Located on a small street, Hoa Anh Dao (Cherry Blossom) Café is favored for its drinks and enthusiastic wait staff made up of disabled youths.
“The tables are not numbered for the wait staff, but instead they are called pomelo table, rambutan table, elephant table, cow table, etc. so disabled kids can remember. Decorative items in this café are not very beautiful, but they are made by the disabled youths,” Chisato, the Japanese woman who runs Hoa Anh Dao Café, explained.
The walls of Hoa Anh Dao café have weird and colorful paintings and uneven flower pots made by the disabled youth during their visit to a pottery kiln in Binh Duong.
“Once I returned home very late at night, I saw a mentally handicapped girl of around ten years sitting and begging on a street corner. I thought of building a house to care and create jobs for disabled kids so they can become useful to society. I’m now very happy because the kids here are living very well and they are accustomed to the job,” Chisato elaborated in Vietnamese.
Waiters at Hoa Anh Dao café are deaf, blind or suffer from Down’s syndrome and were given up by their families. Trained by Chisato, these kids, considered a nuisance by many people, have become professional and polite servers.
According to Chisato, saying “hello,” “welcome” or “thank you” is very simple for normal kids, but these young people had to practice for a month.
“I have to teach them everything very carefully, from how to greet customers, how to carry things, how to walk, etc., using special methods. However, they still forget very quickly, so I have to repeat the lessons very often,” Chisato remarked.
“We are forgetful. Once I didn’t say thank you to a customer, so Chisato was sad. She only reminded me not to forget next time,” offered Cuong, 13, a youth with Down’s syndrome.
Customers say that the young people at this café are not nimble like professional wait staff, but they are very joyful, friendly and natural.
Loan, a familiar customer, revealed that she and her friends group up at this café every Sunday for coffee and to listen to the gentle melodies here. “We come here to not only enjoy good coffee and music, but also to support these disabled kids. It is very interesting to relax in the peaceful and slow atmosphere here,” she noted.
Hoa Anh Dao café has over 30 staff members and their numbers are rising. Chisato divides them into three shifts of five hours each. Many kids want to work more because they like working.
“Working here is more joyful than staying at home. I like working because I have Chisato,” said Phan Hoa, 12, a Down’s syndrome patient.
Other kids also said “It is very glad, glad, glad!” and laughed. Being asked why it is glad here, they only smiled and said nothing. Understanding their situation, customers didn’t ask more, but smiled with them.
Chisato noted that, at first, most of them didn’t know how to work. They only worked when they wanted. Now they are interested in their jobs.
Chisato recalled a little girl named Thy, who often cried when she called Chisato by phone, but received no answer. Whenever Chisato left the café, Thy didn’t eat, but cried and asked for Chisato.
“I was very worried, so whenever I went away on business, I called the café very often. Each time Thy answered the phone. She would cry and say ‘To To To comes back.” I had to soothe her and tried to help her get used to my absence. Thy no longer cries and can work independently with or without my presence. I’m very happy seeing them growing up and enjoying life!” Chisato smiled.