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Home » The Secret Story Behind the Opening of ‘Sloth Cafe’

The Secret Story Behind the Opening of ‘Sloth Cafe’

The story of the opening of “Sloth Cafe,” a barrier-free cafe where everyone is welcome, has been featured on PR TIMES STORY. You can view it there, but we will also post the same content on our blog.

Kids Programming Corporation opened Sloth Cafe on October 17, 2023, in Soka City, Saitama Prefecture, at 95-10 Yatsuka Kamimachi, renovating a warehouse for this purpose.

The cafe’s concept is “a barrier-free cafe where people with disabilities, the elderly, and able-bodied people are all welcome.” It is designed to be accessible for wheelchair users and those with strollers, including two priority parking spaces, spacious seating, and a universal access toilet, which is rare in small establishments.

Of the nine opening staff members, eight are mothers of children with disabilities. These mothers, who agree with the philosophy of Sloth Cafe, share their skills and experiences, utilize their strengths, and compensate for any shortcomings while providing service to customers.

The store manager, Miwako Okada, offers a signature menu of spice curry and coffee, inherited from two mentors, and sweets made by the patissier staff.

This story will tell you about the journey to the opening of Sloth Cafe.

A cafe providing a wheelchair-friendly dining experience

Miwako Okada, the manager, has been raising a child with severe disabilities for 18 years. The family’s life changed completely when they had a child with a disability. The biggest problem was not being able to dine out easily. Lack of wheelchair space, no ramps to the entrance, no wheelchair-accessible toilets, and refusal of entry by the establishments were common issues. Although barrier-free restaurants have been increasing, there are still hurdles for wheelchair users when dining out.

Depending on the type of disability, it might be necessary to bring in a form meal (a paste-like meal that can be eaten even by those who can’t swallow solids) or to blend food, making dining out not so straightforward.

When wheelchair users dine out, they first look for restaurants that can accommodate wheelchairs. Once they find a restaurant, they must check if the staff is welcoming to wheelchair users and get confirmation that they can enter with their wheelchair before they can finally enjoy their meal.

From these experiences came the desire to create a cafe where people with disabilities, the elderly, and able-bodied individuals alike are all welcomed.

A Warehouse Found After Six Months Search for Barrier-Free Real Estate!?

↑ The warehouse before it was converted into a cafe

Operating a cafe with ample space for wheelchairs and strollers, complete with universal access toilets, means running costs are higher than a standard cafe. To reduce costs as much as possible, I wanted to create a cafe by renovating a warehouse with cheaper rent. I searched for a warehouse that could be rented as a restaurant.

For nearly half a year, the manager, Miwako Okada, made inquiries via the internet and phone only to be turned down time and again. She negotiated in person numerous times, and during this process, her chronic hernia worsened to the point where she herself became a wheelchair user due to an accident. However, after a successful hernia surgery, she was able to live normally, though she can’t lift heavy objects. Finally, she met an understanding owner and real estate agent who grasped the concept of the Sloth Cafe, and she was able to rent the warehouse.

Stylish Cafe Design Considerate of Disabilities and the Meticulous Work of Contractors

We commissioned an architect with experience raising a child with disabilities to design the cafe. Drawing from personal experience, the architect created a raised tatami area where people who find it difficult to sit for long periods can lie down, and ensured the design was stylish and considerate from the perspective of wheelchair users.

The construction company was also very cooperative, happily accommodating requests for features not commonly found in standard constructions, such as gently sloping ramps and doors with high safety standards. Although craftsmen have a reputation for being intimidating, they were all incredibly kind. There was an incident where someone with a disability accidentally stepped on and left footprints in concrete that had not yet set, but even then, they reassured us with a smile, “It’s still fixable,” and proceeded to redo the work without any sign of annoyance.

Sloth Cafe Staffs with “Barrier-Free Hearts”

When the manager reached out to her acquaintances to recruit staff, eight moms who resonated with the philosophy of Sloth Cafe came together. Seven of these are mothers of children with disabilities. They are a group brimming with individuality, including a former PTA president, a pastry chef, and a hairstylist.

Despite the busy life of raising children with disabilities, they struggle with learning how to use electronic payment terminals but also train themselves at home to brew coffee, all for Sloth Cafe. They are proud staff members, offering wonderful ideas with hearts that are barrier-free.

Creating a Barrier-Free Cafe with a Diverse Array of Experts

When I announced my intention to start a barrier-free cafe, many people reached out to help. The first to appear was a master of curry, whose specialty spice curry is addictively delicious, available in both mild and spicy versions, with the spicy exceeding expectations in heat. Next, a coffee master taught us the perfect method to extract coffee suited to the hardness of the water in Soka City. Then, there’s E-chan, one of our staff, who emerged as a pastry chef. Despite being busy with childcare and caregiving, she developed popular treats like pound cake caramelized with brown sugar, bananas, and nuts, a rich chocolate cake, and mascarpone Italian pudding.

Opening a Community Cafe Welcoming Children with Disabilities, with Gratitude

With the cooperation and understanding of many, more than a year had passed since we decided to start the cafe, but we were able to open successfully on October 17, 2023. Even before opening, several people came to inspect the cafe, wondering if it would be alright to bring children with disabilities. I am truly pleased to receive compliments not only on the facilities but also on the character of our staff from those who have visited.

Although we are still getting used to the operations, all of us staff are committed to providing a relaxing space for everyone with all our hearts.

Embedding in the Community, Aiming to Form a Community with Diverse Events

Sloth Cafe is located in a part of a residential area near a park. We never forget that we can operate the cafe thanks to the understanding of our neighbors, and we strive to conduct our business without causing any inconvenience through illegal parking or noise.

In the future, we hope to host programming events by instructors from our parent company, KIDSPRO, a kids’ programming school, morning yoga sessions, markets, and events by Brave Kids, an organization supporting siblings and families, which the manager has been running for 14 years. All these will be conducted with the understanding of our local community.

Brave Kids is an organization established to support siblings and their families. Often, when a family has a child with a disability, much of their time and attention is devoted to that child. This can lead siblings, who are typically developing, to become overly self-restrained and try too hard to be good from a young age. Brave Kids aims to create occasions, even if only a few times a year, where these siblings can be the stars of the day.

(Tetsuro Okada)

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