This could be Melbourne’s quietest cafe. Not because it lacks customers, but because all orders are made in Auslan.

Tradeblock Cafe on St Kilda Road trains deaf Year 11 and 12 students attending the Victorian College for the Deaf (VCD) and other adult deaf community members in hospitality. The cafe’s founder, Amanda Joyce, also a teacher at the school, was inspired after dining at a restaurant run by a deaf family in Hue, a city on Vietnam’s east coast. Communicating with the waiters was simpler than she anticipated.

“I thought, ‘This is amazing, they’ve overcome all language barriers’,” Joyce says.

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The VCD found its students still weren’t ready for work after graduating, driving the need for a practical workplace on campus. In 2009, the campus’ old metalwork room was transformed into a cafe and began trading.

So how do you communicate if you can’t sign Auslan? The cafe has developed the Tradeblock Cafe app, a library of videos that teach customers how to order using sign language. If you’re ordering an extra hot, weak, skinny, decaf flat white with one sugar it may take you a little longer to learn, but it’s part of the fun. The app is available for download on iPad only, but Joyce is working on a phone version. If you don’t have an iPad of your own, there is one on standby at the cafe.

There is a significant lack of work opportunities for deaf people in Melbourne. Joyce encourages employers at other cafes to be more open-minded about hiring a deaf person. “There is government funding for interpreter support, wage subsidies, a lot of incentives,” she says. “But deaf people are visual learners, once you’ve demonstrated how things are meant to be done, they learn.

“And they’re not chatting all day,” she adds.

Joyce says a few of her students have gone to work at nearby cafes in the Prahran and Windsor areas, but most employers remain apprehensive. Students training at the cafe can attain a level-one Food Handling Certificate and a barista certificate.

“I’ve really developed confidence,” says Sonia Younger in Auslan, who is part of the adult team on Fridays. Younger works as a barista and chef in the cafe. “I’ve learnt how to express myself creatively, respond to food trends and use seasonal produce.”

Dylan Beasley started working at Tradeblock in February this year, and says improvising is a big part of the job. Some people become flustered if they can’t sign. “I can see if they’re struggling, so I grab some paper and help them out,” he says.

Tradeblock is a peaceful space; we don’t suggest taking your six excitable friends there for breakfast. But it’s perfect for a one-on-one coffee (the beans are by Supreme) or lunch date.

The cafe itself is spacious with light pouring in from the enormous windows that border it. It has a range of freshly made sandwiches, salads, sweets and soups, all made in-house and under $10. It also accommodates catering orders.

What separates Tradeblock, Joyce says, is that “the priority here is education, not business.”

Open Tuesday to Friday, 8.30am–2.30pm during school terms.

Tradeblock Cafe
597 St Kilda Road, Melbourne (enter via High Street)
(03) 9510 1706