How a pizza business is helping Argentineans with Down Syndrome

This party was hosted by the "Perejiles" team. All of the photos in this article were shared on the Facebook page "Los Perejiles Eventos".
This party was hosted by the "Perejiles" team. All of the photos in this article were shared on the Facebook page "Los Perejiles Eventos".

The concept is simple and hard not to like: if you place an order, the employees of “Los Perejiles” will come to your home or office and make you pizza. But this company that was launched two months ago in Buenos Aires is about much more than just pizza parties. Its real aim to to help empower its staff, all of whom are young people with Down Syndrome.

Mateo Kawaguchi, Leandro López Padros, Franco Noseda and Mauricio Rolden (aged 22, 24, 19, and 21 respectively), organised their first pizza party on July 9. On that inaugural day, they made enough pizza to feed the 50 guests at a birthday party. Since then, they’ve organised more than 30 similar events in Buenos Aires and in San Isidro, a suburb of the Argentine capital.

All four men have Down Syndrome. People with this genetic disorder, which is caused by a chromosome irregularity, have mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.

At their first pizza party, the Perejiles made enough food for 50 guests.

This video was originally livestreamed on the “Los Perejiles Eventos” Facebook page during a pizza party they hosted in early September.

“People with Down Syndrome often struggle to find a stable job that they enjoy”

Kevin Degirmenci is a physical education teacher. He’s also a member of “Taller Surmando”, an organisation that organises activities for young people with Down Syndrome and that launched the “Los Perejiles” project.

These four young men have known each other since they were teenagers. For the past year, our organisation has been working with them to help them to learn to live more independently. We want them to be able to do everything from taking the bus to completing different household tasks – like cooking. We’d also like them to find a place in the working world, but that’s much more difficult.

Often, people with Down Syndrome attend special schools, but school is over, it is hard for them to find a stable job that they enjoy – and one that isn’t just an internship. That’s why we helped them to launch a business.

About 75% of people who are physically or intellectually disabled in Argentina are unemployed. The law states that people with physical or learning disabilities are supposed to occupy at least 4% of government jobs. “But this law is not respected”, says the head coordinator of the “Los Perejiles” project.

Moreover, there is no law requiring private companies to employ people with disabilities. However, if they do choose to, these companies benefit from tax breaks.

The Los Perejiles team cooks at people’s homes or in offices.

"It’s a real business that is currently evolving in a competitive environment”

Kevin Degirmenci continues:

“We came up with the name “Los Perejiles” [Editor’s note: Which translates to "parsley"]. In Spanish, “perejiles” can be used as an insult used to mock someone. We wanted the name to be at odds with the actual business, which is actually very serious.

For now, the business doesn’t have its own kitchen so, instead, the four cooks go to Leandro’s house every Wednesday to make pizza dough. When they have a pizza party at a private home or a business, they arrive a few hours early and make the pizza on site.

They mostly make pizza but they’ve also made empanadas [traditional pastries most often stuffed with meat or cheese], bruschetta, and onion focaccia. They divide up the tasks and while some of them are cooking, the others focus on serving. But they take turns doing all the different jobs.

The young staff members take turns cooking and serving the food.

They’ve cooked for a wide variety of events – from birthdays to communions. Recently, they also donated 100 pizzas to homeless people as part of a campaign called "Frío Cero" [Editor’s note: Zero Cold].

The staff of Los Perejiles took part in the "Frío Cero" campaign in the famous Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.

The employees are paid according to how much they make at each event. Usually, they charge about 100 Argentinean pesos [equivalent to about 6 euros] per person.

"We hired four more young people in August"

For now, it is working really well. We hired four new people with Down Syndrome in August, so we now have a team of eight pizza makers. Out of our young employees, only one, Pablo, had a real job before. He worked in food service before joining us.

We also have a team of seven people who are working to support our pizza makers by dealing with the administrative aspects of the business and running our social media pages.

Cooking empanadas.

I think that ours is the only business in Argentina that is mostly made up of people with Down Syndrome. It’s important to underscore that we are running a real business, even if the idea for the project came from a non-profit organisation. It is currently evolving in a very competitive environment.

In the short term, we’d like to expand and start hosting pizza parties in other communities. We are also looking to rent a space where we can make the pizza dough and, if need be, have a room to sleep in after a late-night event. In the long term, we’d love to open a restaurant or a food truck.