Social Bite is a sandwich shop with a difference. Their profits go to charity and 25% of their employees were previously homeless people. The founders and staff care: they care about society, about working hard to help others, and they care about the quality of their food. And they should. A desire to support a good cause won’t draw people back to the shop for lunch if the food isn’t up to scratch. I visited Social Bite on a sunny October afternoon to find out more about how they work, and to try their lunch menu.
It was one o’clock when I arrived at the small but nice-looking shop on Rose Street. Rose Street’s busy, right in the middle of Edinburgh’s main shopping area. Social Bite was busy too, people from local businesses, tourists, and students looking for lunch, a cross-section of Edinburgh humanity that you don’t always see in one place.
Good Food, Good Cause
I met with Alan Mahon in Social Bite on Rose Street to talk about the company’s ambitions over lunch. I arrived hungry, a good decision as it turned out. Social Bite has recently changed the menu. They aim to compete with the big-name high street sandwich places, like Pret a Manger and Eat. To this end, they’ve worked with Mike Mathieson, Michelin starred chef and consultant to Michel Roux, to design a fresh and tasty menu. It’s varied, interesting, and made on the premises.
The pulled pork wrap was great but I was particularly impressed with the avocado wrap, a favourite with their customers as well as me. I tried the ploughman’s sandwich with some trepidation: I’m not a fan of cheese sandwiches or the vinegar-spiked pickle they’re usually filled with. I needn’t have worried: strong mature cheddar was supported by a sweet pear chutney that was rich, not overpowering. I really enjoyed it.
It wasn’t all about sandwiches. The soups of the day were pea and ham and mushroom and thyme. Both looked great and I dove into the mushroom soup with gusto. It was perfect. Smooth, warm, with a deep mushroom flavour. It was a soup that wraps itself around you and gives you a hug. To end my meal, I had a caffe latte.
Before leaving, I perused what else was on the menu. There’s a lot of interesting sandwiches, salads, wraps and even noodles on offer. I was sent home with a falafel salad, with humus, feta, olives and green leaves. There’s also a vegan falafel wrap which I was happy to see, and a pastrami sandwich that looked really good.
Social Bite is an ambitious business that plans to grow. Their ultimate goal is to have hundreds of shops across Britain, donating millions of pounds to worthy causes. It will take time and hard work to get there, but the growth is starting now. Before the end of the year, Social Bite will have a new shop on Shandwick Place in Edinburgh, and another one in Glasgow.
With every shop, more previous homeless people will get work, training and experience that helps them stay out of the no-address-no-job-no-job-no-home cycle. Homelessness is one of the causes that Social Bite support in this country, through their employment policy and donations to Shelter. Other causes are Grameen eye care hospital in Bangladesh and the Microloan Foundation in Malawi and Zambia.
Social Bite offers ‘suspended coffee‘, a scheme that lets visitors buy a coffee, or anything else from the menu, and defer its consumption to someone else. It’s a way of giving food and hot drinks to people who need them but can’t afford them.
131 Rose Street
Edinburgh, EH2 3DT
Telephone: 0131 202 6866
Social Bite now has a second restaurant in Shandwick Place, Edinburgh and two restaurants in Glasgow.