Blue Bradley is the co-owner of Crave Cafe, in Morningside, Auckland. We sat down to chat with him about his own hearing loss, and the ways his café supports the Deaf and hard of hearing community, for the September 2020 Issue of Hearing Matters.
What’s unique about Crave?
"It’s one of the largest cafes around. Didn’t actually know it was until we opened up and realised it was massive!
The uniqueness about it isn’t just that it’s a big café, it’s actually owned by a whole lot of people.
It's more like a social enterprise – a non-profit, to be more accurate, which means it doesn’t keep it’s money. If it makes a profit, it gives it back to the community surrounding it. So that’s really unique, it just changes the whole way that business is done, really."
When did you first open?
"We opened just over 10 years ago, now. We started out with a little 18 seater, across the road, and that turned into an 80 seater, and now it’s turned into a 200 seater."
What was the dream behind the business?
"Morningside had been an area that was sort of forgotten about, so when we moved in there was no place to belong, no gathering places, people didn’t hang out here.
We just wanted to create a space where people could come, and be known. Talk to each other.
A lot of the high rise apartments that are out here are not built for social engagement, they’re built for maxing out livable space, so, there was nowhere to congregate. Other than the railway station, there was nowhere to meet. We wanted to build a place of connection for the community."
Tell us a bit about your hearing loss. When did you find out about it?
"Who knows! Well, literally when I was about seven they found out I was totally deaf in one ear. 100% deaf in my right ear. I got along fine in life, it was great. Then suddenly, it seemed like over just a week my hearing deteriorated in my good ear, my left ear. It just plummeted. I had calcification of the inner ear bones. That literally changed everything pretty quickly.
I had to get hearing aids, and had a bi-cross system. For the first time, it was weird, I could actually ear on my right hand side. With a bi-cross it’s got a microphone on the right hand side that actually transmits to the hearing aid, so I could hear what was going on the right hand side of me. That was a strange sensation! Getting used to hearing aids is huge, but then it [my hearing] kept on going and dropping faster and faster.
They thought by now I should have a cochlear implant, because it wasn’t going to plateau, but it plateaued for the last sort of six years. Now, I’ve just got a pretty powerful hearing aid on the left hand side.
This affects everything. You know, noise at the café is just excruciating sometimes. You hear everything, yet not anything you want to hear. You miss the cue, you miss the punchlines, you miss the nuances of a conversation.
Because I was already deaf in one ear, all my life I’ve been looking for clues to what people are saying by their body language, by the way their mouths would form. Connecting the sound, with what I’m seeing, so that was very helpful skill I developed."
I’ve heard that hearing aids can just amplify everything - so it doesn’t help when you want to hear something specific in a noisy room.
"Yeah, that’s right. So, going out to restaurants and cafes is just terrible. I try to find the best place I can. I do a lot of counselling, which involves a lot of one-on-one and group settings. I speak to large audiences, to thousands and thousands of people. So, I’ve got to go from the quiet to the stage, and everything in between.
Sometimes you just have to rip the things out! [laughs] and, that’s alright, you know? It’s a hassle. I can’t talk to my phone. I’m on that borderline, 15-20% in one ear, so I just take my hearing aid out every-time I take a phone call. Bit of a hassle. You can get devices, but they’re pretty clunky."
Are there any adaptations to the way you do business because of your hearing loss?
"Yeah, so I don’t manage the business. I’m just here everyday doing my work. I do some care for the staff and special projects. Putting me behind the till would be terrible! [laughs] I can only hear half of it.
Because we are a social enterprise, or a non-profit, we work with the drug courts, people who need some help, and people with disabilities. We’ve employed people who maybe don’t have it all together to give them another opportunity. To take some steps in the right direction, or have a chance. So, that’s been really really good.
So, because I’ve gotten into sign language, I’ve got to know a lot of people in the Deaf community. Customers here like to support it.
We like to give back to the community and one of the ways we do that is through street parties. We block off the road and we’ll put on bouncy castles and ice creams and milkshakes, free food…we’ll get between 800 and 1000 people to every street party.
