Disabled workers thrive at growing coffee chain

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Last month, many people were pleasantly surprised to find that the much talked about Bear Claw Coffee chain had established a presence at a new mall in Shanghai. One month later, Bear Claw Coffee has, once again, opened a new store ­­– this time in Nanjing’s Xinbai Center. It’s barely been nine months since the firm first opened up shop in Shanghai at No 68 Yongkang Road last November.

On the afternoon of Aug 14, Bear Claw Coffee HR representative Zhang Yue gave a talk on the theme of “Meet the Good” at Xuhui district’s Hui Forum. She said that many people may now have different ideas about business philosophies and public good aspirations behind the company’s stores.

Zhang is a northeasterner who, before coming to work in Shanghai last March, worked in Beijing’s food and beverage industry. As a new resident of Shanghai, her down-to-earth Beijing accent helped people to feel at ease. An eloquent speaker, the audience’s expectations of Bear Claw Coffee have likely been exceeded. After all, in addition to serving great coffee and boasting a catchy name, the company also hires deaf and mute baristas to staff its stores.

During her speech, Zhang couldn’t restrain her excitement when sharing the story of Xiao Lin, the manager of Bear Claw Coffee’s Hangzhou store. The night before the forum, Zhang had collected statistics on Bear Claw’s staff across the country. She revealed that deaf and mute people accounted for approximately 70 percent of employees in most stores, but at the Hangzhou store, all four staff are deaf and mute.

Xiao Cai, who is just 1.28 meters tall, is a shop assistant at the Bear Claw Wuhan store. Before coming to work at the company, Xiao made his living by performing at a local entertainment venue where he stood on tables to advertise drinks. His antics made people happy, while providing him with a living wage.

During Xiao’s interview for Bear Claw Coffee, the managers worried that he wouldn’t be up to the job, but decided to hire him anyway. From his first day at the company, he started to learn the basic skills required to be a barista: brewing coffee, foaming milk, and knowing the different types of coffee beans.

By hiring disabled staff, Bear Claw Coffee not only has a public welfare model but also promotes a positive, forward-looking business philosophy. The company provides a platform for its handicapped staff that offers them an opportunity to learn. And barista salaries are formulated based on market standards, whilst allowing the store manager to take home an appropriate share.

The opportunity to work in a coffee shop offers real benefits to blind and deaf people – and their interactions with customers are a key part of the company’s success. While many customers enjoy the opportunity of having their photo taken while they are handed their coffee by an employee wearing a bear paw, some take the opportunity to use the interaction to hand over a handwritten card or small gift. A few even write long letters about how Bear Claw “cured” them after a breakup or helped them get through a low point.

In the coming years, more people across the country will have the opportunity to visit a Bear Claw Coffee shop, with the company planning to open at least 100 stores in China – all while ensuring that the proportion of deaf employees in each store is at least 50 percent.