For the many chefs, owners and restaurant teams who stepped up to feed those in need, from frontline NHS workers to Britain’s homeless, their charitable work was a watershed: a moment of realisation that the hospitality industry is uniquely well positioned to offer assistance to vulnerable groups and how that boosts staff morale. In ways, big and small, progressive businesses are now trying to build outreach work into their future plans. The pandemic peak has passed, but these 21 acts of kindness and solidarity show how food’s new-found community focus will reverberate in 2021 and beyond.
See how many of our restaurants have reinvented due to lockdown here.
“Fuel your future” initiative, Nandos
Last August, chicken chain Nando’s launched FYF to support young people who struggle to get a start in life. It has since distributed around 20,000 free meals and FYF’s skills mentoring wing hopes to get 200 young people from marginalised groups into employment at Nando’s this year.
Alchemilla’s Real-life recipes, Alchemilla, Nottingham
Chefs for life, Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, Edinburgh
Feel-good meals, Pony & Trap, Bristol
The Michelin-starred Pony & Trap will reopen as a community-focussed foundation this year, but a new scheme, Nourish, will see chef-owner Josh Eggleton offer free meals across all his seven Bristol restaurants, to people referred by partner charities: “I feel you can almost heal people through food and being around others. I have the resources to offer that. If you can help, you should.” Meanwhile, at dining co-op, Breaking Bread, Team Canteen is making ready-meals (£10.40 for two), which fund the production of meal packages for Bristolians facing food vulnerability.
Click & collect masterstroke, Bertha’s Pizza, Bristol
Since Christmas, Bertha’s Pizza has been creating collaboration pies with Bristol restaurants including Box-E and Wilson’s, which are only available for collection. Using the money it is saving on delivery fees (an ongoing bugbear at Bertha’s), it then donates £5 for every order over £25 to FareShare. In February, Bertha’s had already funded 4,000 meals.
Cumbrian comrades, Simon Rogan, Barrow
Plant-based progress, Wild Thing, Cardiff
Cardiff pay-what-you-can vegan brunch café, Wild Thing produced 11,000 free meals during the pandemic. In reviving its volunteer-run community suppers or launching free nutrition and cooking workshops, this Living Wage employer will soon push on in numerous impressive ways.
Crucial match, Cornerstone, London
Despite hospitality’s volatility, chef Tom Brown felt it vital his restaurant, Cornerstone, become a sponsor at community club, Hackney Wick FC. Founder, Bobby Kasanga, says Tom, is “an inspiration, instrumental to helping change lives in the area”.
Core values, Core, London
Clare Smyth made headlines in January after bagging three Michelin stars. In the same month, her London restaurant Core cooked for NHS staff (the Big Thank You Burger with neighbours Eggslut), and will continue to support several local charities.
National reach, local engagement, Dishoom
Cooking up positivity, Jikoni, London
Every Jikoni Comfort & Joy meal box sold (from £22) funds a dish for Nishkam SWAT, the London charity taking the Sikh concept of the langar, or community kitchen, onto the streets. Jikoni’s team also cooks monthly for SWAT. “Nishkam SWAT is really inspiring,” says owner, Ravinder Bhogal. “Also, my team had been worried. Furloughed. At home. To bring people back to do something really positive, I think was important.”
Long-term commitment, Soul Kitchen, Chester
A hot topic during first lockdown, the need to feed the street homeless and those in temporary accommodation (many with no cooking facilities) has not abated. In Chester and Ellesmere Port, food venues including Atina Kitchen, Da Noi and Meltdown are firmly committed to supporting local charity, Soul Kitchen. “You can’t be preachy about it,” says Sticky Walnut owner, Gary Usher. “But when you think how easy it is for restaurants to cook for their communities, it’s a no-brainer.”
Feasting for all, Curry Club, London
For Matt Doran, co-founder of the London hospitality workers’ coalition, Curry Club, eating out is increasingly “detached from the reality of the way most people live. I work full-time and feel I can’t afford to eat out often. What chance do people with food insecurity have?” Curry Club’s initial fundraising will create meals for Islington food aid projects but, with chefs like Stevie Parle and Meera Sodha signed up, it also hopes to host free restaurant events for people excluded from high street venues. “We should afford people some luxury, whether great produce, an experience or simply one night not cooking,” says Matt. “We need to nurture the souls of people and communities.” Missy Flynn, Curry Club volunteer and co-founder of the now closed Rita’s, is looking to embed similar values in her next venture: “Now feels like the time to consider ways we can open a restaurant that feeds sustainably into community work, but it requires guests’ support.”
Job club, Grub, Manchester
Manchester food market, GRUB, recently launched School of Grub, a free six-week online course on breaking into street food, which it hopes to roll out to other councils and markets, alongside a mentoring programme that includes discounted kitchen space, equipment and free pitches. Grub may unearth some gems in these new traders but co-founder Jason Bailey insists “that wasn’t our first thought”. Grub wanted to “pull some people out of unemployment. We want to help the local community bounce back”.
Slice of support, Yard Sale Pizza, London
London’s Yard Sale Pizza is distributing vouchers to kids who need a treat, via local schools.
Community cooking, Whatley Manor, Cotswolds
From a Pancake Day Zoom class for a local school, to baking Valentine’s cakes for a nearby care home, Niall Keating’s team at Wiltshire’s Whatley Manor are reaching out in novel ways and hope to expand that volunteering.
Skills boost, Heaney’s, Cardiff
As well as raising donations around sales of Heaney’s Cardiff dine-at-home meals, Great British Menu finalist Tommy Heaney is creating one-pot cookery videos to help clients of homelessness charity, Llamau, eat well in difficult circumstances. “Everyone,” says Tommy, “needs a safe space.”
Online appeal, Wright & Bell’s, London
Get one, give one, Carousel, London
Indian superstar chef Saransh Goila’s butter chicken has landed in London at food space, Carousel, where it will support homeless charity, the Felix Project. On set dates, for every meal sold (from £19.50; goilabutterchicken.co.uk), the kitchen will cook a curry for a donation. The restaurant world is beset with problems but, ultimately, says Carousel director, Ed Templeton: “That’s nothing compared to sleeping rough when it’s -2C outside.”