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Business & Economy

Café fighting food waste opens in Newcastle City Centre

A new eatery on a mission to fight food waste has opened in Newcastle City Centre. The popular Magic Hat Kitchen has launched its first permanent site, giving diners the chance to sample its unique eating experience: high-quality meals created from food donated by local businesses that would otherwise be sent to landfill.

The new café was made possible by a successful crowdfunding project, which raised £22,000 and was supported by over 400 people from the local community. The Magic Hat team also used funds generated from pop-up events, run over the past six years.

Set up in 2015, Magic Hat is led by Duncan Fairbrother and Jess Miller, who want to tackle the problem that one-third of all food produced is wasted. When it started, the team would go out on their bikes and collect food going to waste from Newcastle businesses, using the collections to host one-off events. Eventually, the operation grew to a size that allowed them to run an event every Friday at Byker Community Centre.

The new venue will save 1,000kg of food from landfill every week.

Running a café using only produce intercepted from landfill comes with some exciting challenges, including a menu that has as much in common with a MasterChef invention test as a menu plan. Everyday Magic Hat chefs, Lea Marshall and Archie Smith, come up with a new breakfast and lunch dishes that make the most of the ingredients available that day.

What isn’t used in the dishes served up to guests, are sold through the on-site ‘Pay-as-you-feel’ market and weekly hampers deliveries to subscribers.

Jess, director of Magic Hat, explains: “The amount of food being wasted in Newcastle is absurd. We work with only a handful of food businesses and collect enough food to run a busy city centre kitchen. We know that the only way we’ll ever tackle this issue is to get people thinking and talking about food waste and are inviting people to do that over a delicious plate of food!”

Wanting to reach as many people with their message and to create an inclusive dining experience, Magic Hat invites weekend visitors to ‘Pay-as-you-feel’. This means customers to pay for their meal based on what they think it is worth. The unusual approach is intended to encourage customers to consider the value of the meals they consume, which would have been wasted if they weren’t repurposed by the Magic Hat team.

Sometimes diners choose to pay in time rather than putting their hand in their pockets, lending a hand to the kitchen and serving team instead. They join a team of volunteers helping run activities, which number in the hundreds. Izaak Gledhill, front of house manager comments: “We’d be nothing without our volunteer team, they’re incredible! So, when people choose to help out in the kitchen or front-of-house instead of paying with money we’re always delighted. We get so many different people volunteering with us it’s a great way to meet new people, learn some new recipes and skills, and do something good for the world at the same time!”

The space, including its kitchen, will be available to hire, and the team will be running events that help raise awareness about the impact of food waste.

Founder Duncan explains that the goal of the Magic Hat is something which can be achieved if we all work together: “Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, but it’s also one of the easiest things you can change to have a positive impact on the world. Try turning your fridge down to a colder temperature, setting one day per week aside to use up the leftover ingredients you have in the kitchen, and asking for a doggy bag when you go out for a meal.”