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The Scenic Route

October 12, 2023

It’s nice to come across a story that makes you feel hope for the future. Sometimes we can get so bogged down by the current news that it often leaves us feeling depleted. But whenever I feel that way, I remember a quote by the journalist Doug Larson, “Bad news travels fast. Good news takes the scenic route.” With that in mind, I frequently make it a point in my life to look for the positive in the world.

Recently, I came across a story I wanted to share with you. It starts with a man who was mistakenly given gyoza instead of the hamburger steak he ordered. Little did he know this mistake would plant a seed that would inspire social innovation for people with dementia.

Shiro Oguni was visiting a nursing home for adults with dementia when this mistake happened. He went to point out the error, when it dawned on him that he was in a new environment. There were different levels of functionality, and the mistake held no real harm to him. So, he thought, “Why not embrace it as a genuine act of kindness and humility in respect for the challenges others face?”

Shiro became inspired when interviewing those who specialize in caring for dementia patients at the Daiki Angel Help House. Often, dementia patients feel isolated after moving to a care community. The goal at the house was to support patients in maintaining their independence and provide them with ways to do that. Seeing how the patients were encouraged to shop, cook, and clean for themselves left an impact on Shiro.

When first visiting the nursing home, he thought their isolation was heartbreaking. It occurred to him that, “Dementia is so widely misunderstood – people believe you can’t do anything for yourself, and the condition will often mean complete isolation from society.” Inspired by the Help House’s mission, he wanted to find a way he could help keep dementia patients included in the community.

After brainstorming, he remembered his experience with the mistaken order. That gave him an idea: A pop-up restaurant where every server is an individual who is living with dementia. He wanted to show the community that people with dementia can be active, happy, and engaged members of society, countering the often negative and stigmatizing perceptions that people may have.

The night it launched many customers came to support the waitstaff – all patients with dementia, remember – which reversed the typical customer service dynamic. The orders that came back to the customers weren’t always correct, but everyone at the table pitched in to help. One waitress seated her guests at their table before joining to sit with them herself. They all had a laugh and reminded her that she was working there. Another waiter drank the water that was meant to be delivered to a table; the customer smiled and got her another glass. These mistakes were expected and supported with patience, kindness, and a lot of smiles.

On another night, 37% of the orders were incorrect, but 99% of consumers said they were satisfied with their experience and agreed it was a great way to promote understanding of dementia. Before long, those numbers came to describe a typical night at The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders. For both customers and staff, the experience isn’t always flawless – but it is always fun.

Today, the restaurant’s success is not based on profit margins or revenue. It’s based on cultivating meaningful interactions and human relationships – by putting kindness at the forefront. It reinforces the age-old idea that spreading positivity really starts with one person. From there it can radiate into the community and incite meaningful change. Shiro’s goal was to launch an initiative that might lead to more awareness about dementia around the world. So far, he is definitely succeeding!

I know it’s sometimes hard to think that one person can make a true difference. It’s something I’m challenging myself to do more often, and I’ll extend that challenge to you as well. If we can just take a moment and look outside ourselves to see the world and others around us – even that is a huge step.

Seeing Shiro take something as small as a mistake and turn it into an idea that challenges how we define success – an idea that encourages inclusivity – is so beautiful. And it’s a reminder that there are beautiful moments happening all around us.

To find them, all we have to do is take the scenic route through life.