TOAST Meets Social Pantry

TOAST talks to Alex Head founder of Social Pantry

From selling sandwiches off the back of her bike to feeding fashionistas, Alex Head is fast becoming one of London’s hottest caterers. She tells TOAST's Alix O’Neill how she does it…

If you found life meaningless BC (before courgetti), Alex Head’s food philosophy probably isn’t for you. The founder of Social Pantry doesn’t do fads.

"Fresh, seasonal and delicious – that’s always been our motto,” she insists.  It’s a sentiment that’s served Head well. Since launching the company five years ago, she’s become one of the capital’s go-to caterers, with big-name clients such as Airbnb, Dior and Alexander McQueen treating their employees to her moreish quinoa salads and bean ragouts. Not bad for a kitchen table startup.

Head reckons the key to her success is keeping things simple. “We’re a good wholesome caterer. We’ve never been detox or clean or anything like that. What we’ve done is given contract catering a fresh look, providing nutritious and tasty dishes that won’t leave people slumped over their desks by mid-afternoon.”

Social Pantry Trout Salad

(Social Pantry Trout Salad)

Social Pantry Desserts

As well as pimping office workers’ lunches, Social Pantry can also be hired for weddings, birthday parties ("we did a gorgeous 90th the other day with just eight people"), corporate launches and can even help you host a dinner party at home. Three years ago, Head branched out with a neighbourhood cafe in southwest London, a “rustic little foodie hub” that’s become a popular brunch spot. She now has 35 full-time staff, with an additional eight in the cafe. Oh, and did we mention Head has yet to turn 30?

“I never imagined I’d be running something this extensive. When I was 15 and living in Saudi Arabia, I sold sandwiches off the back of my bike. I hated school, so busied myself with anything that wasn’t homework. It taught me a lot about being resourceful and taking a chance, so when I moved to London in my mid-twenties, I decided it was time to get serious about the business.”

Head’s big break was landing a contract with Brentford FC. Her team started out in-house, preparing 40 lunches a day, eventually progressing to breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. She managed to eek out time in between services to build a loyal client base in London, which eventually led to the opening of a shiny new 2,000sq ft catering unit in Wandsworth. It’s here Head oversees deliveries and experiments with menus each morning before nipping over to the cafe to make sure everything’s in order. Afternoons are devoted to meetings, while Head will often check in on events in the evening. It’s a demanding role, but she revels in it.

“I love the diversity of what I do. And the fact that I’m constantly learning. You have to react to feedback and constantly self assess. The failure comes when you think you’ve got it right the whole time.”

But, as anyone in the events business will tell you, catering is an unpredictable business. Last summer, an electricity failure almost scuppered one of Head’s events. “People were cooking with head torches, but we pulled it off. Luckily, I have a brilliant team around me who always step up to challenge.”  That team includes a number of ex prisoners as well as inmates on day release from Brixton Prison. “We work with a charity called Key4Life, which helps young offenders find a new path. One man has been with us for a few years now.”

Between feeding footballers and doing her bit for society, does Head ever find time to unwind? “Absolutely. I love having friends over for a Sunday roast.” Surprisingly, she loves to entertain, even after a busy week in the kitchen.“Cooking doesn’t have to be stressful or elaborate. It’s about relaxing and making people feel welcome.”

Dinners chez Head are typically on brand – radishes dipped in Marmite butter and chunks of fresh bread mopped up with beetroot hummus and labne topped with black olives and pistachios; one-pot dishes like beef and chorizo stew or an easy bake of salmon with a wild rice salad; brownies for pudding, prepared in advance, and a couple of bottles of wine to wash it all down with. Simple, nourishing food made with love – and not a spiralliser in sight.

Social Pantry Event Catering

(Social Pantry Event Catering)

Social Pantry Dish

Social Pantry

Social Pantry Eaton Mess

(Social Pantry Eaton Mess)

Social Pantry Loria Launch

(Social Pantry Loria Launch)

Social Pantry

Social Pantry Table

Looking ahead to this year's entertainign trends, Alex shares her expert Entertaining Guide with TOAST over on TheEdit, check it out now for inspiring ideas and this year's hottest trends. 

For more information on Social Pantry, take a look at their profile over in our Little Black Book

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