By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA): Serdar Kigili, a Turkish restaurateur in the quiet London suburb of Sidcup, never thought his heartfelt gesture for the area’s elderly and homeless over Christmas would attract a worldwide reaction.
Kigili and his business partner Tacettin Genc have become two of the most sought-after Turkish businessmen in the U.K., with local and international reporters and camera crews flocking to southeast London to hear their story.
They owe their newfound fame to a social media message which went viral in just a few days after an admirer shared the Turks’ special announcement posted in the front window of their restaurant, Shish.
The announcement simply read the Turks would offer a free meal to the area’s elderly and homeless on Christmas Day, Dec. 25:
“‘No-one eats alone on Christmas Day. We are here to sit with you. Three-course meal for elderly and homeless, free of charge.’”
The news was shared on social media so much that the number of followers linked to the restaurant’s humble Twitter account jumped by hundreds in a few days as congratulatory and supportive messages poured in.
“When this was reported as a Muslim restaurant providing a free meal for the elderly and homeless, we started to receive hundreds of messages,” says one of the partners, Kigili.
“We have not done this to seek fame or anything but since we put up the announcement, we have been contacted by many media people for interviews and even live broadcasts,” he added.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Kigili said it all started when an elderly woman who lived alone very close to the restaurant asked for their help to close a window in her apartment one night.
Kigili said they helped her with the window and the lady returned to the restaurant the next day to have a meal.
He said: “We felt for her when she told us she lived on her own. We then thought of a free meal for the elderly and homeless on Christmas Day.”
Restaurant manager and business partner Tacettin Genc’s 19-year old son says they thought there would be more lonely people around on Christmas Day.
“So we could have a lovely meal together with them, free of charge. They will have three-course meal,” Irfan Can Genc says.
Genc says they have planned the event for about 40-50 people but thanks to social media and reporters’ attention, they now expect four times more people on the day.
Genc underlined the necessity of being together: “We don’t really live in a nice way at the moment, so I think everyone should get to come together.
“As a Muslim, we are saying this: ‘I think, religion, culture… should not matter. We all need to come together because everyone is better together, really.’”
-‘A lesson to us all’
The special Christmas Day menu will feature traditional Turkish foods such as: cacik [a yoghurt dip], soups, chicken or vegetarian casserole, chicken shish and sutlac [a popular Turkish rice pudding].
One customer of Shish, Nabiha Sadikali, told Anadolu Agency they were really happy to have such nice and generous people in Sidcup.
She said: “We heard about it on the radio today; we are impressed and it is heart-warming to see people doing such a deed for Christmas, especially the restaurant.”
Serdar Kigili also shared some of the many encouraging emails he has received.
One email read: “‘My cousin drew attention to your wonderful gesture to feed the lonely on Christmas Day. Thank you on their behalf. You are a lesson to us all.’”
Another message proved how prejudices could be eliminated by sharing. The author — a former Sidcup resident now in Australia — wrote: “‘I have/had many opinionated outbursts about Muslims!!! Shame on me, this one post has had a profound effect.’”
Kigili added that they, as the restaurant, were happy if they have made a difference to negative perceptions of Muslims.
Having been inspired by the hundreds of messages, the Shish Restaurant is now thinking of extending its support for local elderly and homeless people even after Christmas.
For an upcoming project, Genc said, the restaurant is thinking of extending its offer to a free day every week.
“Hopefully we will lead by example at first for other businesses around here as well,” he added.
[Photo: A Turkish restaurant offers free 3-course meal to elderly and homeless people on Christmas Day in London, United Kingdom on December 7, 2016. Photgrapher: Muhabiri Ahmet Gürhan Kartal/AA]