Back in November, an elderly women stopped by Shish restaurant, located in southeast London, to ask for a simple favor. She was struggling to close a window at her nearby home, and wondered if someone at Shish might lend a hand. The staff members quickly obliged, and she returned the following day to thank them for their generosity. She hadn’t known who else to ask for help, since she lived alone — and she would be alone for Christmas, too, she told them.
The restaurant’s owner, a Turkish Muslim man named Serdar Kigili, was touched. He was reminded of his mother, whom he hasn’t seen for five years because she lives in Turkey. He and his team decided to do something bigger to support the elderly and others who might otherwise be forced to spend the upcoming holiday season without their loved ones around. They announced that Shish would serve a free three-course meal on Christmas for senior citizens and the homeless.
Signs have been taped in the restaurant’s front windows to advertise the promotion, explaining in a hand-written invitation, “No one eats alone on a Christmas Day! We are here to sit with you.” Shish has posted and reposted photographs of the posters on their Facebook and Twitter pages, hoping followers will spread the word. The initial Facebook post has now over 1,200 likes and 3,500 shares, with multiple people offering to volunteer for extra assistance or even to provide rides to the restaurant.
It likely helps that the place is particularly popular and has even been nominated for Best Restaurant and Best Chef in the British Kebab Awards. One Facebook user and fan named Mike Kean commented, “I am so pleased to see that a restaurant that is one of my favorites in London is showing that there is a way to give to all. The owners and staff treat each and everyone of their guests as a family member. I drive down from North Bay to eat their famous lamb when available. What they are doing for all at Christmas is a grand showing of how they treat people all year.”
Shish’s food is inherently cross-cultural and inclusive. As the website explains, “We come from the tradition of where many cultures are embraced from different cuisines under the one roof of Ottomans. What we provide is the combination of all those different cuisines blended in one with great taste and flavor.” The three-course meal on the 25th will include satisfying staple dishes: soup and cacik (a yogurt dip) as appetizers; a choice of chicken shish, chicken casserole, or vegetarian casserole as a main dish, and rice pudding for dessert.
Irfan Can Genc, one of Shish’s managers, told CNN, “It’s not about religion, language or culture. It’s about community.” By nourishing those in need with a delicious meal, he and his team will be nourishing a local spirit of support, too, setting an example for other businesses in the area to embrace their own potential as altruistic gathering spaces. As Shannon Roberson wrote on Facebook, “This is the type of love humanity needs more of in this day and time. We need more peace and less violence towards each other. Reach one, teach one. So let’s all try to think of ways to help our Muslim brothers and sisters to feel welcome where they might be located in our lives.”
Shish agrees with Roberson, explaining, “Yes we are not living in a wonderful world at the moment, and its time for us to come together to stand up for each other. We will always be there and look after each other. Christmas is an amazing day as everyone should have the chance of having a wonderful day.” The restaurant even has aspirations of transforming this one-time event into a regular occurrence: “If we could achieve this and get a high outcome, we will be taken this further and producing a program where we provide free food for the homeless/elderly once a week or month as it all depends on how many people we could get around. I hope this movement would teach and make us lead this kind of opportunity.”