Full plates fight prejudice in Hungary restaurant

Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:22am EDT
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By Gergely Szakacs

SZEKSZARD Hungary (Reuters) - Waitress Maria Kecskemeti says working with people is a daily challenge, requiring much skill and empathy.

She also admits to initially being somewhat scared of how guests would react when she took the first orders from her wheelchair.

Kecskemeti works at Izlelo, a restaurant set up in 2007 by a local foundation to help handicapped people find employment. She is one of 15 employees, most of whom have some type of disability like deafness or a learning disability.

Fewer than one in five disabled people in Hungary was employed based on statistics from 2011, the latest available data, sharply below the national average for the healthy workforce.

Izlelo, which hosts about 100 guests per day, sits in the southern town of Szekszard, 156 km (96 miles) from Budapest, nestled near the Danube River in a tranquil region known for its sloping vineyards, lush forests and picturesque sunsets.

"Early on we were a bit frightened, so to speak, because none of us had worked in restaurants before," Kecskemeti said as she took a short break during a weekday lunch shift in the stylish restaurant, which underwent a major renovation and expansion this year, financed mostly from European Union funds.

"We were also afraid of how guests would respond upon seeing us," said Kecskemeti, who used to work on factory assembly lines.

Banishing just the types of fears that some guests, Kecskemeti and other colleagues, including a seasoned chef running the kitchen were having, was another major driving force behind the project.   Continued...

Guests sit in Izlelo, a restaurant in Szekszard, south of Budapest, September 22, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo