Shanghai café staffed by people with autism forced to close

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A Shanghai cafe’ that functioned as a social enterprise helping people with autism has been forced to close only a month after opening. The Love Café (in Chinese 爱咖啡) held its inauguration ceremony in Jing’an Park, Shanghai, on the 2rd of April, World Autism Awareness Day. Sponsored and managed by the famous musician Cao Peng and his daughter Cao Xiaoxia, the location also served as a “social practice center” for people with autism, who made up most of the staff. The place quickly gained popularity on the internet through numerous media reports and by word of mouth, even though it had not even officially opened for business. However, customers and parents of autistic children were sad to learn that the Love Café was closed down on the 2rd of May due to a misunderstanding with the venue’s actual lease holder.

The family of Cao Xiaoxia has long been involved in charitable work with autistic children. In 2008, Cao Xiaoxia founded the “Angel Music Salon”. Through musical education, it provided a platform for autistic kids to learn musical instruments, and also achieved a therapeutic effect on the children. In the Love Café, volunteers and staff gave the baristas and waiters instructions on how to communicate with customers.

Over the past few years, many cafes and restaurant that are also social enterprises supporting people with different disabilities have flourished in China. Some of them have faced difficulties from discrimination and stereotyping by ignorant customers, like the Village 127 cafe, also in Shanghai, employing children from AIDS-affected families. While there is no doubt that using a catering business to help raise awareness is always welcome and effective, it is clear that operating such a business also requires a certain level of professionalism. At the same time, society needs to be more tolerant towards such valuable endeavours.