Pandemics change societies and Covid-19 created a new atmosphere in hospitality. The charitable feats of lockdown opened the industry’s eyes to the positive impact restaurants can have in communities, and renewed focus on those kitchens which, as well as serving us thrilling food, also push for progressive social change. This is olive’s salute to those restaurants nourishing wider society – call it food for good.


13 UK restaurants giving back to the community

1. Open Kitchen, Manchester

This café-bar at the People’s History Museum is best known for intercepting potential waste food, producing a modish, small-plates menu featuring Vietnamese rolls, mozzarella arancini and mushroom tarts with confit garlic. From wage rates (Living Wage Foundation and above), to buying minimal meat, Open Kitchen and its catering arm seeks to make sustainable decisions at all levels, says founder Corin Bell: “Every time you spend money you’re voting for or against something.” Corin is also adamant that everyone deserves to eat sustainable food, not just wealthier, middle-class foodies. To that end, this not-for-profit social enterprise is involved in numerous projects, ranging from an affordable, hyper-local South Manchester café aimed at older local residents, to providing meals for families in temporary housing, who often “barely have a kettle and microwave”. “To get sustainability taken seriously we need to mainstream [it],” says Corin, which includes making “nutritious food accessible to people on low incomes”. Small plates, £3.50-£6;

A selection of small plates at Open Kitchen

2. The Pony Chew Valley, Bristol

Chef Josh Eggleton is re-evaluating the role his restaurants play in society: “I’ve spent 16 years making great restaurants. Now I want to extend their reach and help people.” That means people in acute need (Josh co-ordinates several schemes that use hospitality’s skills to alleviate food poverty) but also anyone keen to help build a sustainable food system: growing food, cooking it, and associated crafts. In September, Josh’s flagship venue, The Pony Chew Valley (previously, the Michelin-starred Pony & Trap), will reopen as an events venue and limited-services restaurant, the revenue from which will support its work as a community learning hub. The Pony will, for example, offer cookery lessons and gardening courses (some free or subsidised), where groups can learn about food and cooking or horticulture as they tend the garden and micro-farm with a complimentary lunch. In a scheme dubbed Nourish, Josh’s restaurants, such as the Kensington Arms, and Root, are also offering free meals to people who might benefit, via partner charities. “Community engagement,” says Josh, “is now the top priority.”

3. Cue Point, London

#bbqforthemanynotthefew is the rallying cry at Mursal Saiq and Joshua Moroney’s British-Afghan BBQ kitchen, based at The Duck & Ball pub in Chiswick’s lush Dukes Meadows. By using halal meats on its brisket buns or offering vegan options such as Sunday’s celeriac roast, Cue Point is operationally inclusive and attracts an unusually diverse crowd of hipsters, multi-gen families, BBQ geeks, local sports teams and vegan students. “We can sit together,” says Mursal, “share a table, a meal, a conversation.” Meanwhile, Cue Point Kitchen, its social outreach arm, is beginning to work with marginalised young people keen to work in hospitality. It is also offering training (English language, financial management, catering) that might help immigrants and newly settled refugees – a cause close to Mursal’s heart after her family escaped civil war in 1990s Afghanistan. Meals from around £10;

Cue Point’s Mursal Saiq

4. Social Pantry Café, London

With its zero-waste pesto and a breakfast bap of scrambled egg and Lincolnshire Poacher dressed with “rescued green tomato ketchup”, this hip Battersea brunch spot clearly operates sustainably. And with people, too. As a business, Social Pantry – which comprises multiple venues and a high-end event catering arm – provides support and training to ex-offenders, with around 10% of its employees being former prisoners. Imminently, Social Pantry will also launch a new staff canteen at HMP Feltham, a young offender institution, as a training environment for prisoners (similar in its aims to prison restaurant charity, The Clink; “Ex-offenders are often considered different and a risk to employ – an attitude that must be changed,” says Social Pantry founder Alex Head. “As a result of time in prison, ex-offenders are grateful for a second chance. They’re ambitious and determined.” Weekend brunch, £6.50-£11.75;

Social Pantry Cafe’s food and drink offerings

5. The Breakfast Club, across Southern England

At sites in London, Oxford and Brighton, community outreach is woven into this all-day breakfast brand. Outside of finessing its pancakes, french toast or buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, TBC has also been busy focussing on proactive, socially inclusive recruitment among several groups that struggle with employment opportunities, while supporting charities by offering space for events where TBC staff work as paid volunteers. These can range from karaoke for pensioners to catering for and marching at London Pride with Opening Doors, an LGBTQ+ charity for the over-50s. “A lot comes under our Young at Heart banner,” explains spokesperson Zoe Franklin, “helping to reduce loneliness in older communities.” TBC partners with Age UK at several sites and its menu offers 50% off to over-65s: “We give staff support to help others, to donate spaces and time; a cuppa, a chat.” Meals from £9;

staff from The Breakfast Club in London’s Pride parade

Further inspiring ways chefs and restaurants are reaching out to enrich lives and communities:

6. Rola Wala, Leeds

Indian street food brand involved in the One Feeds Two scheme, meaning every naan roll sold covers the cost of a meal for a child in poverty – 723,678 so far.

7. Luminary Bakery, London

Its cafés in Hackney and Camden support the Luminary charity, which offers long-term independence and employability training to disadvantaged women. Sadly, with both female unemployment and domestic violence rising during the pandemic, says founder Alice Williams: “There’s a growing need for our work.”

8. Kerb, London

A new social enterprise arm of Kerb, which organises street food events, helps marginalised unemployed people find work and hosts free courses, workshops, mentoring for others, such as refugees settled in the UK, to help potentially launch street food businesses.

One of the street food vendors from Kerb’s Inkerbator scheme

9. Wedgwood, Edinburgh

Chef-owner Paul Wedgwood teaches cooking skills in schools and has even taken nursery school children foraging. “It’s important to get in at the grassroots, to get them enthusiastic about food and provenance. Children love being outside in nature – foraging was a natural progression.”

10. Tatale, London

Akwasi Brenya-Mensa’s newly launched pan-African restaurant plans to roll out a training and mentorship scheme for aspiring black hospitality professionals. This will include a supper club incubator, where budding black restaurateurs can sharpen their skills and test their ideas.

11. Grounded, Manchester

An award-winning, sustainable mobile-trike-cum-store selling great coffee and cake (mainly in Levenshulme) that provides work and support for people overcoming anxiety and depression. Look out for Grounded’s incoming, ultra-green community café and allotment, housed in a repurposed bus won from Transport for Greater Manchester.

12. The Landing, Stockport

Every Friday, this urban allotment atop the Merseyway shopping centre welcomes volunteer gardeners who are fed at the venues it serves: restaurant Where the Light Gets In or deli-bakery Yellowhammer. The plan is The Landing will evolve into a community space for creative and horticulture learning.

The urban allotment at The Landing in Stockport

13. Dusty Knuckle, London

This acclaimed bakery, café and pizza joint in Harringay mentors young people trying to get past a criminal record or long-term unemployment.

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