The Deaf community always find out when that’s happening and they show up in huge numbers. We get interpreters along, and or one of them interprets for a friend, or whatever. So, they’ve become part of the establishment, really. So yeah, it’s good."
Is there anything you do during your workday that helps you manage your hearing loss?
"I find the quiet corners! [laughs] I organise my spaces, I organise where I sit at tables so I can see the best view of their faces and their lips, particularly. I withdraw to the quiet corners where I can.
I just recently got a Roger select system, which is a device with eight microphones, which I can put in the middle of the table if I want to hear a bit more and it connects through Bluetooth to my hearing aids.
If I’m doing some counselling or one-on-one work with a particular individual - I’ll bring that, and it’ll help to drown out some other noise. So, that’s good."
Do your workmates do anything particular to support you?
"Oh yeah, everyone knows about my hearing loss. You’re wearing two big tin cans on the side of your head, so it’s hard to hide them. I don’t try to hide them. So in that sense everyone is very mindful that I’m Deaf. When I walk past the staff and I say hello, and I just ignore them, they don’t take offense. We just all just get a laugh about it, it’s totally fine.
One thing I try to do is normalise deafness, it’s not a stigma to me at all, I’ve never had one sad day about it, about going Deaf. I refuse to let that define who I am.
Also, since I’ve got a bit of a public profile in terms of speaking on stage and stuff like that… When I communicate publicly to thousands of people, there are Deaf kids in the audience all the time who want to talk to me about - how can I do that?
It’s really important that people with any disability can take the stigma out of that disability and give people with that disability some hope that they can do anything they want. It’s just a thing. It doesn’t restrict you much at all. You can still achieve some really amazing stuff, despite it. It doesn't define you."
Tell me more about your public speaking role.
"I run a Youth Camp, so we get 5,000 kids to that. I get to speak to kids throughout the country, and sometimes fly to other countries to speak at camps, things like that. I also do training for adults, personal development stuff.
Again, if I just tell everyone straight away:
‘Hey, I’m Deaf. If you’ve got a question it’d be good to raise your hand. Or keep talking - I’ll find you in the room somewhere - I just can’t hear where the sound comes from. If I ignore you it’s because I didn’t like your question!’ [laughs]
‘Or I just didn’t hear you, just raise your hand I’ll find you, we’ll cover it.’
I’m not embarrassed to say that. Some might find that a bit intimidating, but I think it’s fine.
It just normalises Deafness, just like partial blindness, it’s just part of life. It shouldn’t stop us from doing anything."
Is there any way that the Deaf and hard of hearing can get involved in the Crave community?
"Yeah, I think when I started to go Deaf - I think 9 people from the community started learning sign language because of that. Relationships were able to start. I think Crave took off hardcore…when we moved across the street from the small café to the big café - everything just went nuts! I’ll engage with that at some stage…when you’ve got friends, connections, it just becomes something that you want to engage with in the community.
Second, we have Deaf week here. Some of our baristas know sign language, so they will engage well with people who sign, we have had people from the Deaf community come in and teach us that basic sign language to communicate with Deaf customers. So it’s been good, really helpful and a lot of fun!"
Are there any plans for Crave in the future?
"We just opened another café called Kind, just about 150 metres down the road, which is a plant-based café. Yet again, a social enterprise. So, a lot of that profit goes back to the community. We don’t plan to become a chop-shop like McDonalds with one in every community, but we’d love to help other communities create something like this within their community. That’d be awesome."
How has COVID-19 affected Crave, and how can our community support you?
"So, obviously like any business it’s been hit hard, because we couldn’t sell anything. At Level 3, we needed to begin takeaway and things like that just to try to get some money through the door.
We just need people to support us. Come along, buy stuff.
There was this thing online where people could actually buy a voucher so they’d be injecting cash into the business. Buy one for yourself, for your friends, etc. to be used at a later date, that’s helpful as well. We don’t carry a lot of cash through our doors because we are a non-profit, so any bit of support would be great."
Learn more about Crave Cafe, on their website: CraveCafe.co.nz