Welcome to Sohaila, a new restaurant attached to the Fat Macy’s programme: a social enterprise that offers training and support to young Londoners living in temporary accommodation.
So in fact, you’re going to be eating them into house and home.
After two years of change and uncertainty, Sohaila finally opened its doors properly in January 2022. “It’s starting to feel like a real place, now,” smiles co-founder Nathalie Moukarzel, who set up the business six years ago with Meg Doherty.
The programme has already helped 30 people save up the deposits they need to secure rented accommodation, as well as empowering them with qualifications and experience to pursue a career in hospitality, or transferable skills that they can take elsewhere. “We always say to people you’re here, you’re working in a hospitality environment, and we’re here to give you skills and help you understand if it’s something you enjoy, but it isn’t necessarily a programme designed so that you graduate and go and work in the hospitality sector,” Nathalie explains. Most people do go on to continue careers in hospitality, having discovered a passion for the work, and they’re able to move into permanent positions easily thanks to the foundation’s connections with other restaurants and catering companies. But equally, Nathalie explains, many people come into the programme with a background in other areas like law or HR, and the charity team supports them individually in finding placements to help them carve their own path.
Candidates are found by Fat Macy’s outreach officers, who work hand-in-hand with hostels to approach people who might be interested. They then come in for a taster session, followed by training days, and work to gain food hygiene qualifications before joining the catering team for the 200 hour-long programme. Having operated till now mostly as a catering business and pop-up supperclub, opening Sohaila is an important evolution that allows the foundation to offer more consistent hours to their trainees.
The restaurant itself sits on that busy stretch on the fringes of both Shoreditch and Liverpool Street. Outside, there’s roaring traffic, but inside is a perfect oasis humming with Lebanese pop music. At the front is a bottleshop with an entirely biodynamic stock of wines, while up on the mezzanine level behind is a gentle, cosy nook of whitewashed brick, Ercol furniture, and an electric blue wall, punctuated by an old door the team salvaged from downstairs – a relic of the building’s former life as a pub. Coming soon will be a gallery of bespoke artwork created by Kingston University art students, in response to the Fat Macy’s mission and ethos.
Sohaila is named after Nathalie’s grandmother, with the Lebanese menu designed around the kinds of recipes she loves to cook. “When we first started working with people in hostels, we were looking at food that was easy to make,” Nathalie says. Dishes like hummus and labneh are easy to teach those who haven’t had much experience cooking before, and use relatively inexpensive ingredients. “It’s beautiful, because it’s a lovely way to describe, discuss and explore new tastes, flavours and textures together.”
This sense of ‘meal-sharing’ was really important to the team. “We’re working with people who are feeling quite isolated,” she adds. “You can make them and share them with people around you, so that was really important too.”
And they’re delicious – there’s bold morsels of salted cod between cool slivers of marinda tomato, olive and red onion; crisp buns topped with smooth labneh and anchovies; steaming bowls of cockles and cinnamon-laced maftoul (giant couscous); slow-cooked aubergine maghmour (like a smoky moussaka) with green pilaf; mezze platters loaded with pickles, warm flatbread and house-made dips. It’s a place to bring the whole team after work, or get a group of friends together, and indulge in a real feast.
Downstairs is where the place comes alive in the evenings; a wine bar with dusty pink walls adorned by vintage Lebanese travel posters. It’s also where they conduct regular wine tastings with sommelier Alex, who’s heading up a new side of the programme teaching trainees about natural wines.
So what’s next for Fat Macy’s? The team are hoping to continue growing the catering side of things, with its own dedicated kitchen, and move more into wholesale, supplying products made by staff to independent groceries and online businesses, which also offers more hours to those taking part in the programme. But in the meantime, they’re focussing on pouring their love and attention into Sohaila.
And it shows.
NOTE: To book a table at Sohaila, or find out more, head HERE. You can also find out more about the Fat Macy’s programme right HERE.
Sohaila | 232 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6PJ
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