Istanbul café employs workers with Down Syndrome, welcomes all
ISTANBULA café in Istanbul, which employs 10 workers with Down syndrome in a bid to help them integrate into social life, is highly popular with locals in the city’s Üsküdar district.
Tebessüm (Smile) Café is part of a project carried out by the Üsküdar Municipality in the garden of the Burhan Felek Mansion. It employs 10 people with Down syndrome between the ages of 18 and 35 and shows people that handicaps can be overcome.
The disadvantaged young people began working at the cafe last year after getting certificates following a 2.5-month course on hygiene, service and behavior.
The staff work under the leadership of Şermin Çoban in two six-hour shifts with five people on each shift between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Speaking to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, Üsküdar Municipality Social Support Services Deputy Director Mustafa Yıldız said the Tebessüm Café was created to “break prejudices.”
“We wanted our people to come together with these people, we wanted to break their prejudices. What customers see here is that these people give importance to hygiene and really work as hard as professionals,” Yıldız said, adding that the integration of the employees’ families to social life was also important.
“We want everyone working here to be employed in other sectors. This is a first in Turkey. One of our friends is now working for a famous restaurant in the Bosphorus. We want these people to operate their business in this process,” he said, describing the café as “at the same time a school.”
Customer satisfaction is very important
“This is one of the peaceful places, despite being in the middle of Istanbul. The café’s menu and price policy is fine. Our friends attach great important to customer satisfaction. This project is true to its name [‘smile’] and I don’t believe any person will be unhappy with this café,” Yıldız stated, noting that there are a number of frequent customers who repeatedly return to the café.
“When we first opened the café, we were driving the employees home after they finished work. But now they can easily go their home by public transportation or by walking. They can also do shopping and meet the needs of their home in markets. This kind of integration is important to us,” he said.
“What’s more, these people are not ones with mild Down syndrome. We did not think of employing people with mild Down syndrome to make things easier for us. Our employees have serious Down syndrome or have other mental disadvantages. But now we are working with a group of people who have completed their integration into society and are making good progress,” Yıldız added.
‘No expectation of profit’
He also stressed that the aim of the café was not to turn a profit.
“Tebessüm Café did not open out of commercial concerns, but thanks to the kindness of our people and the performance of our friends it has earned more than we expected. But our most important gain is that these people with Down syndrome now have a social life,” Yıldız said
One of the workers at the café, Zuhal Başbülbül, said she is very happy to be working in the café and has good dialogue with customers. She added that she plans to buy a house and a car with her earnings.
Meanwhile, fellow employee Arlin Gültane joked that “those who don’t smile are not welcome here!”