Plenty of restaurants in North Texas think outside the box when devising a menu or decorating a space, but how many of them force diners to use their imaginations?
The Blind Cafe, a touring pop-up restaurant coming to Carrollton in mid-June, promises to do just that by immersing guests in complete darkness. The event combines dinner, a lecture and concert in hopes of helping sighted people envision what its like to live with blindness, as the name suggests.
Brian Rocheleau founded the Blind Cafe in 2010 after he experienced a similar event in Iceland while on tour as a musician. The event was part novelty and part advocacy, employing blind personnel as waiters. Rocheleau contemplated starting the concept in the U.S. for several years, but it wasn't until he ran the idea past a blind classmate that he decided to put it into action.
"I don't want it to be just about blindness, I want it to be about people — if you're black, white, tall, short, wearing Grateful Dead clothes, or you're in business suits, or whether you're blind or sighted," Rocheleau, a self-proclaimed community organizer, says.
"Because in the dark it doesn't matter," he says.
Since its founding, Rocheleau has taken the Blind Cafe on the road to six cities and hosted more than 14,000 people. The pop-up comes to the Atlantis Business Center in Carrollton June 16-18, with two dinners each night at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Aside from the test pop-up Rocheleau threw here in February, this is the first time the Blind Cafe has stopped in D-FW.
What exactly can you expect from this experience?
The cafe is set up at the end of a long tunnel designed to help attendees transition from the light to dark. Rocheleau says the most challenging part of the experience is the first 10 minutes, as diners' bodies adjust to the new environment and people fumble around to find drinks and flatware.
Attendees sit family-style at tables for about six to eight people, and once settled, one of the company's "blind ambassadors" opens the evening with a testimonial. Dinner consists of a vegetarian meal — Rocheleau attests it's more of a sensory experience — accompanied by a tall glass of wine or other beverage. Afterward, the blind ambassadors host a discussion about what it's like to live with blindness and a small band performs.
In all, guests spend about two hours in the dark.
"Once you get up to two hours in the dark everyone starts freaking," says Rocheleau. "It's too much."
So what happens if you begin to feel anxious or claustrophobic?
Rocheleau promises attendees are not locked into the dark space. They may return to the well-lit lobby at any point during the event, and they wouldn't be the first. Rocheleau has seen people become overly anxious in the dark because they are unable to look around or distract themselves with a cellphone.
"People have to withdraw from that or relax and let go, and some people can't do that," he says, adding attendees at past events have cried, gotten angry or figuratively found the light on the other side of their fears.
"Whether they get depressed or angry or get mad or blame other people or get optimistic, everybody has their M.O. how they deal with things in their life when they're uncomfortable," Rocheleau says.
And the darkness, he notes, is no exception.
Tickets to the Blind Cafe start at $75, however, guests are able to add a donation to that price on a sliding scale up to $195 per person. The Blind Cafe is a fiscally sponsored organization operating as part of a nonprofit, the Boulder County Arts Alliance. For more information visit TheBlindCafe.com.