Restaurant That Re-Gains One to Life

I head towards Kurabiye Street as I stride through the back streets of Beyoglu. I am on my way to see Ayse Tukrukcu who was abused as a child and worked as prostitute for some time. As soon as I enter from the door of “Embrace Life Restaurant” I remember the poem from the novel “Ayse, women with no life”.  She was not the one to choose this life but she was the one to change it, I could see it there…

Embrace Life Restaurant was the result of the vision and ambition of Ayse Tukrukcu whose life story would make your blood freeze. As a matter of fact it was founded by the Embrace Life Association aiming to help people who were homeless or rejected by society so they could embrace life once again. The windows of the tiny but cozy restaurant in Taksim is decorated with words such as; “Hope”, “Joy”, “Love”, “Courage”, “Unity” and “Life” which we need to hear so much these days. There is seating area for almost 20-25 people inside. The number of employees who work in the restaurant is not so many but they represent millions with their massive hearts in their job…

Tukrukcu who had been invited to several television programs, received coverage in the news and spoke at a conference when she asked: “I’m going to start a restaurant to serve food for the homeless and employ women who wish to quit their jobs at the brothel. Are you up for support?” soon after she got the answer she had been looking for and upon receiving her first financial support founded the “Embrace Life Association”. The restaurant was trend topic with Ayse Tukrukcu’s difficult life story at some point, who chooses not to reminisce those days anymore. In short they wish to be mentioned due to the great work and social responsibility project realized by Embrace Life Association and their team…

Ayse Tukrukcu who never let hopelessness into her heart during her struggle of tenacity is now helping others to embrace life as she once did. “Actually the work we do is much more than what meets the eye. Embrace Life is the work of a crowded team.” And she continues. “Everyone that works at the Embrace Life Restaurant are people who have been re-gained to society. We bring life to those who have been shunned by the society. In the day time we do our regular job as restaurant serving the paying customers, I’m always in the kitchen. In the evening once we close the restaurant we start preparing the food we will serve the homeless. We spend almost an hour cooking for the food to be served the homeless, then we set the tables. In the evening they come in to have their dinner. I also go to clean houses that is how I pay my house-rent.  The important thing for us is the restaurant. We hope to find support from everyone for our restaurant.”

The restaurant which opens its doors with this slogan provides jobs and a life for the homeless. The target is to provide training, psychological and professional support for the homeless as part of the Project. A homeless person who agrees to work in the Embrace Life Restaurant for 6 months is rehabilitated with the help of volunteers to be re-gained to life. At the end of the 6 month period they are sent for a month of internship to work with famous chefs who pledge support for the project. Every month the restaurant receives one of the famous chefs as guest, who gets into the kitchen to cook with the Embrace Life Restaurant team and the dish is added to the Menu afterwards. The association plans to expand their funding through catering services, food delivery and venue renting apart from the daily restaurant customers and the expected donations. They also get support from famous chefs to promote the restaurant. The first chef to enter the kitchen to cook with the Embrace Life Restaurant team was Mehmet Gurs. Some of the famous chefs to support the restaurant are Civan Er, Semsa Denizsel and Mehmet Gurs. The names executing their brilliant project alongside Ayse Tukrukcu are Gamze Gorur, Begum Gulfidanli, Celal Canik, Elcin Kitapci and Dilara Moran.

“Can you imagine that you have not showered or visited a hairdressers for six months, or rather not having changed your underwear and clothes for six months?” are the questions Ayse Tukrukcu asked me. These are the means to help me imagine a completely different life; however it does not change the fact that there are people around us living just as asked above. The 2011 report issued online by Labor and Justice Platform presents an estimation of the number of homeless in Turkey. According to the report upon experiences shared by the non-governmental organization Sefkat-Der it is more than 70.000 all around Turkey. Then only in Istanbul it shows that there are 7.000-10.000 homeless. The Embrace Life Association that Tukrukcu is among co-founders has been working to cover the needs of these homeless people since February 2017. And good deeds increase as they are shared further!

The restaurant offers paid services during 11.00a.m.-8:00p.m., an average of 15-20TL will satisfy your hunger for the day. When they close doors at 8:00p.m. it is time for all those who are in need of food but can pay nothing. I advise you to visit this restaurant if you want to say: “There are good things happening out there!” The salaries of the employees who work during the day in the restaurant are paid from the food you eat. And please remember to buy some for those who can’t and leave it on the shelf. The food served the homeless in the evenings is funded by the “food on the shelf” system. If you go to Beyoglu by chance, you may go through Kurabiye street and just leave some food on the shelf even if you cannot eat at that instant. Feed your soul along with your body…

*This article was  published in the  November– December issue of Marmara Life. 

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