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In the house of the mafia


Fier, 25th October 2023

I’d heard a lot about KeBuono before I started working here. When I came here for the first time, I was struck by the beauty of the place and impressed by the way it had been refurbished and decorated, the white and yellow walls, the illuminated sign, the little library… No one can imagine what used to go on here. You’d never guess that a few years ago, this wasn’t a pastry shop, but a nightclub that belonged to organised crime.

Nowadays, people come here to buy panettones and ice creams in the summer, or to learn about pastry-making throughout the year. However, 20 years ago, this place looked like a cellar, it was dark and a bit hidden. In the main room, there was a large counter and a pole dance bar in the middle. Its owner had bought it with money from drug trafficking between Italy and Albania.

The owner was arrested and convicted in Milan in 2005. The nightclub was seized by the legal authorities in Tirana, then acquired by the Albanian state. In January 2018, it was entrusted to the Engim association for a period of five years – a contract that was then renewed last year. As a result, Albania’s first social project using property confiscated from the mafia was set up.

The idea, inspired by Italy (where this practice has been in place since 1996, ed.), is to take back property from organised crime and allow civil society to take control of it. It’s a civic response to the mafia system.

The first thing we did when we took possession of the premises was to bring light in to chase away the past. Before the outside façade was just a red brick wall, we installed windows, giving a very clear message of transparency and openness.

Today, four people run the patisserie: a manager, the chef, an assistant chef and a logistics and delivery manager. We do a lot of catering for events, but we also run workshops with children — 700 children have been here — and training courses — often with women who have been through various ordeals. We’ve become a pastry school. In fact, the current head chef trained at KeBuono. She then went on to open her own successful patisserie, before coming back to work here as the head chef. Other people who have trained here have also gone on to be hired in various famous patisseries!

However, it’s not all rosy, I’m not going to lie. Last year was complicated financially, we had to rethink everything and redo our business model. But all that has nothing to do with the past of the place, these are things that can happen to any social enterprise.

We haven’t had any problems with the mafia since we took over the place and set up the social patisserie. In Italy, where I come from, I know that’s not always the case. I think the reason we haven’t had any problems from that point of view is due to the fact that the former owner is in prison, and that the family was obviously not interested in getting the place back, and that there was no business to finish or resume here either. All of this has meant that we have been left alone.

Five years after it opened, KeBuono is quite well known and is cited as an example. It used to be a place where often people who were more or less closely linked to organised crime met, but now it’s a place that serves as a springboard for local residents. From that point of view, we’ve succeeded in our mission. And we have paved the way for a system for the social use of confiscated property in Albania.

Eleonora grew up in Italy. She now lives in Fier and for the past year and a half has been working on the KeBuono project via the Engim association. In 2018, for the first time in Albania, the association was entrusted with the management of a property that had been confiscated from the mafia and which is now home to the social patisserie. The country now has two more.

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