In 2016, Sasha, graduated with a degree in hotel management and held a dream to work in the hospitality sector. However, as they stepped into the industry, it was quick to hold up the placards of privilege and prejudice to discriminate and deny the space Sasha had earned because of their queer identity.
“I loved the work, but I didn’t feel safe. So, I had no choice but to quit,” says Sasha. Last year, Sasha joined the Solidarity Foundation, an organisation based in Bengaluru, supporting the LGBTQIA+ community and sex workers for more than two decades. Coincidentally, as they took on the role of documentation officer at the Foundation, there were talks of a new Pride Café in Bengaluru, a first for the city. For Sasha, this was a “golden opportunity”. Today, as the truck manager of the recently inaugurated Pride Café, a food truck, run by LGBTQIA+ members, Sasha is back to doing the work they love, but this time, in an environment where they feel safe and respected, which has made all the difference.
Pride Café is an initiative by Solidarity Foundation in partnership with WeWork, Amadeus, and AGAPE Hospitality Consultants. It is rooted in the idea of creating sustainable livelihoods for LGBTQIA+ persons while forging a sense of community. With the realisation that the passion for food transcends the barriers of gender, a mobile truck was put into action. After training in culinary, hospitality, and customer service skills, eight LGBTQIA+ persons took charge of the first food truck at WeWork Galaxy, Residency Road, Bengaluru, following a long struggle to get IT parks across the city to provide a space for it.
The cafe was inaugurated on January 9, by drag performer Alex Mathew, popularly known as Maya, the Drag Queen and renowned theatre artist and actor, Arundhati Nag. “We have received great support from organisations in Bengaluru. Agape took over the hospitality part and helped us design the menu. The Aravani Art Project painted the vibrant food truck,” says Rekha G, Project Lead.
What was going to be a street-side tea and coffee stall, is now a growing food truck, employing LGBTQIA+ persons and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the foodies in an IT park. “The interactions with the people are a highlight for us. There is joy when we are working at the food truck, everyone feels happy to serve great food and have good conversations,” says Sasha, who heads the food truck and manages the sales.
Dropout rates are typically high when a new project starts, but this time it’s different, Rekha explains. “Everyone is excited to come to work. It’s because the customers have been very supportive. They make an effort to wait if there is a rush while constantly reassuring the staff, and they even leave cute notes such as ‘thank you’ or ‘love is love’ on the bills. People are going the extra mile to create a welcoming environment.”
Furthermore, this is a workplace where members of the LGBTQIA+ community can be themselves. “They can interact with a big group of people in an IT park without hiding their identity or behaving in a certain way because of the unacceptance they face. It’s a big positive step towards building healthy work environments for the LGBTQIA+ community,” says Rekha.
Rekha says the Pride Café is the first of many. They plan to open two more by March and employ at least 20 people altogether. The Foundation is also discussing a parallel venture, a tiffin service, a request by the cafe customers. “We want to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the community with this inclusive and innovative approach. And we will do this while breaking gender barriers through conversations, visibility and promote awareness through sensitisation,” explains Rekha.
It's overwhelming to see what food can do, Rekha adds. People are being more conscious about being inclusive in their language and approach. “One of the customers approached us to ask if it’s possible to have the people running the café wear pronoun badges so that everyone can address them with the right pronouns,” shares Rekha.
In the two weeks since its launch, Pride Café has completed more than 400 orders, surpassing the targets. The menu includes Indian, Continental, and Italian. Ask them about their favourites, and both Rekha and Sasha are quick to proudly gush about it.
Sasha points out, “The kadak adrak tea is the star. We make at least three batches of it every day. I would recommend the sandwiches, such as the chilli cheese. The dal makhani is a must try.”
Price for two: ₹ 300