Coronavirus has forced employment to be reimagined everywhere and in every way.
A cafe opening this month in Japan may however prove itself to be the most creative in its reinvention of work in the wake of COVID-19.
Bear Paw Cafe (“Kuma no Te,” in Japanese) is set to open in Fall 2021 in the trendy urban hub of Osaka, Japan. The hip new coffee spot will offer all the beloved favorites of a neighbourhood locale: Instagram-worthy lattes, fresh fruits, convenient parfaits to-go.
The twist? All customers will be served through a tiny, street-side window… by employees dressed as furry bears. In fact, the transaction window is so small that all that can truly be seen of servers is a singular bear paw– the inspiration for the cafe’s unique name.
While it may seem that the Bear Paw experience is simply a quirky gimmick to attract teens and tourists, the reasoning behind the cafe’s conception is actually much deeper. Its founder, Yuichiro Hiramura, opened the Bear Paw Cafe so as to provide a safe, feasible, and healthy working environment for service employees who struggle socially and mentally, and whose mental conditions make it difficult to work in a stimulating restaurant atmosphere.
The anonymity of the bear costume, coupled with the barrier of the fuzzy paw, protect the cafe’s employees from potentially difficult situations involving eye contact and physical touch– two factors that largely make up the work experience in a more traditional service setting.
Hiramura, Bear Paw’s founder, was inspired to create this newfound restaurant concept after working for years in a Japanese school centered around the betterment of mental health. He saw the cafe as a chance to create a space aimed towards healing and safety, as well as bring opportunity and security to those battling with mental struggles, for whom obtaining and maintaining employment can oftentimes be difficult. The six employees hired by the cafe ahead of its opening all suffer from some form of mental or social disorder. It is the hope of Hiramura that working at Bear Paw will provide a positive way for these individuals to be reintroduced carefully into a post-pandemic public space that works better for them than in previous employment scenarios.
Bear Paw’s unique approach to reinventing work acts as both a safe haven and a shining invitation for other companies, businesses, and services to create similar positions and accommodations of their own. Service workers deserve to feel just as comfortable and cared for in their shops, restaurants, and cafes as their customers do.