In an alley of the Roman periphery, away from any tourist route, there is a small restaurant-pizzeria created 20 years ago as a “utopia”: it is La Locanda dei Girasoli, a pioneer project in the world by almost exclusively hiring people with Down syndrome.
“We have fallen and we have risen again, and we will continue to do so in the future because we believe in it,” said the restaurant manager, Ugo Minghini, who has been working here for 14 years and who knows better than anyone the hectic experience of this “fantastic place” of which he declares himself “in love”.
Throughout its history, La Locanda, with its 17 employees, has been on the verge of closing several times, the last one at the beginning of this year, until it received financial assistance from the Lazio region.
La Locanda was born in 1999 at the initiative of the parents of a son with Down syndrome “with the idea of giving him a future perspective” and inserting him into the world of work, a plan that ended up growing into a cooperative that employs people With this syndrome, Williams, the fragile X with autism.
“The beginning was arduous, at that time the inclusion was equivalent to zero, but in 20 years many things have changed,” confesses Minghini, who proudly remembers how this project probably went from being the first in the world to “being an example for many other places. “
One of the most veteran and autonomous workers is the room manager and waiter, Simone, who at the age of 30 has been working here for 12 years and has nothing but words of thanks to La Locanda, “something very beautiful” for him.
“I like being here, working with the boys and having contact with customers,” says Simone, who came in here after finishing hospitality school and now explains to his classmates how to set a table, take a command or cut the tomatoes that Then they will put in the pizza.
The routine is like that of any restaurant: around six o’clock in the afternoon the workers prepare the place, then they have dinner together, “as a family” and at half past seven the first customers arrive, who choose from a long menu of pizzas and pasta.
Employees with Down syndrome, or “the boys” as they call them in the restaurant, learn from each other both in the kitchen and in the living room, or as Minghini says, “they work together, and we are the supervisors, we are there to support them in their small mistakes so that they improve. “
In the kitchen works Emmanuele, 30, who has learned to prepare typical Roman specialties, such as Amatriciana or cacio e pepe, in what he defines as “a good job”, so much so that he asks that “all the work of the world be like this. “
When they arrive at La Locanda, the boys do an internship of between two and three months, “they learn the tasks at 360 degrees” and then they start working towards the public, explains Minghini.
“Thanks to this place they can have a work dignity, which translates into human dignity, and this in a chance of life”, according to the director of La Locanda, a place that has suffered many economic fluctuations due to its size, the location “hidden” of the world “and working conditions (a fixed salary and a stable position for all workers).
The threat of closure came last year and was avoided with the recognition by the regional administration as “ambassador of ethnogastronomic excellence”, which gave more fame to a place already known to the Romans.
Now La Locanda has crossed borders and is interested in his example even from New York: “There are many families who want to understand how their children’s future can be in the workplace,” says Minghini.
By half past eight in the afternoon the restaurant is almost full and the wood-fired pizza works at full capacity, while the boys strive to attend all the orders.
A situation of normality in any restaurant, but very special for a Locanda that has passed in 20 years of “a utopian project to a consolidated reality”.