Vendor Spotlight: Fat Macy's
Fat Macy’s is a social enterprise offering life-changing, creative menus using seasonal ingredients. Their shop and catering services enable them to train and support young Londoners living in hostels so that they might move into their own homes; they also sell products by other local and social businesses, all of which allows them to make a positive impact on their community. We spoke with Fat Macy’s Founding Director Meg Doherty about her organisation’s mission, helping young people and giving back.
Tell us about Fat Macy’s!
I started Fat Macy’s in 2016 after having worked at a homeless shelter, where I realised just how difficult it was for young people to move out of hostels and into their own home. And as a social enterprise, that was my aim: how can we help people living in hostels get jobs and save for housing deposits? And the food side was the vehicle by which we did it.
"I realised how difficult it was for young people to move out of hostels and into homes"
We've got a really great culinary director, Nathalie Moukarzel, who has worked at some really great restaurants in London and has been working hard creating the food brand, and making the food offering as amazing as it can be. We try to give our trainees and the people we work with a really great and varied experience, which also means that the food quality is really, really high; it’s important to get the balance right between being a legitimate food business and being an effective social enterprise.
How would you describe the type of food you offer?
It's Middle Eastern-inspired recipes but mainly with seasonal, British ingredients. As such the menu tends to change quite a lot depending on the season, but the overarching theme is Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, with a British twist. The idea is we’re trying as much as possible to not have to ship things in from all over and accumulate huge air miles. That sustainability front is an ongoing journey for us, but it does mean that whenever possible, we source produce locally.
"The overarching theme is Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, with a British twist."
Can you tell us about the people Fat Macy’s has helped?
We work with young people living in temporary accommodation, so we tend to run training programmes in hostels and that's how we recruit people. It's for people who have found themselves experiencing homelessness at some point, have ended up in temporary accommodation and are sort of stuck there due to the way that the hostel works.
I won’t go into it too much, but the way the benefits system works when you're living in a hostel means that you can't really work full-time; it's really hard. The more you work, the more rent at hostels goes up, and benefits you receive from the government go down. It makes it very difficult to afford the hostel, because rent is often over £1000 a month, which means people have no choice but to rely on benefits in order to afford it, which all makes it really difficult for them to move out. [Fat Macy’s works on a credit system so people don’t receive an hourly wage, but rather accrue hours to receive a lump sum at the end – this means trainees’ benefits are not decreased and their hostel rent does not go up as a result.] So with someone like Emmanuel, he’d been on-and-off homeless in different hostels for two years, and night shelters for about three years.
"The people we work with come from all backgrounds and all have different stories"
All that people really need is that structured pathway to get them out of the hostels and into the life they want to be living. For him, that meant helping him to find a job and a flat he could afford, and then help him with the housing deposit; I think that’s what’s really difficult for people, that lump sum deposit that most don’t have and that is very difficult to save for when you’re on benefits or only allowed to work 16 hours a week.
The people we work with come from all backgrounds and all have different stories. It’s very much not a one-size-fits-all situation; we try to be really tailored with what we do, and help people get back on their feet in the way that they want to.
Could you tell us the story behind the name, Fat Macy’s?
It's one of those ones that we should put on the website, people keep asking! When we were coming up with the idea for the social enterprise, it was really important for us to find a name that incorporated the social mission aspect without sounding too much like a homelessness project or a charity project, because I think you need to get the food brand right in order for it to make the biggest social impact it can.
We had some brainstorming sessions where we got together with people from the hostel to think about the naming and the logo, and everything else. And one of them just came up with “Fat Macy’s”, but we didn’t really understand why, so we asked him what it meant…
‘Macy’ is an anagram for YMCA, which is where a lot of the people we work with are living temporarily. That meant it was connected to the YMCA and other hostels without being too branded as a homelessness project. And then he explained that the ‘Fat’ part was because you always get fat if you live in a hostel for too long, since the canteen food is so bad and it’s really difficult to stay healthy and not put on lots of weight when you’re struggling financially. So that was a bit of an in-joke that they had, and I liked that it sounded a bit like a chef or a person. It just sort of stuck, really.
Fat Macy’s are based in London and offer a range of services. Learn more about them here.
Note: Whilst Fat Macy’s are not currently operating their catering services amidst lockdown restrictions, they do offer hampers to buy online and at-home, three-course Supper Club menus which you can order and have delivered to your home.