‘We are blinding people temporarily from their sights, but the blind awareness really comes from people hearing the stories connecting with the blind waiters.’
Imagine for a minute that you are sitting in a restaurant with your friends or significant other. The whole place is pitch-black. No one can tell where they are walking. No one can see where their drink is, or their food or utensils.
The only way you and your party are able to enjoy your meal is by using sense of touch, hoping that no one makes a mess or gets hurt. Believe it or not, an experience like this will happen here soon.
For the first time ever, The Blind Café will cater to Seattle on June 8 and 9 at Fremont Baptist Church, 717 N. 36th St. Check-in begins at 7:30 p. m.
Brian Rocheleau, founder of The Blind Café, is also part of a folk band called One Eye Glass Broken. He and his band will perform at the event, also with the lights off.
“A lot of people come back really humbled, having had a chance to learn about blindness and are really fascinated and curious,” Rocheleau said. “Some people have a life-changing experience. Some people go in there and experience a lot of anxiety and fear, and then they learn to work with it in the dark.”
The event also increases people’s
awareness of the blind community.
“One key thing is that we’re not simulating what it’s like to be blind, because only a small percentage of people who are blind actually just see all-black. Most blind folks have some kind of sight, altered sight or see all-white. We are blinding people temporarily from their sights, but the blind awareness really comes from people hearing the stories connecting with the blind waiters,” Rocheleau said.
The Blind Café’s press release describes the event as a “playful culinary experience” that includes a dinner, a Q&A session and concert. Rocheleau recently offered a preview on what to expect.
“There are three different elements to The Blind Café,” he said. “There’s the food experience, where we put out the food on the table(s) and you are let into the dark with your friends and six other people you just met, and suddenly you’re at this table together, and you can’t see anything. You don’t know how to eat with a fork anymore.”
He continued, “There’s this whole social experience where people have to work together to get their food that’s much like an Outward Bound trip. You don’t know the 10 people you are in the woods with, but a week later, you’re all buddies, hugging each other like crazy and going on this adventure together you know.”
After dinner, the waiters provide guests with chocolate for dessert. While it’s being served, the concert revs up, playing about 10 songs.
“We have cello, guitar, violin, female vocals,” Rocheleau added. “We do this big sing-along, and it’s just powerful. I light a candle — one single candle opens up the whole room. It’s amazing. Then we ask people to find their way out.”
Rocheleau was inspired to start The Blind Café when he went to a café in Iceland, only to find out that it was pitch-black in there. A woman at the entrance had laminated cards with Braille, along with Icelandic, words on them. She explained that it was a “café in the dark.”
He had to purchase what he wanted — coffee — outside. While trying to find a place to sit, he stumbled across some tables before he found one.
“Are there any extra seats?” Rocheleau asked. The other guests at the table laughed and replied, “We don’t know!”
Eventually, he found a place to sit and ended up enjoying the concept of interacting with people in the dark. He was so touched by this experience, he said, he wondered if he could bring such an experience to
American cities. The Blind Café
started in 2009 and has traveled to Portland, Ore.; Aspen, Boulder and Denver, Colo.; Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; and several cities in California.
“Places like Boulder, Austin, Portland, Seattle — they’re definitely very progressive places
where people seem very open-minded about going out and doing something different,” Rocheleau explained of the selected cities.
“It’s also based on my lifestyle right now, because I won’t be running a blind café forever but it takes so much heart, so much energy to set up a blind café. You have to want to be in that city and have relationships with people in that city because we don’t come to a city and just ‘do it.’ We’ll come back a couple months later, and we’ll have 10 to 20 volunteers a day that will be part of it and help us run it.”
Although Rocheleau and the crew enjoy sharing this experience with those in different cities, it hasn’t always been easy to get by during tours, he said; funding is still a big concern.
The Blind Café is sponsored through food donations, but they haven’t received any major funding. When that time comes, Rocheleau said he would like to pay his staff a salary.
“People want us in each city, but me and the staff that I work with, they’re all people who are doing it outside of their hearts. At some point, I need to bring in a couple hundred thousand dollars of funding a year, and then we could give everybody salaries,” Rocheleau said. “There have been times where I come back from a show and I don’t have enough money from that.”
Funding may be difficult, but it doesn’t stop them from giving to the community.
For more information about the event or tickets, visit theblindcafe.com/seattle-blind-café.htm. A portion of the money from ticket sales will go toward nonprofit organizations in Seattle that benefit blind communities.