We’ve already written about a restaurant, where – besides having a great meal, of course – one can enjoy a special social experience as well. We always wanted to find similar eateries, so I was very happy when I was able to fix an interview with Mrs. Hermanné Nagy Vera, who is one of the owners of the „Hatpöttyös” (Sixspotted) Restaurant. The restaurant is in Székesfehérvár, which is my hometown, so I had extra motivation to check it out. Finally here’s a unique place that’s worth to take a turn off the M7 highway on your way to the Lake Balaton, or to visit during a “gourmet tour” around Transdanubia. This restaurant will also take the tourists beyond their average travel experience when they are in Székesfehérvár, which would normally consist of a quick walk around the center.
We are sitting in an extraordinary restaurant at the moment. What’s the story behind the Hatpöttyös?
The restaurant was originally established by four of our family members to help my youngest daughter, who was born with a disability. Previously I was working in the field of adult education and I had to realize that there were absolutely no suitable jobs available for disabled people. I saw terrible conditions and I was worried about what will happen to my daughter Zsófi, when she becomes older and has to find a job. Why we decided to open a restaurant as a solution to this problem is due to two things; one is that Zsófi has always loved to spend a lot of time with me in the kitchen, and the other is the family’s high interest in gastronomy. So our original intention was to open a restaurant that provides a high quality service, but in the same time creates jobs for handicapped and disabled people. The inspiration for us was another restaurant called “Ízlelő” in Szekszárd, but we think that our concept is different. We considered two aspects; on one hand we wanted a traditional, but modern restaurant, which uses fresh, natural, local ingredients, and represents an environmentally conscious and healthy concept – perhaps still too unusual for Székesfehérvár. On the other hand, we wanted to create jobs. I think that we perform successfully in both aspects: of our 18 employees, 15 are handicapped or live with a disability; and according to the positive feedback we receive from our customers, our food is delicious as well.
We use only quality Hungarian ingredients, delivered by a professional purchasing team. We would like to establish a circle of local food producers around Székesfehérvár, so they could provide us with the necessary ingredients in the right quantity. For instance, the “Kistücsök” (Little Cricket) Restaurant at the Lake Balaton have managed to do this. As for now, sometimes we have to go to other counties to buy good quality ingredients – a few of our guests actually have asked us where we buy the chicken from, because it tastes like “real chicken”. We do not use any ready-made meals or preservatives, because we prepare everything ourselves. Last year we made jam and pickles, and we also prepare all the dressings and sauces here. We really look forward to the strawberry season, because then we go to local farms where we can pick the fruits ourselves, and make our own jam again. We knead the dough and prepare pasta here as well. We only use dry pasta for the Italian pasta salad, because ours would be too fresh for it.
How much do you think it all means to the guests? They come here for the food, or rather because they would like to support this initiative?
We can say that here in Székesfehérvár there isn’t any other restaurant like ours, and this is true from several points of view. Our a la carte menu is limited and you will not find the regular “cordon-bleu – bean soup” selection on it. But we do have a weekly menu, which we generally put together in a way so that it has a traditional and also a “diet” option. Besides the traditional soup and main course pairing, we always offer a lactose free soup too, as many people live with lactose intolerance nowadays. We pay attention to the calorie content as well, and try to offer low calorie options. A vegetarian main course is always available as well – actually, many people prefer this option.
Not too long ago we requested all of our guests to fill out a short questionnaire about us during a time frame of about three weeks. I must say it was a good lesson. The reason I wanted to carry out this quick research was that we advertised the restaurant in the local paper, on the radio and on the city’s website. The result showed that it was not so useful, because – based on the answers – people mostly hear about our restaurant from other people. So for us it means that we attract people with our food. And once they eat here, we teach them to be open and sensitive to certain social issues as well. I remember it happening only about twice, that guests did not show much tolerance and the expectable patience towards our colleagues. I personally had a discussion with both of them, and since then, they come back here often. In general I should say that we experience tremendous improvement regarding tolerance and acceptance, and we feel very happy about it. The restaurant recently received the “Charity Shopping Label”, which required really high competences from us – so we’re proud of it.
