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Family stands up for brother with Down syndrome working at restaurant

Ankar's Hoagies has been a safe zone for Andrew to escape to ever since his father passed away and left him in charge.
/ Source: TODAY

Ankar's Hoagies has been an escape for Andrew Ankar ever since the 20-year-old’s father died and left him in charge of the restaurant, which has been in the family since 1979.

When Andrew, who has Down syndrome, flips burgers, he envisions his father standing right where he is.

And when he greets customers at the front, he remembers conversations he overheard his dad have with them.

"I like working in the front like my daddy used to," Andrew told TODAY. "He used to know everyone's names and now so do I."

ankars hoagies down syndrome
Andrew with his dad George Ankar.Courtesy of Alex Ankar

George Ankar died in April 2015 from esophageal cancer and left the restaurant to his two sons, Andrew and Alex, and wife Judy.

With Alex, 24, being away at Quillen Medical School, some three hours away from their Chattanooga, Tennessee, home, it's just Judy and Andrew who run the business day-to-day.

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That fact that Andrew has Down syndrome has never been an issue in all the years he's been working at the restaurant.

ankars hoagies down syndrome
Andrew Ankar outside Ankar's Hoagies.Courtesy of Alex Ankar

But recently, someone filed a complaint claiming there were unauthorized personnel in the kitchen.

Judy was surprised to see the local health inspector walk through the door on May 5. He had just been there a few weeks prior for a routine visit.

When she found out the real reason he was there, she became enraged.

"I can't understand how anybody knowing my son as many years as we've been in business would complain about him working in the shop because he is always there," Judy told TODAY.

"For someone to say anything negative about him saddened me because this kid wouldn't hurt a flea, he's always so happy. And not to mention, his name is on the building!"

Andrew's brother, Alex, feels the same as his mom and took to Facebook to voice his opinion on the matter.

"Ever since my dad passed away, my little bro has been working day in and day out at Ankar's Hoagies to ensure that my father's legacy keeps going strong," Alex wrote. "From greeting customers to cleaning the dining room to working the grill, Andrew works tirelessly to make sure our business is a success — and he does it all with a smile on his face."

ankars hoagies down syndrome
Alex and Andrew Ankar together.Courtesy of Alex Ankar

"When I learned that someone had the audacity to file a report with the local health inspector over an adult with Down syndrome being in the kitchen of a restaurant that he is not just employed at, but that he owns, I was floored," Alex wrote.

"It makes my blood boil … The fact that there are people out there in this world that view people with disabilities as sub-human disgusts me."

The event upset the community as well.

So they created a Facebook group called Support Andrew to encourage more people to eat at the restaurant and get to know its young cook and part-owner.

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The health department won't disclose any names, but Judy suspected a man she had an altercation with a few days before was behind the report.

"I know there's something wrong with that boy," she said the customer told her, while pointing at Andrew. "He kept calling me Billy."

Judy said she responded, "You mean my son and the owner of this restaurant?"

It turned out, Judy said, Andrew and the man had run into each other in the bathroom.

ankars hoagies down syndrome
Andrew Ankar working at Ankar's Hoagies.Courtesy of Alex Ankar

When the man walked into the stall next to him, he thought it was his coworker Billy, who just got off work.

"When I asked Andrew if he said anything bad to the man in the bathroom, he said no and that he thought he was just chatting with Billy," Judy said.

"I then explained the confusion to the man and he still said 'You're not going to do anything about it?'"

The health inspector has seen Andrew working with his apron on many times and so he said there was nothing to investigate.

He also mentioned that he, too, has a child with autism and can relate to the struggles.

"His dad's loss has been tough on him and he works so hard at the restaurant because it's his link to his dad," Judy said. "For someone to even think about ruining his happy place is just not right."