In 2000, two parents founded a pizzeria in Rome with the goal of employing people with Down syndrome. Inspired by their son, who had the condition, they named it La Locanda dei Girasoli (translated as “The Sunflower Inn”).
Today, the restaurant employs eight differently-abled people (five with Down syndrome) and boasts a 4.5-star review on TripAdvisor, making it a destination of sorts.
According to their website, the restaurant’s goal is to “promote the employment of people with Down syndrome, ennobling and giving dignity to the individual through a path to training and work placement.” Learn more about their story below:
With the abortion rate of those with Down syndrome now edging 90 percent, modern society has increasingly adopted a distorted view of those who are differently-abled, viewing them as somehow lacking in dignity, value, and creative capacity. In reality, such a perspective robs the world of beautiful and valuable human persons, not to mention the types of joyful and creative contributions on display at La Locanda dei Girasoli.
To counter the popular prejudices and misconceptions, the restaurant also seeks to further “mutuality, solidarity, and respect” for those with Down syndrome by “breaking down the cultural barriers” and highlighting the “specific characteristics of each individual.”
In doing so, they are surprising their customers with a better, more joyful experience, and one that leaves seeds and sparks in their economic imaginations.
“The initial reaction of customers is often curiosity and even hesitation,” explains Ugo Menghini, one of the restaurant’s managers. “At first they’re surprised. Then they’re interested. Not only do they see that our workers are great at getting the job done. They see a human side to the restaurant that makes people happy. They have a friendly exchange with us so there’s always a pleasant dynamic.”
It’s a beautiful display of the transformative power of business and the abundance bound up in the hearts and hands of all people, regardless of their background or physical condition.
Entrepreneurs, business owners, and managers would do well to heed these stories and respond in turn, challenging the typical preconceptions and tendencies to impose limited notions of “value” on those around us. What we commonly label as a “disability” may very well be the exact opposite.
From the pizza chef to the restaurant owner to the Costco worker to the goldsmith to the film editor to the hotel employee, the opportunities abound for creative contribution, and we should aim for an economic environment where they are encouraged, celebrated, and embraced.
When given the chance and investment, the differently-abled are bound to surprise us and contribute to our economic future in new and profound ways.
Materially? Perhaps. Before and beyond all of that? Most certainly.