How difficult was to make your idea come true?
At the beginning it was very difficult; many people said that we aim at the impossible. Unfortunately the society of handicapped people in Hungary is on the periphery since the regime change, and Hungarians are rather sceptic about similar initiatives. The good news is that we have been dealing with this topic since 2005 and the situation has changed a lot over the years. The related regulations also have a more open approach and simplified measures, which is mainly due to the demands of the European Union. A few years ago we established a nonprofit organization together with another three families, but we could hardly find any supporters. Two families have left the organization since then, and my daughters took over their place. Ever since the restaurant opened, it operates as a nonprofit organization. It is a big help to us that the Fejér County Government Bureau entered into a 10-year contract with us: thanks to them, we can use the building where the restaurant operates for free. Besides, we received EU funds to open the restaurant, which was useful not only from financial point of view, but also because we had to comply with European standards: for instance installing new and energy saving appliances, provide wheelchair accessibility and using motion sensor lighting. All these contributed to as environmental friendly operation of the restaurant as possible. Besides these, we lead discussions quite often about the related topics – such as why the light switches must be turned off, or how to save on water expenses – with our employees. For us all this means saving money as well.
Let’s talk a bit about environmental protection. What else can you do regarding this issue?
Besides what I have mentioned already, we intend to have very low impact on the environment regarding hygiene as well. All of our cleaning materials are environmentally friendly. They are more expensive than the regular ones, but we realized that they are more efficient as well, so after all, so we only need to replace them 2-3 times per year. We recycle, which is rather easy here in Székesfehérvár, because recyclables are cheaper to dispose than the regular garbage. Also we hardly ever fry anything in vegetable oil – since we prefer the grill, or to use a combined oven for meat – so we produce a minimal amount of waste oil.
We do not sell drinks in plastic bottles either. We have a tap water purifier and a soda machine and our guests can choose from several „Méhes-Mézes” syrup to mix it with pure (sparkling) water. We also offer homemade lemonade and elderberry syrup. Although, I must admit that we sell one type of 100% fruit juice, but at least it arrives in a refillable glass bottle. By the way, we have successfully shifted many of our guests’ from drinking soft drinks to drinks made of fruit syrups. Unfortunately the syrup bottles cannot be refilled by the company, but we keep these as well and put our tomato paste in them.
What happens with the food waste (if there is any)?
Our philosophy is that we rather cook less than more. Before, several times our lunch menu was sold quite quickly. Nowadays, when more and more people seem to come, we start to increase the amount we cook, but we still try to calculate precisely. If for any chance we have some leftovers, we either eat it here, or our colleagues can take it home for half price.
Everything here seems to be thought over! I assume that you did not leave much space for yourselves for improvement. What are you plans for the future?
Well, we have many plans and we are glad that we have already achieved one: we are now a member of the Heroes of Responsible Dining network!
Besides, we would like to get to the point when people come here for dinner as well, since for now we mostly serve lunch. In order to facilitate this, we have started a series of events, called “Chef Party”. In the frame of these events, we invite well-known chefs, such as Kálmán Kalla – who managed to renew the world famous Gundel restaurant -, Lajos Bíró and Viktor Varjú from Bock Bistro, or Balázs Csapodi and László Jahni from “Kistücsök”. While we introduce their work to our guests, they prepare a 6 course dinner, which is served with very special wines that we received from Gábor Szurok, representative of the Monarchy Winery. These evenings are always fun, and it feels wonderful that such famous chefs support us by not asking for any fee, so the whole profit can be ours. After the event hosted by Lajos Bíró, I honestly told him that his night covered all of our tax contributions!
We also plan to provide catering services on parties. Up to now our biggest event was a reception for 150 people, which was a huge success! And we also plan to open up the terrace soon…
Who will be the next chef on Chef Party?
It’s a secret at the moment, but I can tell you that it will be a big hit, so I advise to follow our website and reserve a table as soon as possible!
Katalin Hall, what would we do without you?
Thank you so much again for your excellent translation!! :)