Following the age-old saying of “the sky’s the limit,” it’s fair to say that no one embodies this philosophy better than those in the differently-abled or Orang Kurang Upaya (OKU) community. From hearing impairments to intellectual challenges, this is a diverse group of people capable of so much more than the expectations society has limited them to.
Multiple differently-abled-run restaurants and cafes have popped up across Malaysia with full guided support and hands-on training by several non-profit organisations. They are driven by the virtuous intention of providing skills training, unbiased employment, and business entrepreneurship lessons to improve their livelihood and foster independence, hope, and dignity.
Although not technically and linguistically categorised as an ‘eatery’, we’ll also throw in some bakeries because they’re just THAT good. These establishments are more than capable of holding their own and competing with fellow non-disabled led businesses in the food industry.
Without further ado, here are eight OKU-run local eateries to pop by the next time the munchies get to you.
1. RC Deaf Missions Cafe, Selangor
Co-founded by the Peter siblings, RC Deaf Missions Cafe jumped on the scene in 2018 with an ethnically rojak, passion-driven hearing-impaired staff who have been expertly trained in preparing, cooking, and serving up sumptuous meals and beverages over the years.
However, the noble non-profit emerged in 2006 to create an employable avenue for the deaf and raise awareness about the community, its culture, and language with their Malaysian Sign Language Learning Centre. Encouraging the development of #deaftalent is also achieved through lessons in baking, coffee making, latte art, customer communication, product design, sewing, and sales.
Conveniently located just opposite the Kelana Jaya LRT Station, this Western-Asian inspired, bakery-like eatery serves simple but flavoursome food such as curry laksa and sambal cashew nut fried rice, with a vegetarian option available. Sandwiches are also a popular go-to here, like their tender Chicken Cranberry Walnut, Double Fish Chips, and punnily-named BTS (Brinjal-Tomato Salad).
Address: Jalan SS25/2, Taman Bukit Emas 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Contact: +6019 261 9920
2. DIB Restaurant, Selangor
Kickstarting operations in 2011, the recently renamed DIB Restaurant – which stands for Disabled-in-Business (once called Deaf-in-Business) is run by 95% hearing-impaired personnel. It was founded by Dr Allen Teh, inspired by the five deaf employees he once managed at the first deaf-operated KFC outlet. Wheelchair users will also find this establishment easy to get around in.
Situated on the first floor of Menara Gamuda with an outdoor garden seating option, anticipate an ample assortment of Western and local gastronomic delights such as salmon steak aglio, fish fillet burger, kung pao chicken rice, and nasi goreng kampung.
Once labelled as DIB Coffees of Hawaii as it used to serve roasted beans straight from the Aloha State, it now uses the similar but equally-heavenly in-house roasted 100% Arabica beans, specifically the Sumatra Mandheling and Brazil Santos varieties. Customers can even choose the brew-making style: pour-over, french press, or syphon fire.
Address: 1st Floor, Menara Gamuda, PJ Trade Centre, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya
Contact: +603 7622 5668
3. Cafe Includes, Kuala Lumpur
In partnership with Dankoff and ASEAN School of Baristas, Cafe Includes is a cafe kiosk operated by a diverse squad of PWDs (Person With Disabilities), stemming from the low vision, physically-challenged, deaf, and autistic communities. It was brought to life by Dialogue Includes All, formerly known as Dialogue in the Dark; founded by Stevens Chan and his wife after he lost his eyesight due to glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy at age 45 in 2007.
Besides bread bowl soups and bento sets, expect local delights such as nasi kari ayam kapitan, nasi dagang Kelantan gulai ikan, and an unconventional fusion favourite: spaghetti goreng Mamak!
While their gourmet coffee and tea are certainly a must-try, customers should also nab the freshly-made pastries available; such as butter croissants, chocolate muffins, salmon rolls, and apple strudels. Moreover, there is a mélange of handmade bread to savour – dark sourdough, traditional multi-seed, and cranberry pecan.
Address: 10 Jalan Bukit Midah, Taman Midah, 56000 Kuala Lumpur
Contact: +603 2770 6380
4. Autism Cafe Project, Selangor
As you can probably figure out, the Autism Cafe Project sounds exactly as the name signifies – an eatery run by autistic youths. Formed by a father’s concern for his autistic son’s future, Mohd Adli Yahya bid farewell to his high-flying gig as an executive director for the Standard Chartered Bank and started something for his son and other children with a similar condition.
While the predominantly male-staffed team aged between 18 to 25 years old (as boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls) operates in both the kitchen and front-of-house, the founder and another volunteer is always there to keep an eye on them. The cafe has even allocated space for autistic individuals to showcase their talents.
At their recently-opened establishment at DaMen Mall in Subang Jaya, customers can choose to dig into mouthwatering but straightforward dishes such as roti jala, bee hoon goreng, mee sup, soto, and spaghetti bolognese.
In search of an afternoon delight? Pick up an assortment of sweet treats such as their kek batik, kuih ketayap, ondeh-ondeh, sesame seed balls, banana cake, and blueberry cheesecake. These are created through the minimal use of a healthier variation of palm oil and with no artificial colouring, flavouring, or MSG.
