When exquisite cuisine meets social entrepreneurship: KOTO
KOTO is a restaurant and training center that empowers disadvantaged youth, by teaching them high-quality hospitality. 50 people between 16 and 22 years old are recruited each year in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City, from orphanages or NGOs, to join their programme. The training is based on the principal of “know one, teach one”. Their objectives are not only to train youth for a new profession, but also to empower them, to give them self-confidence and improve their life skills. KOTO tries to create a family atmosphere for all them.
The exquisite cuisine served in their restaurant is an intelligent balance between vietnamese and western cuisine. Their sophisticated food is served in a very peaceful atmosphere by an irreproachable staff. It’s this high quality of service that made the excellent reputation of their restaurants throughout SouthEast Asia. They are now scoring high in several travelling guide books and websites.
How it all started
The organization started in 1999 in Hanoi with just one sandwich shop and 9 trainees. They managed to quickly open their first restaurant in Hanoi, the following year. Throughout the years, KOTO continued to expand their activities. They have now 2 restaurants: one in Hanoi, and the other one in Ho Chi Minh City. They also added a catering service, cooking classes and 2 training centers (in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City).
A High Quality training for disadvantages youth
50 young, disadvantaged people are selected each year to start the 2 year-programme of KOTO. When entering the programme, most of the trainees lack self-confidence and trust, they have communication issues and a relatively low educational level. Effectively, the luckiest have finished high school, but the majority stopped after secondary school. KOTO helps them develop all these skills, in addition to the preparation for the hospitality industry. The trainees are mainly recruited based on their motivation.
All the students have to go through a trial period of 4 weeks before to become official students. The programme contains hospitality classes as well as English classes and computer classes. Social activities are also mandatory in the curriculum. Moreover, KOTO provides to all the trainees accommodation, food and transportation. Already, more than 700 students have been trained by the organization in its two centers to become high quality waiters, cooks or barmaids.
KOTO keeps in touch with all its alumni and follows their career paths, long after finishing the traings. Several of them have been accepted at prestigious hospitality management schools abroad – especially in Australia – or at prestigious restaurants and hotels in Vietnam or abroad.
She took part in the 1st training session at the KOTO training center in Hanoi, 12 years ago. Before joining the programme, she was selling postcards to the tourists in the streets for 12 hours/day. It’s in the street that she met the woman who introduce her to KOTO. At the beginning she was skeptical about the project, but finally attended the 2 year-programme. Then she worked for the Sofitel Metropol Hanoi and for the KOTO restaurant as restaurant manager. Thanks to this position, she received the opportunity to practice gastronomy in Switzerland. Koto awarded her the ‘KOTO Ambassador’ award, which allowed her to study hospitality management in Australia. She came back to Vietnam to open a high-end fusion restaurant called Pots ‘n Pans in Hanoi in 2011, together with 4 other KOTO alumni .
Social entrepreneurship: their Business Model
KOTO has two aspects: it’s a foundation and a social business. The social business is in charge of the restaurants, the catering service and the cooking classes. The Foundation takes care of the training centers. The profits generated by the social business are re-invest in the Foundation, representing around 25% of the budget of the Foundation. The remaining 75% come from private donors (companies and individuals) and institutions.
They are planning to relocate and rebrand their restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, to create a streamlined visual identity, that aligns with the branch in Hanoi. In Vietnam, the business had become one of the leading models for Social Enterprises. In the long term, KOTO wants to export its business model to other countries.
How to help
There are different ways to help KOTO. You can enjoy a delicious meal in one of their restaurants or with their catering services. It’s also possible to make a donation through their website or join the trainee sponsorship program, by giving 150 USD per month to cover the cost of one trainee per month. They are also constantly looking for motivated volunteers to help them with their work and with the fundraising. For more information send an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credits: KOTO
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