A recipe for success 24/04/2009
Éva Gyulai

Éva Gyulai learns professional cooking in European Social Fund training course and lands job in restaurant.

It is a weekday lunchtime, and every table at the Ízlelő ('Titbit') restaurant, in the town of Szekszárd in Hungary, is occupied. Along one wall of the bright, cheerful room, a wooden climbing frame and a pile of toys are proof of the place's 'family-friendly' approach. But as well as mothers with young children, the varied clientele includes couples, older people and local office workers. 

In the busy kitchen, 33-year-old Éva Gyulai helps to prepare the dishes. “I just love working in this place every day, there are so many different things to do, and I have always enjoyed cooking,” she exclaims. “All the staff get on well with each other. It's genuine teamwork.” For Éva, this means understanding her colleagues by lip-reading – she has been almost totally deaf since birth, when a medical error and an overdose of oxygen permanently damaged her hearing. Seven of the restaurant staff have disabilities, and came to work at Ízlelő thanks to a local training project co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund. The Blue Bird Foundation, established in 1997 with the aim of promoting a society offering opportunities and choices for all individuals, launched the LIFT Likeliness – Integration – Full employment – Training project in June 2006, and has helped 36 unemployed young people with low educational levels and disabilities to acquire new skills to enable them to find work. 

Bad work, low pay 

Born in Szekszárd, Éva attended a special residential school for deaf people in Budapest until she was 16. There she learnt to lip-read, before returning to her home town to complete her school certificate. But getting a decent job was not easy. She started doing unskilled piecework, sewing nappies in a factory. “We were paid for the items we completed and the rate was very low,” she remembers. “So I was working constantly – my back and my head were aching all the time. It was really boring.” 

Before long, Éva met and married her husband Zoltán, who works for a local printing firm, and the young couple moved in with his parents. When their two sons, Àkos, ten, and Balázs, seven, were born, she was glad to take maternity leave to look after them. Balázs has asthma and eyesight problems that have required two operations already, and held him back a year. But when both boys were ready to start school, Éva was eager to look for a different kind of job. 

A new beginning 

She heard from another mother about the LIFT project, and signed up as one of 16 people on the catering course (a further 20 learned building skills). The training lasted for a year, and during that time she received a salary from the project budget. In September 2007, she qualified as a cook and got a job at the family-friendly restaurant – which the Foundation also runs – together with six of her colleagues who do the cooking, washing up and waiting at table. “I was lucky. I love cooking,” explains Éva, who learnt from her mother-in-law, an expert chef. “Our kids are always hungry, so my hobby is my work.” Sweets are her speciality: she likes to cook pancakes, as well as strudels and cheesecake. 

The Ízlelő kitchen prepares up to 140 meals each day, 40% of them for takeaway customers. The head chef and dietician together select healthy menus that will appeal to young people. The restaurant already supplies lunches for the Foundation's own family day-care centre, and plans to expand to cater for a local primary school. Àkos likes to eat there when his parents take him. “It's delicious,” he confirms enthusiastically as he finishes off second helpings of soup. “It's better than my school canteen.” 

And other customers agree that the restaurant offers good quality and reasonable prices. “The people who work here are always smiling, and they know everybody by name,” remarks Judit Botos, who eats regularly at Ízlelő. 

“Our aim is to help families with small children, and people with disabilities, and the restaurant combines both objectives,” explains Andrea Mészáros, Managing Director of the Blue Bird Foundation. “We expected it to be self-sufficient in three years, but by the end of the first year we were already making a profit.” 

The taste of freedom 

With a reliable second income, Éva and Zoltán have been able to realise their dream of buying a home of their own. “The space was not big enough at Zoltán's parents' and we wanted a change,” explains Éva. “There was no garden and nowhere for the children to play. When we got home there was nothing to do but sit and watch TV.” They moved into their house outside Szekszárd in December 2008, relishing the challenge of renovating the property. The good-sized garden has vines and fruit trees. Zoltán is looking forward to learning about wine-making, while Éva's priority is growing apples to make her own apple pies, and planting flowers. “I love gardening,” she says. “Outside the town we have fresh air and a feeling of freedom.” She is also studying to obtain a driver's licence. 

Éva feels fortunate to have found the Ízlelő restaurant. “There are people with disabilities all over Hungary who would like to work in a place like this,” she points out. “The idea should be copied. We wouldn't mind – we would be really happy!”