Located in the heart of bustling Juhu, Café Arpan radiates warmth and comfort with its quirky colours and comfortable, yet spartan interiors. The cafe is serviced by a team of 12 adults, most of whom have been seamlessly working together since 2015. The team provides wholesome and lovingly prepared lunch boxes to hungry people across the city via their Arpan Tiffin Service. This cafe is their next big leap towards success and we wish them all the luck for their future aspirations!
This blog post is in conversation with Ashaita Mahajan – Trustee, Yash Charitable Trust (YCT).
My cousin Aarti has autism. She is the biggest motivation behind our actions!
When my grandma passed away 4 years ago, we took over the small garage that was a part of the house she lived in and converted it into a kitchen. This is how our Arpan Dabba Service began. A friend of my aunt – Dr. Sushama Nagarkar (Managing Trustee of YCT) – Nutan Chandra, who was also running a dabba service from her home chose to collaborate with us! She moved her business into our garage-kitchen and we started selling dabbas from there. Everyone in our team is an integral part of the entire dabba making process. This is in line with our vision and mission where specially-abled adults can choose to live and work in an inclusive environment and become contributing members in the community. This gives them the opportunity to feel a liberating sense of independence, empowerment, and ownership.
Like the logo of our café, acceptance, empowerment, and inclusion are represented throughout. Hence, we want the Café Arpan space to be an inclusive space for everyone.
The inspiration behind ‘Café Arpan’ actually came from a story that had been broadcasted by BBC News Network. The story talked about the Canoy family in the Philippines that opened a Café called the Puzzle Gourmet Store and Café. The parents had given the operations of the café to their six children, one of who also has autism. Essentially, they wanted to provide an opportunity for him to work and become a part of society and live a regular life. After listening to that story I looked at my aunt and asked “Hey! Why don’t we do this for Aarti and her friends who work at Arpan?” Having worked in the food space for 3 years with our dabba service a cafe seemed like a natural progression.
It’s all Pinterest-worthy!
So the entire food aspect of the café was managed and guided by Mr. Anuj Jodhani. Anuj has been a part of the YCT family as our F&B advisor since inception. As his mother-in-law is also a trustee of YCT, Anuj was very familiar with the team and their strengths and skills. He designed the menu based on their abilities, looking at things that would be easy for them to make and prepare.
My sister-in-law is an interior designer who specialises in cafes and restaurants. We invited her partner and her to have lunch with us at Arpan – by the end of the meal, they volunteered to come on board to help us set up the interiors of our cafe. All our professional experts and advisors understood exactly the kind of vibe we were looking for.
Last year in December, I made a friend who happened to be a branding consultant. We invited her over to meet the team and explain the concept and she was excited to be a part of our journey. She volunteered to do the branding for the café – from the logo and menu design to the colour scheme and collaterals.
Originally, we had envisioned the décor to be an Irani style cafe, where there would be small tables with different kinds of chairs around them. This was to symbolise how even though the chairs are all different, they serve the same purpose. Unfortunately, these chairs turned out to be very expensive and so we had to figure out Plan B. However, the branding consultant implemented this idea in her design. So, when you look at the logo of Café Arpan – all the ‘A’s are written in different fonts. I don’t know if people actually notice that, but it’s a fun little anecdote!
Heart to heart
Our team is very capable but they also require support, patience, time and the opportunity to grow and learn. Our customers are very understanding when we tell them that their orders may take 5 minutes longer; because it will be made and served with love! And I think that it makes a big difference. They’ll do all the work; they just may take a little longer.
Let’s talk food
We wanted to keep the prices low because we were starting for the first time and we didn’t want to scare people off with high prices. Particularly since college students are our biggest clientele, we decided to have low prices and to put fun, quirky names on the menu. An example of a popular item on our menu is the ‘Raste-wala Sada Sandwich’. It’s the sandwich you get on the road – but better and more hygienic. Our ‘Videshi Vada Pav’ is a potato patty served in a burger bun with a delicious mint mayonnaise which I personally love. The rest of the dishes are fun and easy things to make – food that people can eat at any time the day.
There was a photographer from the press who had come to take photos when we first opened. He hung around for 4 hours. After the first 2 hours I checked if he needed anything. He responded by asking if he could stay longer because he was enjoying ‘the vibe’ of our cafe! There is a production studio located in the same building as the cafe who orders our lunch dabbas every day. Now they send their office boy to buy snacks in the evening!
Most of the customers we have spoken absolutely love and support our cause, our concept, our team and our food too. They also enjoy the ambience and vibe. We have received lots and lots of blessings and good wishes since opening and complimented for our work. At the end of the day, we want people to keep coming back – not only because they think this is a good initiative, but because they enjoy the food, the service and the whole Café Arpan experience.