‘My advice for anyone wanting to build a network, business or passion is always to make sure you truly love what you do as you will have to work harder than you can ever imagine.’
Alex is a chef and restauranteur. She has built her catering business and café, Social Pantry, from scratch. Beyond the delicious and imaginative food they produce, Social Pantry looks to make a bigger social impact. They work closely with charity Key4Life to mentor, train and train and employ young people in prison and those at risk of going to prison to address the root causes of youth reoffending. Alex lives in London.
Tell us about your mission with Social Pantry, where the idea came from and your ambitions for how it will grow?
It all started when I was 14 years old, living in Saudi Arabia. I did my best to avoid school work and instead, decided that my time would be much better spent trying to make some pocket money. So, I started my first business at the age of 15, selling sandwiches from the back of my bike. After a lot of hard work and late nights, I have gone from hand-delivering sandwiches to now owning and running my own catering business. There’s nothing I love more than seeing my friends and family enjoying good food; since my teenage years, cooking and entertaining for others has been a huge part of my life. Social Pantry is now known as the go-to caterer for seasonal, fresh and delicious food and there are so many exciting opportunities ahead; we’re constantly looking forward to what’s next and ways to get there. I would love to see Social Pantry in more great London venues over the next year.
Have you had guidance from mentors along the way?
Some of the most useful guidance and advice is from someone who’s been there and done it. Making these connections and developing these relationships is key so you’re able to tap into their knowledge. I’ve had several mentors and their advice and guidance have been so invaluable for my own journey, even if that means offering to carry someone’s bags or taking them out for a quick coffee.
Do you have any advice on how best to build and use a wider network?
My advice for anyone wanting to build a network, business or passion is always to make sure you truly love what you do as you will have to work harder than you can ever imagine. One of the things I learnt from the beginning was to plan and always have a contingency fund as you never know what might be round the corner. Above all else, my ultimate piece of advice would simply be to not overthink it enjoy the journey, you’ll be totally exhausted but guaranteed to meet some brilliant people along the way.
What is the biggest leap of faith you’ve taken?
After a new London restaurant venture I was involved in didn’t work out, it forced me to take the plunge and turn to catering full time. Every cloud! I love the idea that you can make a meaningful impact through the medium of food, this combined with my love for the social aspect of cooking and the diversity that a pantry can offer gave me a great starting point for the business. Over the years, I’ve always had a few catering ideas bubbling away… my first venture, aged 16, was called Catering Ahead, this was followed by Heads & Quails and finally, a grown-up rebrand came with Social Pantry.
What governs what you say yes to?
I love the freedom of being able to take on any challenge. Over the years we have said yes to pretty much every catering scenario presented to us, from Notting Hill Carnival to football teams, there is no catering enquiry we will not take on which means it has always been very diverse. Every day is different and the challenges presented I seem to thrive on. With that in mind, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with running a company you have created, you can’t just go home, switch off and forget about it over the weekend.
How do you measure the success of Social Pantry and your own success?
Success is still being in business and having a team who love what they do. Building a great team at Social Pantry whilst overcoming endless hurdles and still growing is what I am most proud of. Every Monday meeting we ask the team what the best bit about last week was, the answers are all so varied and looking back there have been some incredible moments. Some of the best moments include opening the café on Lavender Hill, building our fantastic Wandsworth production kitchen and my Key4Life learners getting promotions.
What are your future ambitions, for 2017 and beyond?
Personally, I would love to write a cookbook and share my great insider tips on entertaining and taking the fear out of cooking for a crowd, I also want to become a TV presenter! (no joke…!)
Who would you like to send a thank you bunch to and why? What would you write on the note?
Come rain or shine I always buy flowers before I go anywhere, I love turning up to friends houses with a fresh bunch! Saying that, if I had to send one just thank you bunch, it’d be to the collective Social Pantry team for their endless hard work, enthusiasm and shared passion for creating delicious food for our wonderful clients.
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