Jack Merritt, about 4 years ago
Social Pantry is a catering company with a difference. They have recently opened their own restaurant 'Soane's Kitchen', provide in house catering at a number of stunning London locations, run a café in Battersea, all of which they do with a social conscience. We spoke to Alex Head, owner and founder, about her work with people with convictions and how this is an important part of the central ethos behind this fast growing business.
Alex explains that her desire to work with people with convictions stems from her experience of school exclusion, and her resulting belief in the importance of second chances. The 'brand recipe' for Social Pantry contains five elements; understanding, enjoyment, fairness, sustainability and creativity. Social Pantry is an organisation committed to doing much more than is strictly necessary, in their cafes they serve coffee by the fantastic Redemption Roasters (previously featured on our blog), based in Aylesbury YOI Prison, alongside chocolate brownies from the Bad Boy's Bakery at HMP Brixton.
“For me it is important to be making a difference whilst growing my business, offering opportunity and supporting young offenders has and will continue to change lives."
Alex tells us that her work with this community began four years ago when she was introduced to the organisation Key4Life, Key4Life work to support rehabilitation in the community post-release, with their support she employed her first ex-offender. Fast forward three years and 10% of Social Pantry employees are now people with previous convictions. Alex also takes time to visit London prisons and begin the employment process pre-release, and praises charities such as Novus, Switchback and Key4Life who make this possible. Alex acknowledges that this work doesn't come without its difficulties, but that she has learnt lots through the process. She stressed the importance of having clear communication as well as helpful systems in place for both parties.
“In addition to employment, I go and spend time baking with the boys at Bad Boys' Bakery just to chat to them, show them something different and engage with them and I also mentor a young man through the Key4Life Charity."
In 2017, in collaboration with Key4Life, Social Pantry held the first 'Social Supper'. 'In support of Key4Life's ground breaking work on tackling the root causes of reoffending, we teamed up with the charity to hand pick seven young ex-offenders and partner them up with six of London's top chefs to help prepare, cook and serve a totally delicious five-course menu', Alex explains. The event was a huge success and was repeated earlier in 2018, watch this space for the next one!
Finally, I ask Alex what is next for Social Pantry.
“My goal alongside the catering part of my business, is to create one of the best food companies to work for in London. Gone are the days of 'shouty kitchens' and 100-hour weeks, as a small company we strive to improve the employee work life balance, education and enjoyment. “
It is clear that Social Pantry is an organisation truly committed to making a positive difference, as well as providing exceptional service. They have taken a brave, forward thinking, view of what it means for a business to be sustainable.