How did the idea for the Dockyard Social come about?
I was already helping the homeless by donating food and cash to them at the Section33 pop up events I was running. The last pop up we did was with six young boys who had just been in prison. We took them on a 12-week training course and taught them how to do a six-course fine dining menu, which was incredibly difficult. It was starting to feel like the evolution of the brand was to go into a fixed venue, so for the past 18 months I’ve been negotiating to secure the site in Finnieston which is some of the hottest real estate in Glasgow. It’s taken that long to plan it properly, to get everything in place.We need to make sure we can exceed expectiations- and expectations are sky high.
How did you get into pop ups?
I've been running Section33 pop ups for three years. I felt that Glasgow needed something a bit different. We wanted to create cool pop up events highlighting the amazing architecture and venues that are fading in the city. We started it all with a four-day pop up in a derelict swimming pool for 1,400 people. The exposure to the space helped get more funding to regenerate it, because it wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. We went on to do 14 more events in beautiful buildings that just needed a bit of love.
What is the street food scene like in Glasgow?
Amazing. It's vibrant, it's organic, and it just keeps growing. We're most definitely catching up with London. The only stumbling block that people have had is that the council has been a bit unreceptive to new ideas in the past. There are now lots of little businesses flourishing.
How will Dockyard Social work?
We are a start-up for start-ups, a small business building a platform to help homeless and long term unemployed, those struggling with loan payments and over 50s, ex-offenders. We're going to take them through our training development school that we're building within the venue, and then we're going to employ them within the stalls. They might work with pizza for six weeks, then Thai for six weeks and hopefully after six months they'll be fully trained for the big wide world. The current staff skill shortage is massive. We're trying to plug that gap by helping with training and development.
You say the concept is influenced by Dinerama (Street Feast). What are the similarities and differences?
They'll be quite similar. Street Feast has excelled in promoting local business - Prawnography, Bob’s Lobster, Breddos… and that’s what we want to be doing. We're going to have 11 food stalls and will only operate four of them ourselves. The other seven could be up-and-coming food brands, or students going through the training school, or a sous chef from a Glasgow restaurant who is really passionate about Israeli food. We're going to give them the platform to take a six week sabbatical from work, provide facilities and access to marketing, training, and branding. There are some incredible traders but we want to offer more diversity.
When is it opening?
We're opening in about three weeks, after the site settles in and licensing is complete. The training and development school will be open Monday to Friday and the street food market will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
What will prices be like?
All our food is going to be £5 a dish. You could come down, spend £20 and try four different types of global comfort food as opposed to one burger and a side. It's exciting and diverse.
Are you able to say who any of the traders will be?
No! I'm not even telling you where the venue is. They are very, very cool though. And of the 11 stalls, each will have at least one vegan option. All the Section 33 events menus and venues stay under wraps until a week before and we always sell out before we release anything. A little bit of intrigue and mystery goes quite a long way.
Any future plans?
Long term, this business model could easily work in other cities because there are underprivileged people across the UK. There are definitely expansion plans - we're looking at a few key cities right now - but mainly I’m concentrating on opening Glasgow properly to start with. We are not in this to make millions, we're in it to change lives. That's my main goal. Having three young kids just pushes me harder; when they're older they can say ‘dad was doing his work for the right reasons’.