Chef Adam Simmonds starting cooking in London Soup Kitchen when lockdowns closed restaurants in 2020. Image: Home Kitchen
A double Michelin star-winning chef and a soup kitchen have joined forces to tackle homelessness while helping to ease the hospitality jobs crisis.
Chef Adam Simmonds has spent two years working with Soup Kitchen London in developing Home Kitchen – a pop-up restaurant staffed entirely by people with experience of homelessness, from kitchen to front of house.
The restaurant is set to employ 16 people for its 13-week stint at the former Frankie & Benny’s site in London Victoria Station.
Staff will be given a three-week crash course in the cooking, employment and people skills needed to work in hospitality and will be paid a London living wage for their work. Once the pop-up restaurant has closed its doors, all staff will leave with a City and Guilds professional qualification and some will walk straight into work in the hospitality industry.
The project is a two-pronged approach at taking on rising homelessness and filling hospitality vacancies, which stood at 170,000 in the accommodation and food service sectors between May and July.
“We probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to launch a restaurant,” said Michael Brown, Soup Kitchen London trustee and co-founder of Home Kitchen. “Over the next couple of years there’s not going to be any improvements with the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis is going to go on, homelessness is getting larger.
“We thought: let’s just get on with it and try to lead the charge. But this is a big idea, we’ve got experience of delivering big ideas, let’s see who gets behind us.”
The origins of Home Kitchen can be traced back to the Covid lockdowns of 2020 as Soup Kitchen London worked on a threadbare team of volunteers to feed 160 people a day.
When the gruelling task left the chef at the Whitfield Street soup kitchen burned out and needing a break, Alexander Brown, who runs Soup Kitchen London and is also a Home Kitchen co-founder, called on Simmonds to step in to help as the pandemic shuttered restaurants.
“I felt a little bit embarrassed to even ask him if he’d be interested to come in because you look at what he’s accomplished in his career,” said Brown.
“I’m asking him to come and cook with ingredients where we don’t know what we’re getting day to day and he jumped on it straight away.”
That sowed the seed of starting the project. Since then, they have been working to get the infrastructure in place.
The group scouted out a location for the restaurant and are now in the process of raising £450,000 to cover the rent and costs of running the restaurant, including paying and training staff. In the meantime, the landlord Network Rail has held the site on option while they secure funding.
Efforts are also focused on recruitment and training with Soup Kitchen London working with the Beyond Food Foundation, the employment team at charity Crisis, Beam and Only a Pavement Away to source candidates who will benefit from the opportunity.
Work, too, is going into sourcing job opportunities to move on beyond Home Kitchen.
Meal delivery service Fresh Fitness Food has committed to employing two staff after the pop-up restaurant ends. Caspar Rose, Fresh Fitness Food chief executive, said: “Our commitment to take on two employees from the initiative is a small part we can play in creating healthy communities and a healthy planet.”
Working with a completely novice group of staff will be a new experience for Simmonds, who earned Michelin stars for his work at Ynyshir Hall in Wales and the Adam Simmonds Restaurant at Danesfield House in Buckinghamshire.
Simmonds told the Big Issue his own personal challenges have inspired him to give others the tools to help themselves.
“I think it all comes down to training and to giving belief and being empathetic to what they’ve gone through,” said Simmonds, who previously starred on BBC’s Great British Menu.
“I’ve gone through my own challenges of mental health and addiction. Ultimately, I could have been on the streets four years ago, if I hadn’t got my family behind me and that’s the reality of where I was. I’m not saying I’ve been there, but it came close.
“But this isn’t about me, it’s about giving the guys belief and encouraging them. Yes, it’s a different environment from what I’ve worked in before, but it’s all about looking after them and making sure that we can work as a team.It’s an important thing for me to be able to I’m on a level with these guys.”
“When there’s a great big romantic idea people get behind it and we feel that this is what this idea is,” said Michael Brown.
“We don’t want it to live and die over the 13-week period, part of the reason we’re raising the funds is so that we can use that as a springboard to extend this, potentially as a franchise wherever there’s a problem with homelessness.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.