With speech & hearing impaired staff, a Mumbai restaurant chain creates inclusive growth & a profitable business: Co-founder Mr. Prashant Issar explains

Q. Tell us about your transformational project which is bringing differentially-abled people into the economic mainstream?

A. “Mirchi and Mime”, our flagship restaurant in Mumbai started 3 years ago, is a perfect combination of contemporary fine cuisine and unique service. As founders, we first studied sign-language ourselves, and recruited our staff from a school for the Hearing Handicapped in Mumbai. We spoke to their parents to make them understand that their job would provide a lasting, viable means of employment and would bring economic stability to their families.

With the concept of mime being our tangibles, special care was given to the sensitive nature of the staff’s disabilities. The menus were designed to visually show the customers what dish to order in a matrix format with sign language.

At the same time, the dimension of reliability was brought across the table with the quality of food and user experience. Food was our compelling factor.

The inherent quality of responsiveness was a key factor for guest experience. Even during non-operational hours if a guest walked in, they are welcomed with a smiling face and promptly offered a glass of water. We stimulate a warm experience for the guest to step in again to enjoy a culinary experience.

Q. How do you go about recruiting your staff? After all, no job-portal in India properly lists specific opportunities for the differentially-abled?

A. We recruit our staff through our tie-ups, say organizations like NASEOH, Youth for Jobs, Rochiram T. Thandani High School for Hearing Handicapped in Mumbai and similar institutes. We also get a lot of referrals from the current Speech and Hearing-Impaired individuals who are working with us.

Q. Using the term differentially-abled is wrong since your staff works as effectively as those in any other restaurant, perhaps even more effectively. So how do you think the mental mind-set amongst people can be changed when it comes to recruiting differentially-abled for jobs in their organisations?

A. We do not consider our Speech and Hearing Impaired (SHI) individuals as differentially-abled. We always call it their super power. This uplifts their morale and conveys a sense of pride whilst they are at work and at home.

We have successfully managed to sensitize our staff towards each other’s mindsets. We can claim to have created an inclusive culture within our organization.

Some of our staff who are SHI and were earlier considered liabilities are now proud assets of their families, and in certain cases, they are the sole earning members supporting their parents and siblings.

Q. Triple bottom-line is picking up acceptance, but it depends on developing workable business models. Your restaurant shows inclusive growth can be created in a viable business. What is your advice to others?

A. Inclusion has been a problem in India and various studies have been conducted on the same. We have studied in detail a restaurant called Signs in Toronto which employed SHI individuals. We also met various institutions involved with the SHI community and their families. During this process we realized that they had key attributes for the hospitality sector which are smile-focused and intuitiveness.

At “Mirchi and Mime” and “Madeira and Mime”, we have not just shaped a positive and lucrative business but provided a platform for our Speech and Hearing-Impaired Individuals to earn a continuous living with an occupation as approved for job prospects and development. We believe we have demonstrated a sustainable business model using inclusiveness, which is an ongoing concern in our country. In short, it is possible to achieve this if one works towards it!

Q. Do you incur any additional cost like pick-and-drop to assist them? Do you see higher employee retention? After all, attrition is a huge challenge in all Indian businesses today.

A. We do have a protocol of assisting all our staff to be given a drop post working hour. We have seen a high employee retention for the same. This has not hampered us in costs. We are a people centric organization and have faith in our Speech and Hearing Impaired Staff as much as they have in us. Hence, we recruited them as part of our service staff as that is where they were most suitable. We then understood this was not only giving them a platform to earn a decent living income but, furthermore, we would be able to give a higher quality of service to our patrons.

Q. What is the expansion you plan? Can a business model like yours expand its franchise across cities or do you face a constraint to manage only a few outlets?

A. “Mirchi and Mime” is a unique 110-seater restaurant in Mumbai, creating a profitable business whilst contributing towards society by building a platform for employment and career for Speech & Hearing-Impaired individuals. It is important to generate wealth for society in addition to generation wealth for the individual.

The opportunity size is a global chain of restaurants aiming for 21 properties in the next 3 years in India, Singapore, Dubai and London, employing over 600 Speech & Hearing-Impaired staff and the target group for the business is business and leisure.

Q. Lastly, what drives your revenue more – repeat business from loyal customers who love the food or a steady increase in new customers who come to know about your restaurant?

A. It’s a mix of both. We do get 80% of repeat business from our loyal customers. Since we are a globally renowned restaurant, we also see an increased set of new customers who want to experience this unique concept.

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