. At the moment,  we have two deaf and two hearing waiters. I think we’ll manage to run the business this way, as [the waiters] have eased into the job after having received training a couple of months ago”, Basta said.

A waiter named Emrah Dervišević has had a cochlear implant from the age of six. Having graduated from a high school of economy, he faced the challenges presented by the Croatian job market. “It was hard to find work with an education in economy. I just couldn’t find employment”, Emrah said. He’s 23 now, delighted with his new job in Silent Caffe and happy to teach his customers a couple of phrases in sign language.

Basta explained how deaf people rarely work in conditions which require regular communication with clients. This is exactly how they got the idea for this extraordinary example of social entrepreneurship; the Croatian Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing founded the company Znak tišine which in turn came up with a project proposal, applying it to a tender launched by the City of Zagreb to entice social entrepreneurship. Basta admitted they were a bit uncertain regarding the idea of putting deaf people in such a position, to make them do a job that calls for direct communication, but they believed in their project nonetheless. “We were aware that many young [deaf] people are unemployed. The older ones have somehow managed to reach the end of their working lives and retire, but employers still fail to recognise the problem of the youth. Among other things, they aren’t aware that employing the disabled is a legal requirement, that there are incentives, that such people need to be employed instead of marginalised and cast aside. They want to work, they like to work, they just need to be offered an opporunity”, Basta said.

He keeps coming up with tricks to encourage both the customers and waiters to interact as much as possible; on some days, you won’t find the tablets on the tables. “Technology is great, but it’s not good to lean on it too much and avoid the human factor. Their human right is to communicate, and guests need to be made aware of that as well”, Basta concluded.

A guest named Amalija Šašek told the reporters that we really make for a prejudiced society if we regard a café like Silent as outstanding or weird instead of something normal and mundane. “I think that’s what we should work towards in the future; we should stop talking about someone opening a café which employs disabled people, and start seeing that as ordinary life”, she said. And she’s right: all things considered, Silent is indeed an average local café. If there’s anything missing, it’s silence.


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