Art Cafe «Insider»: Delicious Food, Experience and Inclusion

In summer 2018, Minsk welcomed an interesting social initiative —  art café “Insider”. Kseniya Halubovich and Ulliana Drazhina came up with the idea during another day at the office. Kseniya and Ulliana work in an organization called “Kanikuly”, which provides support to adults receiving treatment in the Navinki psychoneurological department in Minsk.

Art Cafe Insider provides catering services for various events in Minsk. Over the short time since the café was established, it has catered for many events in U Gallery and Korpus, at various food festivals, exhibition openings and other occasions. The businesswomen explain the name choice: “An insider is someone who has confidential information. Our employees and workers are insiders who get new information and experience every time they are part of the process.”


Ulliana Drazhina and Kseniya Halubovich who came up with the idea of Art Café “Insider” in Minsk


Cook delicious food and make money

Kseniya and Ulliana remember that they would often cook with the kids at the psychoneurological institution. Everyone was really involved with the process. That was when we had the idea to make our cooking into a business and help people who are staying in this closed institution to start making some pocket money, as well as integrate into society. “When we described this idea to our wards in the institution, they were really excited and enthusiastic about the whole thing. Even now, when no suitable events are held for a while, they call us up and ask for work. They need this work to get socialized and feel like they belong”.

Kseniya stresses that the café was initially conceived as a self-sustaining social business. The entrepreneurs developed a business plan engaging specialists from related fields who already have experience of working in business, employing and providing job adaptation opportunities to people with disabilities. Six months into their work, however, the girls have realized that they need to have their own space in order to grow and develop sustainably. “The kitchen in our institution cannot always provide us the necessary equipment and other things we need. Having a space of our own would help us become more stable. We are moving into that direction, and we already have some ideas, so we hope we will be lucky and get our own space in a large adaptation centre in Minsk.” 

Today, Kseniya and Ulliana have a permanent pool of workers from the institution they employ for the events. A larger team works in the kitchen preparing dishes and drinks, and then 3 or 4 well-trained and highly motivated people go out to cater. While we are doing our interview, Kseniya’s phone goes off — Tamara from the institution calls to inquire if they are going to cook today, since an event was planned. “You see, I have had so much things to do lately that I couldn’t deal with that, and they remember everything. People who work with us are really conscientious. They find it quite easy to communicate with people without disabilities, to sell food and drinks, or to count money. I think it is sometimes even more challenging for us than for them. However, during our events we never try to showcase the ‘special’ people we are working with. So, considering that many diagnoses cannot be recognized on sight, customers think of our art café simply as a convenient point to eat something tasty and not that expensive.”

Pies and lemonades  

At the moment, the Art Café “Insider” offers simple but delicious dishes that are prepared with love —pies, tartlets, lemonades and other natural fruit drinks. On the eve of Maslenitsa, the pancake festivities week, the initiative was invited to cater for a Fashion Market event in the U Gallery, so they decided to go with a selection of pancakes and lemonades.

Kseniya muses: “We understand that employing people with disabilities in our country is quite a complicated process. It became clear to us that neither our society not, in fact, our state is ready to ensure inclusion of people with disabilities. First of all, this has to do with the laws. However, we initially approached the initiative as a social business, and we are still intent on becoming self-sustaining in future. At the moment we are cost-effective, and our profits go to purchase products, utensils and plates for the next event. Also, of course, our chefs and salespeople get a small salary. When we finally go through all the legal motions and find a space to rent, we will be able to take on more people under the labour adaptation programme or as interns. In any case, people from the institution have to be overseen by a professional chef.”


Leave the gated institution

Kseniya and Ulliana, as well as the people under their care, have a lot of hopes pinned onto this project. People who are kept in closed institutions in Belarus do not have a lot of opportunities to socialize and integrate into society. The café provides them with a chance to make some pocket money, which they can spend as they wish, and feel like they are a part of society. “The first time it was really scary to do catering for an event. We thought that we would not succeed, especially considering that we had a very ambitious idea for our dishes — a lot of small details, a lot of other things. But it turned out great, and we learned lessons about the food and drinks we need to focus on in future”. One of the guests at the project presentation in the U Gallery was the EU ambassador, who noted that it was a necessary and useful initiative in the field of inclusion. These words of praise made the girls and their workers even more determined and convinved that they were on the right path.  

The Art Café “Insider” has a lot of work ahead of them, so the girls will be glad to welcome helpers. For example, it would be great to invite professional chefs once in a while. “It would be ideal if we got invited into a professional kitchen to see all the machines and how everything works”, stresses Ulliana. Kseniya smiles: “We are really fun to be around, we always give compliments, tell jokes and support each other. It is enough to see us work once and try our dishes to see that it is a cool initiative which needs to be developed further.”


If you are preparing a large-scale or a small-scale event and are in need of simple catering, then Art Café “Insider” is always at your service.

Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk


The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.

 The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.