SPOTLIGHT: DÉJÀ VU INTERVIEWS ... FAT MACY'S
Fat Macy’s, founded by Meg Doherty, is the London-based supper club with a real difference.
The focus is mainly on making people’s lives better by striving to put a roof over people’s heads and providing invaluable training in the process. When chatting with Meg, it’s clear to see that Fat Macy’s is something that she really believes in and is the brainchild of volunteering countless hours to homeless shelters and hostels. After doing a very placement-heavy social enterprise course, Meg realised how much the general Londoner takes having a roof over their head for granted. Having constantly seen people who, for example, would be 35 and have lived in hostels for upwards of seven years, Meg knew that her business needed to focus on helping homeless people get off the streets and into a place they can call home.
Meg describes how you have to “live a problem in order to understand it” and in doing extended periods of placement within hostels, she developed a real sense of understanding for how hard it is for many homeless people to get off the streets. Hearing the same story continuously for years, Meg describes how many homeless people are often stuck in a constant cycle: Receiving benefits, eventually getting a minimum wage job, not having enough money to pay for living costs and not being able to increase their hours for fear of losing their benefits entirely. This leads to lives being spent in hostels and shelters without a real sense of what having a home is like.
Fortunately, this is where the amazing work that Meg and the team behind Fat Macy’s comes into its own.
Fat Macy’s is a social enterprise built with the exclusive purpose of training up homeless people in kitchens and as waiting staff, paying them and putting the money towards securing the deposit for their first rented accommodation. The idea is simple - Fat Macy’s works with hostels that recommend people who they think would benefit from the scheme the most. Each person gets a 200 hour work experience placement which ensures they become eligible and secure a housing deposit, which is what most Fat Macy’s trainees are working towards. However, if someone cannot complete their whole 200 hour placement, there are still significant milestones they can meet. Working in slots of 50, 100 or 150 hours also means that trainees can get other rewards like an ID or a travelcard provided for them. All things that the average Londoner takes for granted but mean a lot to someone who leads a vulnerable life.
But how did it all get started? After seeing how successful a Caribbean cooking class was at one of the last hostels Meg worked in, she decided to take the idea of flavoursome, wholesome food and try to get more people involved. In the early days, she says that they would do eight or nine events in one place; a mix of residencies and catering. Three times a month (the first weekend of each month) are reserved for supper clubs. Meg highlights the fact that 90% of time spent in a shelter is not really doing much and so having the incentive of being in the kitchen, being creative was enough to get more people excited about the idea. Due to two of the first chefs she worked with being of Jamaican heritage, the menu was always going to be jam packed full of flavour and dishes like jerk chicken proved to be a popular hit.
When asked about why Fat Macy’s chose to take the supper club route, Meg’s answer is one that cites the excitement around the booming industry of street food and the plethora of unique dining events in the capital. Londoners love food but don’t really think about the familial, dining experience when eating out and that’s something Meg wants to tackle with Fat Macy’s. Long tables that get you to talk to the people around you, converse over well-cooked, hearty dishes and ultimately, finding a route out for many of the people who work there.
Scroll below for more snippets from MEG’S interview
Fat Macy’s is quite a unique name, how did you come up with it?
Honestly, I was terrible at coming up with a name. I ended up putting it to the trainees at our first Jamaican-inspired event and one guy just said “Fat Macy’s”. The thinking was that it denoted an image of a chef from the southern states of the US, something friendly and homely. But also, Macy is an anagram of YMCA and it’s fitting because at the beginning, we were working with a lot of people from YMCA.
In what ways is running a social enterprise different to setting up a restaurant or café? Are there any added pressures to being a social enterprise?
It’s totally different actually. Yes, you’re thinking about the food, how it looks and how you market it but you’ve also got this whole second social bassline to think about. Are you achieving what you’ve said you’ll be doing? How are you striving towards what you’ve set out? Fat Macy’s is trying hard not to just be a homeless brand but also, trying to be a catering brand as well. You always have to think about speed in the training process when dealing with people who lead vulnerable lives as well. Striking a balance between the two brand images has been quite a dilemma and we’ve had to ask ourselves will customers still want to come? How will the trainees understand it? Will they be on board as well?
Do you think you’ve figured it out?
I think we’ve found a balance now and we’re working on the branding slowly but surely. We actually realised we don’t have any food photos on our website and food is obviously a major part of what we do. Watch this space!
If you could describe Fat Macy’s in 3 words, what would they be?
Social - The crowd of people who come along to the events are always social with our trainees and each other but also, the social benefits we offer are super important too.
Innovative - Our model is unique and quite innovative as it makes a life-changing difference to someone.
Home-cooked - We’re very keen to play around with food that is home-cooked. Cooking from homes is some of the best and we all have stories of our favourite homemade dishes; they’re hearty and delicious and that’s what we try to do too.
What’s the best thing about running a supper club?
The variety of things you do. Some days you’re doing loads of prep, some days you work on loads of finance, strategy or marketing. You don’t ever sit there thinking you’re bored or why the hell are am I doing this! The people we work with are also a major plus too. People who are just really keen to be trained and work.
What’s been your most memorable experience so far running Fat Macy’s?
Definitely our success story with Emmanuel. We got him into his first home after he trained and worked with us and he’s been the first person who was so up for press attention. He just did everything properly and he actually moved in recently. I went round a few weeks ago and watching someone open their front door when you’ve been seeing them hanging out in hostels is so amazing. Watching someone be so excited to have their own space. Just the combination of it all makes you happy because up until that point, it was always a theory. So it’s nice to have proof of the concept.
Where can we expect to find Fat Macy’s for the rest of the year?
We’re running our Christmas supper clubs throughout December at Good and Proper Tea in Clerkenwell, as well as in King’s Cross.
In the near future, we’re hoping to open up a permanent site in Peckham actually. The way we run the business now is definitely not the easiest way to run a food business. We use kitchens all over London so a lot of the time, if an opportunity arises, we face ourselves asking the question of whether it is worth it enough to move our equipment around. A permanent space would mean we can do so much more.
Will the new space still be for supper clubs?
We’re looking to do something between a supper club and a stripped back restaurant. We’re thinking that the supper club could have three menu choices but still keep it stripped back so our trainees are comfortable in preparing the meals. Just generally scaling everything up as we’re limited in the spaces we use at the moment. There could also be some delivery opportunities in the future too!
Team Déjà Vu would like to take the chance to thank Meg for sitting down with us and giving us some insight into the wonderful work that Fat Macy’s is doing. Be sure to follow Fat Macy’s over on Instagram and Twitter to stay updated or check their Events Calendar for their next supper club.