Four cafés in Kolkata where the marginalised are finding their feet

What can you find at cafés beyond good coffee, sandwiches, quiches, and cupcakes? In Kolkata, you’ll find some cafés that not only produce the standard of their food with conviction, but also display a rare quality of working with the abused and marginalized, and are giving them confidence to work and wings to fly.

Many working in these cafés have been through tough battles with various social and financial challenges in the past but they are now culinary experts who find new meaning in life through the work they do. Small in size with dreams to grow big like their corporate counterparts, these cafes are doing pretty well too. Here’s a list of four:

Le Café

Who would have thought that the young women and men serving mouth-watering French quiches and coffee had to spend days without any hope for a better future? The Life Project 4 Youth (LP4Y), an international nongovernmental organisation found these young people who had the potential to engage in creative and constructive pursuits, and provided them with a platform to go beyond the future that could have been possible under usual circumstances.

The grand Victorian premises of the Allaince Francaise Du Bengale have allotted them space inside its premises for a cafeteria managed by the youth trained in the LP4Y project. Akash Biswas, who cooks and serves desserts and refreshments at Le Café said, “My grandmother enrolled me at an educational home. From there I found work at a catering service and eventually I was enrolled at the LP4Y team this year. I feel very happy that they are teaching us to communicate with customers, learn English and computers. On Fridays and Saturdays we serve at Le Café when there are special events. On the other days we are trained at cooking and serving food at the Mamagoto Restaurant on Park Street. We learn computers at the Calcutta International School premises.”

The LP4Y project enrolls batches of 10-15 students and offers them a year’s training. Many youngsters like Akash are now dreaming of becoming chefs and cooks, thanks to this initiative.

What about the menu? At Le Café, the menu is an absolutely French affair. There’s quiche au poulet, a chicken quiche with bechamel sauce – creamy and delicious with hints of herbs like rosemary and thyme. There’s crepe au poulet, a light crepe filled with juicy chunks of chicken, carrots and shredded cabbage. There are sandwiches, chocolate and banana chocolate cakes and sweet crepes, and everything is reasonably priced.

Le Cafe;photograph from the website


Café Positive

In south Kolkata, a group of 10 HIV positive persons faced enormous struggle to find a place from where they could run a small business of their own. Their mentor Kallol Ghosh, founder of The Offer Group, an organisation that works for marginalised children, took part in their fight.

It was his dream to see these children who previously stayed at a shelter home he looked after, independently running a business of their own. Café Positive is now a small garage space, with plans for expansion. The 10 youngsters have found a teacher in one of Ghosh’s erstwhile students who has experience of managing cafes and continental food outlets. Sonia, in her twenties and part of the crew, said: “I used to worry that people may not eat food cooked by us because some think (wrongly) they might contract HIV positive this way. I would keep asking dada whether the café will be a successful venture. But one month into our journey, I feel confident about its bright future.”

In their spare time, Sonia and some of the others are trained in customer handling at retail stores. From the difficult time when even finding a space was difficult to running the café with regular customers, it is a huge progress. And if things go positive the way they have been so far, things will get only better from here.

The food is yummy and is reasonably priced. The main attraction here is the Coffee Latte. There are loads of sweet delicacies and different kinds of coffee. There’s also blueberry, chocolate muffins, chocolate cream cakes, sandwiches. Do remember, Café Positive takes bulk orders too!

Amra Odbhut Cafe

In a tiny alley of south Kolkata’s Jadavpur there is a slightly unconventional space called Amra Odbhut Café. Not run-of-the-mill, a bit strange even – that’s what the phrase amra odbhut means – and that’s because that is the general perception of people about the LGBTQ community. The décor is a burst of creative work – amateur yet youthful and free. Small fairy lights entwined around posters of films and books that talk of alternate sexuality and queer narratives is part of the décor. It’s a small, cosy two room space where special evenings are hosted celebrating performances by artists and activists. A special initiative by five friends led to the transformation of this old house on Jadavpur’s Ibrahimpur Road specially dedicated to the LGBTQ community to express their art and creative voice. And you’ll love the food here.

Amra Odbhut Cafe


Crust and Core Cafe

In a narrow Chetla lane close to the Chetla police station is Crust and Core Café. An initiative of the nongovernmental organization Iswar Sankalpa, for the residents of the Chetla shelter, this café is an inspiration for women who had to battle hardships to find their voices.

Most women here are battling social and psychological pressure and trauma. The café is a very recent foundation opened in February 2018. Around 12 women work here preparing desserts and delicacies, all in a battle against mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia and other mental health issues.

Work at the cafe has breathed new life into them. They are excited about baking and preparing coffee. It hasn’t been an easy venture however. A year back when the project started with 22 women to train, ten of them opted out midway. The remaining trainees completed the course and are working here now.

When you visit Crust and Core, do try the paprika pasta, a delicious spaghetti pasta made with red sauce and cheese. There is regular coffee and cookies, with some new addition to the menu like almond barquette, spinach and corn cheese quiche, tarts and brownies.

Crust and Core


(Cover photograph: Cafe Positive)

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