The San Francisco Blind Café Experience

(Left) Mac Rogers & Collette Simko (Right) Eileen Rogers w/ Rosh Rochelaeu & Collette Simko

By Eileen Rogers

On a crisp, beautiful autumn evening in October, we embarked on a rare and extraordinary dining experience called The Blind Café, a pop-up at The Center SF in the stylish Lower Haight district of San Francisco.  I arranged a double “blind” date with our friends Dale and Tamara who shared our enthusiasm over this event.  The ambience was very laid-back and relaxed.  The Blind Café is the brainchild of musician and entrepreneur Brian “Rosh” Rocheleau and for the initial part of the evening he was casually greeting people at registration and assisting volunteers in directing people into the lounge area. Dawn’s Dream, the evening’s featured wine, was already waiting for us.  At the lounge, we mingled with Waikiki, a beautiful Labrador puppy (training to be a guide dog for the blind) his trainer Cathi, Rick Hammond, the evening’s guest speaker and one of three blind wait staff.  Chef Kyra Bramble shared with us the menu she had prepared for the evening, and in retrospect I should have been paying closer attention. There was much commotion which distracted me a bit, so I didn’t hear the menu clearly. This however would turn out to be a very funny and probably common error, making dinner even more adventurous than one might expect.  As the lounge filled up with our fellow diners, a Tibetan bell rang drawing everyone’s attention to Rosh who welcomed us all and prepared us for the what’s to come.  He emphasized the total darkness we were about to experience and that blind wait staff would be escorting us in and assisting us to our designated table.  Excitement and nervousness mounted as we knew we were all just moments away from our blind experience.

(Clockwise) Rosh at the lounge just moments before our dining experience. With Chef Kyra Bramble and guiding dog Waikiki.

I clenched onto my husband’s sweater, and I could also feel the tight grip of my friend as we walked inside what seemed to be an abyss.  There was a lot of fumbling for food and occasionally my fingers came in contact with other fingers, and laughter would soon erupt.  Even though we were all probably committing some hideous breaches of etiquette, it was comforting to know no one was watching. The dinner was delicious, especially the spring rolls. The order of the courses couldn’t be followed, but that was part of the fun and educational aspect of this event. I found my salad about the same time dessert was being offered. I couldn’t help but laugh as I realized I should have listened more closely to Chef Kyra’s earlier description of the menu for the evening.

We then heard the second ring of the Tibetan bell, which signaled another momentous part of the evening:  the Q&A session with the three blind wait staff;  Rick, Tommie and Brian.  I was filled with emotion as each of them openly shared with us their dark world.  Rick wrapped up the session with some of his poetry about someone he once dated.  It was a very powerful and moving poem, delivered in pitch darkness; truly a unique experience.

The Tibetan bell rung once again signaling another part of the evening:  the Concert in the Dark as performed by Rosh and the One Eye Glass Broken.  We were serenaded by songs whose melancholic message focused on life struggles.  Each performance was like a window into the dark world of the blind but somehow I also felt a sense of peace emanating from the room, a sense of calmness that can only be appreciated in total darkness.

I invite you to experience The Blind Café for yourself.  Each evening is unique as the menu changes, as well as the selection of music, guest speakers and available blind wait staff.  A flurry of planning goes on before each of these events to ensure a great communal dining experience in the dark.  Many thanks to Rosh for his vision, and for Collette Simko of Events by Collette for making it happen for San Francisco!  Tickets can be purchased for the October 24-26 or November 7-9 events.

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