Say it with a beautiful sign [Sordo]

Four years ago, Christophe Taveirne (50) opened the doors of his soup bar Sordo. He has been the sunshine behind the counter ever since. Being a deaf man in a hearing world allows him to offer his guests a welcome moment of silence, while always keeping sustainability in mind.

Everyone who enters Sordo always receives a warm welcome. Christophe’s bright smile feels like a prescribed dose of vitamin D. There is no language more universal than kindness.

Several signs are drawn on the wall behind the counter. Each image is bright and beautiful, just like a cartoon. This gives you an immediate insight into what ‘soup’ (moving your hand upwards as if you’re drinking soup) or ‘coffee’ (making a circle with your hand as if you’re grinding coffee) means in the Flemish sign language. The images were drawn by Filip Heyninck, a fellow deaf cartoonist.

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“The barrier to use sign language does not have to be high,” according to Christophe. “You can already get really far by just using body language and other non-verbal signs. People do the same thing when they’re on holiday in a country where they don’t speak the language. They make themselves understood by using gestures.”

“You can put it like this: entering Sordo should give you the same feeling as going on a holiday to a place where you don’t speak the language. That’s why the name of the soup bar, Sordo, means ‘deaf’ in Spanish. It sounds quite exotic and I have a great passion for Spain. I visit Spain often and lost my heart to their food, their tapas and their warm way of treating others.”

The effect of a vacation, if done right, should be a feeling of calmness. That’s exactly what Christophe aims for. “In Sordo, we don’t play music and that’s on purpose. It’s part of the identity of my business. Sordo embodies who I am. Outside of these walls, I always accommodate to the hearing world, but in here it feels like home. And everyone who enters my bar, adapts themselves to my world. This place is very enjoyable for anyone who loves calmness.”

Every morning, Christophe prepares three different soups of the day. But there are other things on the menu as well, like sandwiches, tapas and desserts. “Both regular customers and tourists find their way to Sordo, sometimes even people from Spain. (Christophe smiles) I want to offer quality to my customers. That’s why I opt for fresh and locally grown vegetables. I pick those vegetables myself because I think that’s important. I ride around on my carrier cycle every day to pick up the goods. The only thing I have to watch out for are the tramways. But I have mastered avoiding those already.” (Christophe laughs)

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Christophe, by nature, is very keen on sustainability. He started having a vegetarian diet in his twenties and his sustainable mindset has only evolved since. “Honesty and justice are essential values to me. That’s why I wanted to implement environmental consciousness into my business. Almost everything you see here was found in second-hand shops, thrift stores and flea markets. From the coffee cups to the colorful soup bowls. Even my counter is made of recycled wood. I gave a new life to things that otherwise would have been thrown away. I believe that’s a beautiful ideal. My goal is to be as sustainable and ecological as possible.”

And what if you love fresh and delicious soup but are afraid to use sign language? “I purposely try to set a low barrier for my customers. They can point to whatever they’d like and pen and paper are always available to write something. The only thing I insist on, is that every customer uses the ‘thank you’-sign (moving your hand forward at the height of your mouth).”

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“Sordo is a social meeting place. It’s a melting pot where hearing and deaf people can get to know each other. Deafness is an invisible disability. People can’t see it and hearing people often don’t get much information about deaf people. I understand that this could be a barrier and that’s exactly why I want to raise awareness with my soup bar. Sometimes it can be very lonely for deaf people and we are more than our disability.”

25 years ago, Christophe moved from his home region of West-Flanders to Ghent. “I was impressed by the city and its rich and versatile culture. By moving to this city, I slowly started to blossom. I was very shy as a little boy. Many people told me, out of pity, that the possibilities for my future were very limited as a deaf person. I believe that’s a very sad message because we do have a lot of potential.”

“I had to give myself the opportunity to grow and look at me now. I started my own business out of nothing at the age of 46. I’m a late bloomer, but I’m proud of what I have achieved. You can run a successful business as a deaf person. This is what my experience has taught me: I have a lot to offer and I shouldn’t be afraid to show it. I dare to say, in all modesty, that I love being a role model for the deaf community.”

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A warm bowl of soup from Sordo (Lange Steenstraat 2, Ghent) is one of our recommendations for the end of the year.

For more recommendations, visit our website or take a look at our eindejaarsgids van 2019.

I would like to give thanks to the interpreters of the Flemish sign language Katrien and Vicky.


Melissa Janssens

Melissa werkt als freelancejournaliste en schrijft het liefst over psychologie, relaties en duurzaamheid. Haar hart klopt voor boeketjes van lokale bloemenboeren, voor parels van outfits scoren in tweedehandsgoudmijnen en fair fashion shops, voor liever en bewuster leven over de hele lijn.

Foto's door Sarah Van Looy

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