Bear in mind that their catering services are their primary source of income, so feel free to try it out with at least one week’s notice.
Address: LG12 DaMen Mall, Jalan Kewajipan, USJ1, 47600 Subang Jaya, Selangor
Contact: +6012 349 0813
5. I’mPossible Cafe, Selangor
With superior wordplay in tow, I’mPossible Cafe is a social initiative introduced by United Voice, the first society in Malaysia to be spearheaded by persons with learning disabilities. It champions possibility and self-advocacy with committed staff learning customer service, food prepping, coffee-making, and operating the cash register. Even a space within the eatery is dedicated to showcasing paintings together with weaving or sewing merchandise created by their gifted artists.
Other than serving coffee and tea, get ready to inhale the aroma of various freshly-baked goods from the in-house bakery, such as pastries, cookies, tarts, and cakes. These tempting treats range from cinnamon rolls and lemongrass puffs to shortbread and pumpkin seed biscotti. We’re salivating just writing about this!
Aside from firecracker sausages, indulge in some blueberry or egg tarts before sipping on lattes or black coffees. Just remember that tarts and cakes are subject to availability.
Address: 603 Jalan 17/12 Seksyen 17, 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Contact: +6011 5402 2782
6. Yong Teng Cafe, Pahang
Amidst the chilly climate of Cameron Highlands lies the humble Yong Teng Cafe in Tanah Rata. Operating successfully for over two decades, childhood sweethearts Madam Teng and See Poh from Penang make up the elderly disabled couple running the place – both of whom were born deaf-and-mute. Armed with passion and drive for their small venture, the dedicated duo is used to toiling away at their station for 10 hours straight (excluding the extra time taken to prepare and clean).
Upon seating, expect a silent but amiable greeting by the woman armed with a pen and paper for self-order. Customers can satiate their appetite with classic breakfast delights such as toast, char kway teow, chee cheong fun, lontong, fried rice, and the best-selling nasi lemak served with chicken curry and eggs. Alternatively, go for their burgers or traditional American breakfast sets served with baked beans and chicken sausages. Gobble up their ‘secret recipe’ pancakes served either plain or with juicy fruit toppings like peaches, strawberries, apples, or bananas.
While the information written combined with pointing hand gestures helps convey the message, it would be wise and considerate to pick up some basic sign language to ease the process and evoke some smiles all around. Additionally, bear in mind that the couple has mentioned that they plan to retire in 2022, so pay a visit soon.
Address: 72A Persiaran Camelia 4, Tanah Rata, 39000 Tanah Rata, Pahang
7. Kafe Basikal Tua, Selangor
Escape the bustling metropolis by stepping into an enchanting oasis shaded by a canopy of lush trees and unruly greenery, Kafe Basikal Tua. Nestled in Kampung Sungai Penchala, stroke survivor Raja Iskandar founded the hidden roadside establishment during the pandemic. Fondly declaring this space as his little secret garden, private lunches are graciously prepared by families of the visually-impaired community. In turn, they earn a portion of the profits.
At the moment, their three-course lunch package consists of ubi kayu sambal bilis and fresh coconut water for starters; nasi kerabu, nasi ganja, nasi lamuni, krabu prawn bee hoon, or mee kari utara as the main dish options; and a juicy seasonal fruit platter or chilled ice cream for dessert to finish off the meal.
A free flow of refreshing ice lemon tea is also available to quench one’s thirst. Currently serving around six to 20 guests, it is advised to book ahead via WhatsApp before popping by as no walk-ins are allowed.
Address: Location to be given after confirmed booking
Contact: +6011 6170 8502
8. Bake With Dignity, Kuala Lumpur
Revolving around adults with learning disabilities (AwLD) is Bake with Dignity, the employment initiative operating under Dignity & Services. Established in 1991 by co-founders Pang Hin Yue and Marina Lim on account of their children with learning disabilities, this non-profit supports both high and low functioning individuals on the broad spectrum of neurological disorders. This includes Down’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and other developmental delays.
Jumping with joy whilst erupting with vivacious sounds throughout the kitchen, these enthusiastic worker bees power through under the supervision of volunteers to complete their tasks of baking, cooking, and serving – focusing more on catering for company events. As they have mixed disabilities leading to mixed independence or specifically challenging skills (such as only being able to measure for one serving instead of four for the same recipe), creative improvisation and considerate division of labour according to individual strengths are practised (in this case, a table with different quantities in columns was made).
Considering this bakery has the most expansive and diverse menu on our list, here are just some of the sweet goodies in store: cookies, tarts, fudge brownies, cakes (includes pineapple upside down and burnt cheesecake), Swiss rolls, cupcakes, and savoury pastries. Likewise, it’d be callous to exclude some of the go-to delicious dishes such as the Thai-style roast chicken, signature fried rice, vegetarian lasagna, and sides of sandwiches and kaya puffs.
Address: A2-126 Ground Floor, Leisure Commerce Square, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Contact: +6010 288 1203