Turkish restaurant run by the disabled, accessible to everyone

Published 03.04.2016 20:20
Updated 03.04.2016 20:21
Turkish restaurant run by the disabled, accessible to everyone

A new local restaurant in the southeastern province of Gaziantep is entirely run by staff with disabilities and has been designed accordingly. Among the staff, Fetin Mahli, a Syrian refugee, says working there gives her drive and purpose

Are you looking for a restaurant that is accessible to people with disabilities? Have you ever enjoyed a meal in a restaurant run by staff members with disabilities? Initiated as a social responsibility project by "Umudum Ol Gaziantep Engelliler Derneği" (Be My Hope Gaziantep Association for the Disabled), a local restaurant in southeastern Gaziantep province employs staff with disabilities, including Syrian refugees. The recently opened venue has 12 staff members with physical, visual and hearing impairments and has quickly attracted the city's attention. The place not only employs staff with disabilities but is also designed to be accessible for customers with disabilities.

On the restaurant walls, customers see written messages such as, "I want to be involved in production not consumption" or "I want to contribute to the world economy" and "I am not a disabled person in this workplace."

Currently, there are five female employees and seven males working as chefs, waiters and waitresses, all contributing to their family budgets. The restaurant mainly serves local cuisine and offers friendly, warm service. Zeki Kürkçü, the association's chairman and also a disabled person, said that this project aims to establish new platforms for employing more people with disabilities, particularly those without social insurance. "Non-governmental organizations must come up with more projects. The restaurant does not pursue commercial success, but we offer jobs to disabled people. All 12 employees - from dishwashers to delivery staff - have different disabilities," Kürkçü went on to say. Some volunteers from the general public help the restaurant staff at certain times. The chefs cook 15 traditional meals at affordable prices, which is another reason for customers to choose the venue. Another social advantage of the project is that the staff will prepare meals and deliver them to people with physical disabilities as well as to those who are unable to cook at home due to health problems. "We are planning to help disabled people that have to stay at home. Maybe we can send our daily menus and deliver what they want. For this, we need sponsors," Kürkçü said. "While we offer employment to people with disabilities, we can meet the food needs of these locals at the same time," he added.

Expressing her pleasure to be working in the restaurant, Zeynep Yılmaz, said that she hears very positive feedback from customers, boosting her motivation. The eatery generally serves local shop owners, teachers and students, but housewives also enjoy meals there. "They do not want to cook at home anymore but prefer our food," Yılmaz said amusedly. She said that they did not expect to receive such good reviews in such a short period of time.

Fetin Mahli, a Syrian refugee with physical disabilities, is among the restaurant staff. Mahli came to Turkey for treatment but could not go back to her war-torn country. When she learned about the association, it brought big change to her life. Mahli said that employment opportunities are limited as she is both Syrian and a disabled person. "Finding a job is hard for us. Businesses accept people with disabilities, but many look for those with mild disabilities," she said. "Zeynep, Zeki and I quite understand each other, as we all use wheel chairs. We can also solve our problems more easily," she continued, adding that everyone supports each other in this restaurant. Mahli is called "Princess" at the restaurant, referring to her name's meaning. "Even regular customers call me princess. This space is where I can cling to life. We are all happy to work here. The energy I feel from local people makes me strongly hold on to life," she added.

İsmail Aydın, a customer and also the owner of a local barbershop, said that he came across the restaurant and found it to be a wonderful place. After this, he began to visit the restaurant more often. Aydın thinks that the service is better than other expensive places and that its entire staff is very friendly. Another shop owner, Cemal Taparlı, also agreed that the meals are delicious. "Although the staff has disabilities, they do everything to please their customers. This is why the service is good here. I believe we should behave in such a way that they do not feel themselves as being disabled. Then they can be fully integrated into our society," Aydın said.

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