Located on one of Kampot’s sleepy thoroughfares, the Epic Arts Café is a unique fixture in the southern town’s thriving culinary scene.
An initiative under Epic Arts, an organisation that seeks to bring people of all abilities together through the creative arts, the café provides work opportunities for deaf and disabled people and a hangout for students of the town’s deaf school.
“Even today, deaf and disabled young adults are unable to find employment because of discrimination,” café manager Ronise Barreras says. “This café is a great launching pad for encouraging deaf and disabled young adults to gain job experience and improve their well-being.”
It stands as a model for an inclusive working environment, with proceeds supporting other Epic Arts projects including art workshops, vocational training, community outreach, educational programs and dance, music, film and theatre productions.
“We hope that with this project, the people of Cambodia will remove barriers and see that deaf and disabled people are capable of doing any job,” says Barreras, who is hearing-impaired.
The café, which opened in 2006, is staffed by 10 young individuals with hearing impairments and other disabilities.
Four of the employees have received culinary training from volunteers and are responsible for some of the café’s specialty dishes.
“Seventy per cent of the dishes were created by a volunteer, but the rest are the creations of our kitchen staff,” says Barreras, who initially volunteered with Epic Arts in 2009 as a deaf advocate but was subsequently offered the job of café manager.
“It’s about widening perspectives and giving people another view on who we are and what we can achieve.”
The café’s more popular breakfast items include the Epic Muesli (US$3), served with fresh fruits, Cambodian honey and home-made yoghurt, and Breakfast Bruschetta ($3.50), with poached eggs, fresh tomato, caper and basil salsa on toasted Kampot pepper bread.
The café generates enough revenue to be self-sufficient, with a small amount of monetary support going to other Epic Arts programs. On a good day, it feeds more than 35 customers.
“It has been successful because these individuals can learn, and apply, many important lessons such as communication, teamwork and self-esteem,” says Barreras.
In the next few years, Epic Arts hopes to expand its handicrafts initiative and raise more funds for its Art Centre.
“We want to share with the world that deaf and disabled people can have the same opportunities as everyone else,” Barreras says. “Best of all, customers will leave with a smile, because deaf and disabled people are the best smilers in the world.”
Epic Arts Café, on 1st May Road in Kampot, offers breakfast and lunch items from $1.50 to $3.50, and is open daily from 7am to 5:30pm.
To contact the reporter on this story: Calvin Yang at [email protected]