Concealed by the front of a coffee shop in Thamel, Cafe Mitini is actually a social enterprise. Offering not just delicious coffee but also hands-on trainings and skills to women, the cafe is in its infantile stage of growing organically in the market. The cafe with it aesthetically minimalist and cozy decor aims to gain customers in the competitive markets not through sympathy that comes with being a social enterprise but through, products and services that has and will retain customers.
In conversation with Subash Thapa about the journey of Cafe Mitini, so keep reading to learn more
How did your social entrepreneurship begin?
Originally from Gorkha, I first came to Kathmandu to pursue my higher secondary studies. I had always wanted to be an independent person, I went to college in the morning and I worked in hotels and restaurants in the daytime to pay my fees. After graduating in Business Studies, I worked in a social enterprise and a rickshaw café which was a movable stall and was made to empower youth in entrepreneurship for two years.
I then went to India to study social entrepreneurship course in the disaster context in Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai for my postgraduate studies. Immediately after completing my course, I returned back to Nepal and worked at ‘Welcome to my Yard’ which is also a social enterprise with community-based work. I later joined Social Enterprise Activation (SEA) Center in 2016 as a social business head.
How did the idea of starting a café come across?
The idea of a cafe is actually not mine. There was already an established cafe since 2013 in Nepal by a partnership with Koika, Korea, and SEA Center Nepal, which was not only a cafe but also an academy which taught women to fashion designing, production, tailoring, Barista and other leadership training. We had a seminar space for the social enterprise and NGOs for workshop and training which helped us to self-sustain in a way. There were Korean people working in the cafe but then later they handed over the management to me.
Basically talking about the idea of the café, Mitini means soul mates. We found that Nepali women migrated towards foreign nation for employment opportunities in terms of labor work or the domestic work but they did not have proper skills to do these kinds of work. So, we planned to develop some skills for women with job opportunities by providing free training for such a community. They can even establish their own venture if they like. The idea of Café Mitini is to create a job opportunity and help establish an enterprise for women who are aspirant migrant workers. The cafe is also for the underprivileged women who cannot afford expensive training.
So, Cafe Mitini is a platform for women to come and get trained and find a better opportunities for work or become women entrepreneurs themselves.
What is the current setup of the organization now?
Our ground floor is the heart of the café. We also have a kitchen inside. There is also a space upstairs for programs and seminar. There is also a space for café upstairs. We also have a baking space upstairs for the training. There is also a store room and an office.
What was the problem you face at the café in Lazimpat?
We could not sustain the cafe at Lazimpath because the house owner increased its rent and we couldn’t afford the increased amount of rent so, we had to close it down. So, now, we are located in Thamel.
How many women work at Cafe Mitini?
Currently, 3 women are in training. They are on the grass level but they have learned to make some variety of coffee. We also have another partner café who is hiring 2-3 women who are not from Kathmandu valley. Migrating here from different organizations, we select the people who are actually in need of this kind of work.
Are you hiring more women?
For now, we are looking to hire one more woman besides the 3 we are training. However, I don’t want them to work with me in the long run. I want them to establish their own venture. This is just the training part of their entrepreneurial journey and. So, once they learn the skill they can move in their own way. Nevertheless, we offer them job opportunities as well so it lies in the interest of the women on what they want to choose.
How do these women get selected here?
SEA Center actually works with some non- profit organizations that work for women. We send those organizations a mail for training and employment opportunities. Then, they send us the women who are interested. However, we sometimes select women individually as well.
How long did it take to set up the whole cafe?
Since, we had very limited budget and the places were super expensive, it was very difficult for us to find a new and suitable location. We had to look for a place be near the customers. It took a couple of months to look for the perfect place itself. It took almost 6 months to fix the place and one and a half month to set the cafe in total. In those 6 months, we still would provide Barista training to 17 people. Until now, we have trained more than 400 women and some men. We also trained other 100 people in fashion designing. Most of them have started their own venture. Some of them even migrated abroad with their skills.
Also, in those six months, to generate the income source, I made some bakery items myself and sold them to different cafés. We also used to make eco bags. It was a huge opportunity for an organization as we got a contract to make a huge amount of bags.
When did you launch this cafe?
We had the soft opening for consumers only a few days ago. I teach the women in the café itself for 1-2 hours to make coffee or some new items. We have our own recipe. I still have to finalize the final menu.
What future plans do you have for Cafe Mitini?
I want to create a chain of café in the name of Mitini with the same goal. We also planned with the board members that if this café grows up and makes profit, we will again set up a new café. We are not only a café. We are the wings of SEA Center which is a social venture. To make SEA Center alive, Café Mitini is also supporting. The profit of the café goes to SEA Center and it does workshop activities for social entrepreneurs.
Who is the founder of SEA Center?
There isn’t any concept of a founder. Basically, the idea is between Nepal and Korea with 5 nepali board members. They opened the organization in partnership as a hybrid concept. There are a group of people who brought the organization into existence.
Are the other trainings still going on in SEA Center?
Other programs are stopped for a moment because currently, we are working here. We have just moved out and with the office messed up, we still need time to settle in. From next week I will again start the Barista training to generate income for the café. If I can provide some training to an individual, they will pay us and this will generate income for café.
What has been the response of the customer?
They have given a good response in our feedback form we provide them. Every single customer is satisfied with us. They say that it is excellent with no complaints. No customer has ever said that the taste or the service is poor.
Do the customers know that this café is a social enterprise and not only a business?
For me, it’s ok either the customer takes this café as a business or a social enterprise. I always describe them who we are and what we do. The business should always be competitive with others in the market regardless of whether it is a social enterprise or non- social enterprise. I do not want customers to come to my place for sympathy. I want my customers to visit this place again to have a coffee because we make good coffee which is why I have focus on the business side of the café as well. However, some customers still visit our café because they feel that we are doing a good job for the women.
How are you planning to market the Café Mitini ?
Once I finalize the menu, we have made a contract with a travel agency in Thamel because of the near distance. They will send their customer at our café. We also have our old customers from the other café because of the same taste, we believe they will return for more. We will also advertise our café on social media.
I strongly believe that for a hospitality business and food business, we should have their chain to sustain.
In terms of business, when do you see Mitini breaking even?
There are two ways. I am thinking for 2 and a half years to sustain, while to breakeven will probably take two months complete and perfect functioning.
Is there any moment which is frustrating for you?
I have faced it many times. Life of social entrepreneurs is frustrating. I did not choose any private organization to work. I chose to work in a social enterprise because I wanted to do something. Some days, I have even cried hard. I feel emotional when there is no support and things do not happen. Sometimes I will want to do some new thing but will have a financial crisis. During the construction period, while going to sleep every night I have to think a lot. There is no fixed time for work. The work is very challenging and frustrating. Nevertheless, when the customer appreciates the work and food, I feel that my work is worth it. I really feel happy when I see a smile on my customers face.
You said that you are passionate about food. What is your favorite food?
I like every food. Food is not only for a belly. I visit various restaurants to see the quality of the food and the price to be competent enough. I just like all kind of food and all the food are great.