23 Jul 2018News
Punchbowl restaurant changes lives through inclusion
Customers at Rashays Punchbowl, seeking to be one of Australia’s most inclusive restaurants.
The nationwide commitment of the restaurant brand, which comprises 22 restaurants and four food court locations, was inspired by Rashays’ Punchbowl store owner Bashar Krayem and his staff, who jumped at the opportunity to learn Auslan (Australian sign language) and work to reduce the barriers for members of the deaf community seeking to access the restaurant.
Mr Krayem, who won an Australian Muslim Achievement Award in the “Man of the year” category in 2017, is passionate about giving back to the community.
“We live in the community and we are around community, so we try our best to deal with the community in the best way possible and whatever work we can do to create a good environment for community,” he said.
In line with his beliefs and influenced by the Zero Barriers movement — an initiative driven by the Multicultural Network and supported by the NSW Business Chamber, three local governments in South West Sydney and Settlement Services International — Mr Krayem looked for other ways to make an impact in his community.
“Our goal is to become one of Australia’s most inclusive restaurants,” he said.
On May 18, Rashays Punchbowl opened its doors to customers with autism and their families by hosting Sensory Hour Iftar dinners. The restaurant dimmed its lights, turned off electronics, stopped using machinery that made excessive noise and, most importantly, promoted the initiative to families of children with autism through the local not-for-profit organisation “Gift a Smile”.
“This is the first time that I have felt that it was okay to take my child to a restaurant ever since he was born,” said one of the mothers attending the Iftar dinner. “We finally have come to an environment where we feel accepted and not have to worry about being judged.”
Zero Barriers project officer Zizi Charida said, “Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces is incredible and shows how this movement is really making a difference in people’s lives.”
The large number of staff and extra support required to initiate the Sensory Hour activities meant there was additional financial cost to the restaurant. However, Rashays saw it as a long-term investment resulting in more customers accessing its restaurants and a more inclusive and happy community overall.
Sean Williamberg, Inclusion officer at the NSW Business Chamber and former restaurant owner, said, “Profitability from making a restaurant more inclusive triples on average as most of us do like to access restaurants with at least two other people, not to mention that inclusive restaurants mean happier communities resulting in a more productive society and willingness to spend locally.”
The Sensory Hour dinner was inspired by the Maori word for autism “Takiwatanga” — which means his/her own time — and the teaching of Islam to look after your peers.
SSI’s Multicultural Disability Inclusion and Promotion Officer, Javier Paul Ortiz, said, “The combination of spiritual and cultural beliefs to fuel inclusive practices reflects the vibrancy of Sydney’s south-west and the strength and courage of leaders like Mr Krayem to pave long-lasting systemic change for people living with diverse abilities and living across all our communities.
“We can all take a lesson from Rashays and think about the opportunity and benefits that stem from making our communities more inclusive.”
Rashays Punchbowl hosts Sensory Hours every Wednesday from 5pm to 6pm.
Watch Rashays Punchbowl Sensory Hour video.