Kinneret Yifrah adores cafes. Best of all, the 32-year-old says, she loves Tel Aviv’s cafes and the city’s vibrant coffee shop culture. Tel Aviv boasts the highest concentration of coffee shops in Israel – quite a feat in a country with over eight times more cafes per person than Manhattan.
While the major chains like Aroma, Cafe Joe, Coffee Bean, Cafe Cafe, Cafe Hillel, Arcaffe, Roladin and Espresso Bar are just about everywhere, there are also plenty of independent cafes, each offering a unique atmosphere in which to sip a creamy cafe latte and nibble a cake (or two).
“The city that never sleeps,” it seems, owes its eternal wakefulness to the unparalleled amount of caffeine it imbibes.
Even in coffee-soaked Tel Aviv, there’s still room for more cafes, says Yifrah, who has plans to fulfill a lifetime dream by opening her own. She wants her cafe to serve something more than cakes with its coffee, however. Called the People’s Council Cafe, it is planned as a social enterprise, a moneymaking business that reinvests its profits back into the community rather than dividing them among shareholders or partners.
“Social enterprises have a ‘triple bottom line,’ where people and the planet are just as important as profit,” says Yifrah, who currently runs her own Hebrew language editing company.
“Social entrepreneurship is very big in other parts of the world, but it’s only just starting to get off the ground here in Israel.”
Social enterprises are about effecting social change on a local scale. Can something as simple as a coffee shop really make a difference in the community?
Cafes are being run as successful social enterprises in several different countries. The Whole Baked Cafe in Bristol, UK provides on-the-job training for people with learning disabilities, and Chicago’s Inspiration Cafe is a “catalyst for self-reliance” that serves local homeless people with social and therapeutic services as well as restaurant meals.
Here in Israel, homegrown coffee giant Aroma has operated a successful non-profit branch in Rehovot for several years. In partnership with Applied Materials and community organizations, the Aroma Applied cafe provides training for local at-risk youth.
The People’s Council Cafe intends to start its social impact from the bottom up.
“We will start with the basics, like ensuring access for disabled people and sourcing food and drink from local organic farms and microbreweries,” says Yifrah. “We will also donate surplus food to charities like Leket, the national food bank.”
Cafes are versatile, multi-functional spaces. They can be meeting places for business people, dating venues, art galleries, impromptu debating halls, reading rooms, and more. Why shouldn’t they also be a place to go for other community needs?
“The People’s Council Cafe will be an integral part of community life,” says Yifrah. “We will have space for local groups to hold meetings or panel debates, where people from all sorts of different backgrounds can mingle.”
The cafe will also double as a drop-in center offering advice and assistance on all sorts of matters, from legal issues to family problems.
“We want to invite professionals like social workers or lawyers to hold regular informal sessions in the cafe, to offer advice to the community,” Yifrah explains.
Yifrah, who volunteers with Beit Amiti, a refuge for teens and young women who have suffered sexual abuse or violence, is particularly focused on women’s issues and adds that the cafe will also provide advice sessions for women in crisis or those who just need guidance.
As well as this serious side, Yifrah envisions the cafe as a vibrant meeting place for community cultural activities.
“Young artists find it practically impossible to get their work exhibited,” says Yifrah. “We will provide exhibition space for free, so fresh new talent can be seen by everyone.”
Also planned is a stage area for performances.
“Local musicians will get together for jam sessions, student filmmakers will come to screen their movies, and the public will come to enjoy it all,” she adds.
Of course, as with any business, the million-dollar question is: How much will it all cost? Together with partners Einat Dahan and Tomer Lichtash, and with legal and accounting advice, Yifrah drew up an investment plan for the project. Start-up costs are budgeted at $500,000 – which covers renovating a suitable building and purchasing all the necessary equipment. This budget does not include running expenses for the first year, as the founders hope to start making a net surplus by the second month of opening.
Is this feasible? According to data from a recent survey by economists at Business Data Israel, opening a coffee shop in Israel is tough: The average payback period of investment for a privately owned cafe is four to five years, and around 16% of new cafes do not survive past their first year.
The next crucial question is: Who will fund the start-up costs? Rather than a bank or private investors (who would expect to see a return on their investment in terms of a percentage of profits), the People’s Council Cafe is turning to the community at large and asking the public to contribute.
“As the cafe is a community project, we decided to open the door to everyone to be a part of our project and contribute money to help get us off the ground,” Yifrah explains.
Like major donors to charitable fundraising campaigns, contributors to the People’s Council Cafe are being offered the option of associating their name publicly with the project.
“Donors can choose to name a dish on the menu, a table, or any another item in the cafe after themselves. That way, they will really be a visible part of the project,” Yifrah adds.
Does this sort of fundraising project stand a chance of success?
Yifrah believes that the public will want to get behind such a community project, but has set a limit of two years in which to raise the start-up capital. To spread the word and ask for contributions, the People’s Council Cafe is using social networking tools
Facebook, Twitter and Flickr as well as a dedicated website in Hebrew and English.
Yifrah hopes the viral power of the Internet will enable her to reach
out to as many people as possible in Israel and beyond. She is also
making clear to potential donors what will happen if the target is not
“If we don’t reach our goal of $500,000, we will donate everything we
have raised to charities – specifically, the Israel Association for
Child Protection and Shatil’s Sa’alit project for rehabilitating female
sex workers,” she explains. “So whatever happens, people can be sure
their money is going towards a good cause.”
The project was launched just this month, so it is too early to tell
whether it will strike a chord with the public or not. Despite the
tough road ahead, Yifrah is optimistic that the project will be a
“Ok, it won’t bring peace to the Middle East,” she smiles. “But the
People’s Council Cafe will make an impact on the local community, and
be a source of inspiration too.”