A deaf young entrepreneur builds culinary business in silence

A barista training held by Sunyi Academy presented a new idea for Ali, a deaf young man who is persistent in developing his business and helping other people with disabilities during the pandemic.

Muhammad Ali Syehquro's tenacity to maintain his culinary business rises from his desire to empower fellow people with disabilities in Indonesia. This 28-year-old deaf man continues to withhold the philosophy behind the name of his business, Silent Tree Coffee and Kitchen, which signifies a solitary tree that always stands firm even when it is hit by rain and storms.

“I was inspired by several culinary businesses that empower people with disabilities. Those businesses made me want to open a business and help out,” said Ali.

Ali opened his culinary business with two colleagues who are also deaf in October 2020. They offered a variety of cakes and snacks that can be pre-ordered online. Ali makes these foods in his home kitchen with the knowledge he gained from working in a cake shop a few years ago.

Ali said tighter business competition had resulted in declining income, but Ali persevered. He launched various efforts to improve the quality of his products and to hone his skills, including by signing up in a number of trainings and participating in business competitions.

In a business planning competition held by one of the largest companies in Indonesia, Ali managed to win the runner-up position. However, Ali admitted that he was not immediately satisfied with the achievement. Ali decided to sign up in a barista training held by Sunyi Academy in September 2021 to continue developing his skills.

The barista training which was designed for people with disabilities was part of the Employment and Livelihood project, a joint United Nations (UN) project in Indonesia. The project was funded by the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN MPTF).

“This training involving vulnerable groups is in line with the mission of the ILO and the United Nations to provide equal opportunities for job seekers through the Employment and Livelihood project. We hope that the participants will gain sufficient knowledge so that they can continue to develop themselves and their businesses,” said Navitri Putri Guillaume, ILO's National Project Officer in Jakarta.

For four days, Ali and the other participants honed and developed their barista skills at one of the Sunyi Coffee branches in the Jakarta’s Old Town area. Participants were given basic knowledge on how to identify coffee beans, various methods of making and serving coffee-based drinks, and good customer service etiquette.

For Ali, this training provided an opportunity for him to try achieving his business goals even amid difficult conditions such as the current pandemic. He wants to prove that his condition as a deaf person does not stand as an obstacle in realizing his dreams in the culinary field.

At the end of the training, the participants went in the On-the-Job Training (OJT) program for two weeks at three Sunyi Coffee branches in Jakarta, Bekasi, and Tangerang. During the OJT, Ali, who was assigned to work at the Sunyi Coffee Alam Sutera, Tangerang, learned to apply his new knowledge and deal directly with customers.

“I learned a lot about the discipline of a barista, being the face of a cafe,” said Ali.

The experience during the training and OJT encouraged Ali to continue his venture and offer coffee beverages in his culinary business. Apart from hoping to get an increase in income, Ali wants to prove himself that a deaf person can serve a cup of coffee that customers can really enjoy and get positive review that is not based on customer’s regret over his disability. He called on other deaf people to be more active in the community.