Save the Date
Save the Date cafe. Photograph: Coralie Datta

A new café and sustainable start-up in Dalston is providing fresh meals on a pay-what-you-can basis prepared from food that would otherwise go to waste. Ruth McCabe and her co-director James, a chef, were inspired by a video by the Real Junk Food Project in Leeds, a restaurant that serves perfectly good food diverted from landfill.

They decided to replicate the project in London and were met with support from local businesses and the Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network. The Bootstrap Company in particular (also based in Dalston), helped by donating a piece of land to the team in August 2014.

So far the most popular menu item is deep fried tomatoes and the café, which aims to cater for everyone, had a large selection of vegetarian and gluten free fare, although it also serves chicken and, most recently, ribs. The outdoor venue is warmed in winter months by firepits and a chimney, although it will probably benefit most from the summer months.

Customers so far have ranged from the homeless to families with children and Ruth says on the whole the money they receive balances out the times people don’t pay. “Our aim is to demonstrate that you can start and run a business cheaply,” says McCabe, “and we have a policy of not judging people about payment at all – the point is that the food would have gone to waste anyway.”

The Save the Date café was built entirely with reclaimed materials by a core of volunteers and opened in two months. Food is donated from wholesalers at Borough Market, local groceries, and a high street chain known for their chicken that have declined to be identified. The café benefits from a tremendous selection of fresh ingredients and a menu that can be adapted everyday – “a chef’s dream,” McCabe says.

When asked about the name Save the Date, McCabe says she chose it to demonstrate the arbitrariness of best before dates on food: “They are not necessarily an indication of the quality. For example, groceries can only keep vegetables on a shelf for a few days or bakers have to sell all their bread within one day when it’s still great
to eat.”

Save the Date, Abbot Street, E8 3DL

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