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Pizza, Pasta — And Purpose In Life

The Sunflower Inn Near Rome Provides Jobs While Serving Up Favorite Italian Dishes With A Side Of Happiness.

In Italy, the sunflower represents happiness. So in 2000, when the parents of a teenager with Down syndrome opened a restaurant near Rome with the aim of employing people with the condition, they named it La Locanda dei Girasoli, or “The Sunflower Inn.” The idea was that people with Down syndrome are happy and would bring customers much happiness as well. The restaurant, the only one of its kind in Italy, quickly became a national phenomenon and garnered international press.

However, starting a business is not for the faint of heart. During an economic crisis in 2013, the owners were faced with the possibility of shutting down. Luckily, a social cooperative called Consorzio SINTESI was able to take over the restaurant and even expand its r each. Consorzio SINTESI specializes in giving jobs to people who are differently-abled and also manages call centers and tech support services for large companies.

People working at The Sunflower Inn have a work contract, and the goal is to employ them for the long-term. They are part of a network of people who are differently-abled whom the cooperative helps in many settings. For those interested and qualified to cook, there is a special program that allows them to learn f rom some of the top chefs in Italy.

Today, the restaurant’s staff includes eight people who are differently-abled, five of whom have Down syndrome. Of those five, two work as sous, or assistant, chefs.

Employees must be 18 years old, have Down syndrome or some other intellectual disability, be unemployed, have a lower secondary school diploma, and have receivedcertification for work eligibility from the Italian government.

All employees begin as interns and complete a combined 600 hours of orientation, classroom training, and practical experience, which makes up more than 400 of those hours.

All the positions at The Sunflower Inn, including internships, are paid. “These jobs provide some financial security and a sense of autonomy,” said Enzo Rimicci, President of Consorzio SINTESI. “All the employees work hard, are extremely professional and have great pride in their work. This has led to increased confidence, which in turn leads to other growth, such as improved language skills or the ability to take public transportation.”

The employees themselves agree. When asked what they like best about their jobs they reply, “Teamwork!” and, “It’s like a family!”

The Sunflower Inn has many regulars, according to Rimicci, and it has earned a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor, where glowing reviews have given it a reputation as being a place that locals and tourists alike enjoy visiting. For some international tourists, it has become somewhat of a mecca.


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The restaurant and the cooperative don’t receive any state aid and have to be selffunding. Catering is their main source of revenue, with their primary work focused on private events, sporting events, and restaurant collaborations. They have also launched an anti-bullying campaign in schools.

Rimicci represents the energy for his community, “We never stop! We have not yet managed to realize the dream of opening a second restaurant in southern Italy. It’s a big economic investment for our pockets today, but we’re sure that will come true tomorrow!”

In Italy, as in the U.S. and other countries, people who are differently-abled struggle to find jobs or meaningful activities after their public school education.

Enzo Rimicci, president of social cooperative Consorzio SINTESI, believes that this situation is dangerous for the well-being of those who are differently-abled and for our society. In addition to creating employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities in restaurant and catering settings, Consorzio SINTESI also provides employees the opportunity to become self-advocates. For example, in 2015, Consorzio SINTESI established the Inclusive Schools program. The program has been embraced by the local community. It provides the restaurant employees the opportunity to co-present at schools where they emphasize anti-bullying and teach children respect for diverse abilities.

Visit lalocandadeigirasoli.it to learn more and for links to the restaurant’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, where you can learn their easy recipe for Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper pasta).

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