Smadar restaurant: A taste of community involvement

The employees, who range in age from 20 to 30, have different levels of ability to communicate, but all of them receive a salary and are regarded as an integral part of the staff.

Nir Levy (photo credit: YAHAV YAAKOV)
Nir Levy
(photo credit: YAHAV YAAKOV)
Going out to eat and trying out new restaurants is an enjoyable experience for many, and there is an extensive choice of restaurants in Jerusalem to match every palate and budget. However, these days, when we have a plethora of choices, people are often looking for that little extra touch which makes a restaurant unique or an experience beyond just eating out.
The new Smadar restaurant in the historic and beautiful location of the renovated Lev Smadar Cinema on Lloyd George Street in the German Colony is one such place. Smadar, an Italian dairy restaurant (it doesn’t have a kashrut certificate as it is open on Shabbat) with a strong emphasis on fish dishes and an extensive wine and cocktail list, was opened by Nir Levy, a native Jerusalemite, in January with Avraham Frizen – the former sous-chef of the Anna restaurant – as the chef.
Levy is also the owner of the Talbiyeh restaurant under the Jerusalem Theater and the Wine Bar on Aza Street, and it was important for him that his third venture be a place that gives something back to the community as well as providing a high-level culinary experience. With that in mind, Levy decided to partner with SHEKEL, the non-profit organization for inclusion for people with disabilities, and employ some of its members as restaurant staff.
SHEKEL is the leading organization in Israel for integrating people with disabilities into the community.
It believes that this integration is a national mission that improves society as a whole. SHEKEL’s vision is to enable people with disabilities to find the appropriate employment framework for them where they can learn, practice and improve their expertise in the employment field and achieve their maximum potential. SHEKEL creates an individual work plan for each one and provides them with the tools to advance themselves in the world of employment in accordance with their wishes and abilities.
Some 15 able-bodied people work in the restaurant alongside four members of SHEKEL with disabilities such as Down syndrome or Asperger’s. The employees, who range in age from 20 to 30, have different levels of ability to communicate, but all of them receive a salary and are regarded as an integral part of the staff. The restaurant places a strong emphasis on inclusion and has the Tav Hevrati (Social Seal) awarded to restaurants that pay their employees a wage in addition to tips and are accessible to disabled people.
The SHEKEL employees work both in the dining area of the restaurant and in the kitchen. They assist in preparing the food, for instance as assistants to the six cooking staff members. Typical tasks include laying tables, squeezing oranges and in assisting with the baking. They are a visible part of the team, for instance when they are laying tables, although they don’t wait on tables.
SHEKEL accompanies the employees who work in the restaurant and visits them three times a week to ensure that everything is running smoothly and to address any potential problems. Each employee is closely accompanied and supported by other restaurant employees, both in terms of teaching them the skills required to work in the kitchen and in making them feel like an integral part of the team while also supervising them to ensure that problems don’t arise.
Levy admits that the project is not without its challenges and creates additional financial costs in supervising the employees, particularly when opening a new restaurant, a daunting and challenging enough task in itself. However, enabling people with disabilities to join the workforce and providing them with the opportunity to earn a salary, feel part of a team and experience job satisfaction – things that are important to everyone – is something that he regards as important and a way of giving something back to the community. He takes great pride in the fact that Smadar is the first high-level culinary restaurant in Jerusalem to employ people with disabilities.
“The opportunity of combining a high level of cuisine with a business that employs people with disabilities is something that greatly appealed to me. I am happy to see the members of the public coming to eat in the restaurant and the positive responses. The opportunity to revive a historic place in Jerusalem that is open on Friday and Shabbat as well is of the utmost importance to me.”
In spite of the challenges involved, Levy states that the project gives so much to all the restaurant employees and he hopes that more restaurants will follow suit. The employees from SHEKEL gain skills and experience and the camaraderie and satisfaction that come with being part of a team and creating something, while the other employees are motivated by the genuine desire and happiness of the SHEKEL employees to be working and obtaining a degree of independence. He cites the example of one employee, who cannot communicate verbally, but expresses his happiness with the huge smile on his face as he assists in preparing desserts and baking.
Having only been open a few months, the restaurant is still new on the Jerusalem restaurant scene, although Levy is happy to have to recommend that people book in advance and hopes to be able to employ more people from SHEKEL as the restaurant develops.
So if you want to have a delicious meal and support a restaurant that encourages integrating people with disabilities in the workforce, it is highly recommended that you try Smadar.
Smadar is open on Sundays to Thursdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to midnight.
To make a reservation, call (02) 544-3666.