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Sustainability and social inclusion on the menu in Brussels restaurant

In Brussels, an innovative restaurant is combining sustainable gastronomy with a project of social inclusion. ‘65 degrés’, named after the temperature at which “perfect eggs” are cooked, employs young people with intellectual disabilities.

As the United Nations Food Systems Summit gets underway on September 23 in New York City, the restaurant is leading the way with its sustainable and inclusive approach.

A warm welcome

The restaurant was set up three years ago as a social inclusion project by four co-founders, who have experience of working with people with disabilities and in business management.

People with disabilities, numbering one billion worldwide, are one of the most excluded groups in society.

“The goal is to prove that you can run a business with over 50% of staff with a disability,” explains Massimo Pellegrino, Manager at 65 degrés. Companies need to see the inclusion of people with disabilities as a benefit, he says, and no longer as a “burden”.

“The enthusiasm and desire of our young employees to do well is a major advantage we have over other establishments”, he adds. Customers often remark that the welcome they receive in the restaurant is particularly warm, and that the atmosphere is very calm.

“I love everything about my job”

Staff members at the 65 degrés restaurant in Brussels © 65 degrés
Staff members at the 65 degrés restaurant in Brussels © 65 degrés

Among its staff, 12 employees have a mild or moderate intellectual disability. Maxime, 33, has been working in the restaurant for two and a half years. He explains to UNRIC that he “loves everything” about his job. Serving plates of food, bread, and water are among his tasks.

“For me, it is important to do things correctly, and to respect my colleagues, myself, and my work,” says Maxime, who has Down’s syndrome. He appreciates having work like the rest of his family. “It’s a job like my sisters and brothers have a job.”

Oumayma, 21, who has a learning disability, has been working in the restaurant for a few months. She enjoys doing the dishes and working in the dining room, and finds her job “great, (especially) the clients and colleagues”.

Empowering young people with disabilities

The main goal of the restaurant is to empower young people both inside and outside of work. Since opening, seven employees have left their parents’ home. “They have been taught that they have the capability,” says Mr Pellegrino.

Tristan, 23, who is autistic, works as a dining room attendant, and helps to coach other staff.

“It represents self-confidence that I did not have before, and gives me the opportunity to learn different things,” he tells us, adding that he now knows, for example, how to brew tea and coffee. “What I love most is getting to know new people,” Tristan adds.

The art of sustainable gastronomy

A plate of food prepared by the 65 degrés restaurant © Antoine Melis
A plate of food prepared by the 65 degrés restaurant © Antoine Melis

The restaurant does not stop at its project of social inclusion, but also practices sustainable gastronomy.

“It is a way of practicing the art of gastronomy while minimising our impact on Earth as much as possible,” explains 65 degrés chef Antoine Ysaye.

The kitchen sorts its waste, crafts dishes according to the season (no strawberries in winter, for example), uses the maximum of a product (carcasses to prepare sauces) and buys locally.

Everything is possible

The Covid-19 pandemic dealt a blow to the restaurant, as with the entire sector, and its employees. The restaurant was forced to close its doors during the long periods of lockdown.

“Their jobs were taken away from them, and for them their job is a chance, an opportunity, something unique,” ​​Mr. Pellegrino says. Wearing a mask also adds to the complexity, as it prevents non-verbal language, which these young employees rely on to communicate.

Deepening pre-existing inequalities, the Covid-19 crisis has shown how disability inclusion is imperative.

Since reopening in June, the young staff of 65 degrés are delighted to be back at work. The restaurant estimates they are welcoming even more customers than before, and it is ranked amongst the most popular in Brussels.

Looking to the future, the restaurant hopes to become an inspiration to others.

“I really think we can make a difference. Everything is possible, there are no limits,” Mr. Pellegrino concludes.

 

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The inclusion of an organisation in the Benelux “SDG Actors” series of the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC) does not reflect the views of, nor does it represent, an endorsement by UNRIC.

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