CHENNAI: If there is one food item to bring together different people in our city, it has to be biryani. The lip-smacking delicacy has not only taken various forms, but also seems to be crossing boundaries to promote an inclusive society. Bawarchi Biryani, a restaurant unit of ‘Hot Breads’ Mahadevan’s many food chains spread across the city, is taking efforts to make this happen.
Empowering people with mental disabilities in its kitchen and restaurant space, it is a trailblazer in adopting an ‘inclusive’ business in every sense — not just having a stacked menu. Located in Royapettah near Sathyam multiplex, the restaurant sits in a quiet, one-way lane. You can read ‘Today’s Specials’ on a board that’s placed just at the entrance. And you walk into an interior that’s neat and also spartan with just a few bright posters of people with mental disabilities from The Banyan who were hired to run the food outlet.
Bhoopalan, employed to manage the place welcomes visitors, while the team is busy with arranging chairs, picking up plates and serving piping hot plates of biryani.
He introduces us to Joe Prasanna, an 80% recovered former Banyan resident, who stands by ready to help. “I make good tea,” says the 36-year-old who comes from Thiruvottiyur everyday. Including him, five others (2 men and 3 women) from The Banyan share the responsibilities — washing utensils, peeling vegetables, helping the chef and of course, making a good cup of chai!
“As a part of our recovery programme, we engage all our people with work. It is usually something they express interest in doing — like cooking, housekeeping, weaving flowers or keeping guard. But this initiative is a first for them in terms of going out of the confines of The Banyan for employment,” says Mrinalini, who heads the programme. Expressing enthusiasm in Mahadevan’s initiative for an inclusive workplace, she says that his dream of creating a replica of Dementia Street, a place in the Netherlands with a row of restaurants that employ people with dementia, is truly inspiring.
She breaks down the core idea behind employing people with mental disabilities. “It’s not to announce to the world ‘here is what we have done’ but to spread the message that this too can be done. There are good days and bad, but the most important thing is the co-workers treat them as equals and understand their issues. Here, they do a job they are comfortable with,” says Mrinalini pointing to the employees who are ready to serve the next batch of biryani.