This Spanish Restaurant is Run by People With Special Needs

Looking at people’s abilities and not disabilities.

(eFesenko /

When you go out to eat in an upscale restaurant people are concerned with both the food and the ambience. Universo Santi in the southern Spanish city of Jerez delivers both.

People only notice that there is something else different and special about Universo Santi. The staff is fully comprised of people with special needs according to The Guardian.

The restaurant opened in 2017 and takes its name from Santi Santamaria, chef at the Michelin three-star Can Fabes in Catalonia who passed away in 2011. He had a great following and several of them established the kitchen at Universo Santi and some of the dishes on the menu de degustación were created by Santamaria.

People don’t come here because the staff are disabled but because it’s the best restaurant in the area. Whatever reason they came for, the talking is about the food,” Antonio Vila the president of the Fundación Universo Accesible, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities join the mainstream workforce told  The Guardian.

“I always wanted to show what people with disabilities, given the right training, were capable of,” says Vila. “They were not represented in the world of haute cuisine. Universo Santi has broken through that barrier.”

The staff of 20, range in age from 22 to 62, and had to be unemployed and be at least 35 percent disabled. They are very proud to be working in the restaurant.

“I feel really lucky to be part of this,” said Gloria Bazán, head of human resources, who has cerebral palsy. “It’s difficult to work when society just sees you as someone with a handicap. This has given me the opportunity to be independent and to participate like any other human being.”

Alejandro Giménez, 23,  a novice chef who has Down syndrome said “It’s [the restaurant] given me the chance to become independent doing something I’ve loved since I was a kid,” he said. “Working here has transformed my life. So many things I used to ask my mother to do, I do myself. I didn’t even know how to take a train by myself because I’d just miss my stop.”

There are other restaurants that make it their mission to employ people with special needs. In Schenectady New York, Puzzles Bakery and Café believes that everyone deserves a chance. That's why they hire employees with developmental disabilities.

Brownies & downieS, a lunch café,  launched in 2010 in Veghel in the Netherlands and is run by people with Down's Syndrome and other special needs. The café was so successful that it became a franchise  and now has 55 locations in three countries.

Vollpension, a bakery in Vienna, Austria uses senior bakers to help provide extra income to seniors and to keep them active in the community. The café opened in 2015 and is part of the social entrepreneurship movement.

These efforts show that people who have forms of disabilities still have abilities and can be trained to do all types of jobs. The skies the limit. People  just have to be given a fair chance.

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