Deaf-run coffee shop to open in Claremont

JOHN HARVEY

It’s all systems go for South Africa’s first deaf-run coffee shop, which is set to open its doors in Claremont next week.

I Love Coffee is the brainchild of Newlands social entrepreneur Gary Hopkins and partner Lesego Modutle, who believe the venture will help to break down the barriers between the hearing and the hearing-impaired.

“Our inspiration comes from the Radisson Hotel in Newlands, which has done wonderful work in terms of catering to the needs of the deaf,” Mr Hopkins said this week.

“We looked at the lowest common denominator, which is that everybody enjoys coffee, which is why we chose this as the platform to educate people about deaf and hearing-impaired culture.”

I Love Coffee, which opens on Tuesday, June 7, is run in partnership with Woodstock-based Tribe Coffee and will be based at X-Body Fitness in Draper Street, Claremont.

One of the great features of the coffee shop is that customers will also be taught basic South African sign language in order to place their orders for their favourite beverage.

“In the past, sign language has often been misunderstood. Many people don’t realise that each country has its own sign language. In South Africa, we have 11 official languages, so our sign language is a wonderful combination of all of these,” Mr Hopkins said.

“In order to break down barriers, it’s important that people understand the basics – how you sign for coffee, sugar and milk being perfect examples.”

In April, the first electronic South African Sign Language (SASL) thesaurus was piloted. It features all SASL variations used at schools for the deaf across the country, along with the relevant English term.

This allows users to look up different signs, see how the sign appears in an SASL sentence with SASL grammar and see the corresponding English word with English grammar. Users will also be able to find signs for advanced concepts.

Baristas and staff are being sourced from the National Institute of the Deaf as well as other organisations.

“My partner and I are the only non-deaf people involved in the business. Looking to the future, we will be looking at deaf or hard-of-hearing graduates from hospitality schools, and seeking to place them with us,” Mr Hopkins said.

“Because of where we are based, in the gym, we are also looking at introducing a deaf or hearing-impaired trainer at some stage.

“I think what we want to show is that regardless of your disability, you can function in any position in society.”

Ms Modutle, who is a qualified sign-language interpreter, said not only would the coffee shop help customers learn sign language, it would also brew some jobs.

“For two weeks we’ve had deaf and hearing impaired workers being trained at Tribe Coffee in Woodstock. Some were previously unemployed, so we are glad that they will now be able to have jobs,” she said.

“When Gary approached me about this project, I jumped at the opportunity. What better way for people to learn sign language than over coffee?”

For further information, contact Gary Hopkins on 082 575 1493.