As Christmas approaches, we’re thinking of warm nights in, and eating a well-cooked meal with family.
But for many people in Scotland, both of those things are but a dream.
That’s where the Vesta restaurant in Edinburgh steps in. It is affiliated to the charity Social Bite, which is on a mission to end homelessness in Scotland, by making houses available to the homeless, funding a support resource for people to sustain their tenancies, and to integrate the vulnerable and marginalised back into society.
Social Bite’s restaurant Home was originally opened in September 2016 as a partnership between Social Bite and Dean Gassabi of Maison Bleue, but in late July, it was renamed as Vesta, teaming up with David Hall, one of Scotland’s most experienced hospitality operators.
Originally from Ayr, David has experience of working in Scotland with The Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchens and Tigerlily.
In its previous form, the restaurant was famously visited by Hollywood A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney, and Vesta remains committed to the ethos of Home with training opportunities, a homeless meal service and a continuation of the scheme where customers are encouraged to pay forward meals for the homeless.
Speaking to Scottish Field, David said: ‘The person who joined up the dots was David Wither, who’s on the board of Social Bite. I was looking for the next thing and he said I should be doing something on my own. I’ve worked for David for 15/16 years, so he probably knows me better than anyone, from a professional point of view.
‘About a week later, he told me Dean Gassabi was coming out of Home, and would I like to take it on, in partnership with Social Bite. I looked into it, asked myself what I could offer, and decided it was the right thing.
‘I wanted to find a new name. Vesta is the Roman Goddess of hearth, home and family. My wife Tessa came up with it, as it seemed appropriate – it’s really important we try to help the people with homelessness issues and give them a place where they can come and eat, and we’re also a family restaurant – I’ve got young kids, and with hearth, we have the fire for cooking.
‘When you’re trying to choose a name for your kids, it can be hard, but for your restaurant, it’s even harder.’
The Queensferry Street site was completely refurbished by Guy Morgan of Morgan McDonnell Architects, to create modern, welcoming, comfortable surroundings.
David continued: ‘We opened at the end of July, just in time for the festival, which we managed, despite all the issues you have when you first open.
‘We had a really busy, successful festival, and we got through the teething troubles. Throughout September and October, we got a steady stream and we were able to focus on our service and offerings.
‘Our mantra at Vesta is “feel good food”, serving delicious dishes with big flavours, that not only taste good but leave you feeling good too. In fact, over 50% of our menu is vegan.
‘My head chef, Dave Johnston and I have noticed a real need in the Edinburgh restaurant market for somewhere that has something for everyone and every taste. So, at Vesta, vegans and vegetarian dishes like cauliflower “buffalo wings” and pulled jackfruit BBQ sandwiches sit on the menu alongside comfort classics like steaks, seafood and truly indulgent burgers.
‘We’ve had over 1400 bookings for Christmas already, and they are still coming in. By working with Social Bite, the more successful we are, the more we raise for the charity.’
As well as helping people with homelessness issues, the bar even has Brewgooder beer, which gives all its profits to provide clean water for those who need it.
David continued: ‘Customers can contribute to someone struggling with homelessness, who might live in a hostel or B&B. We hope our feel good food leads to feel good actions. If our customers have enjoyed their meal with us, they can pay forward meals for the homeless, be it a coffee, lunch or dinner. 100% of their donation will be passed straight to Social Bite’s charity to distribute the food.
‘Every Monday we shut the restaurant between 3-5pm and have between 30-45 people who come in for some lunch, as other customers would, which gives them a break from all of the stresses and issues they have. It lifts their spirit. I spoke to one guy who said he had only been in a restaurant two or three times in his life, and never really had a chance.
‘It’s just a chance to chill out for a couple of hours, and chat with other people in a way they wouldn’t normally be able to.
‘There’s employment opportunities with the Social Bite Network, who have catering and sandwich shops, where people can further their careers.
‘Vesta will also provide training and employment programmes for members of the Social Bite Academy, the charity’s four-year, paid course for homeless people.’
Josh Littlejohn MBE, co-founder of Social Bite, said: ‘Vesta is a place where you can enjoy a delicious, first-rate meal at the same time as helping some of the most vulnerable people in society, and it really does make a huge difference to the lives of many. The restaurant is an extension of what we do we’re doing in the Social Bite cafes, and it’s great to continue to support people in this way.’
Vesta is wholly owned by the Social Bite charity and is supported by an impressive list of leading figures in the Scottish restaurant scene, with Social Bite board members including Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart, David Wither and Simon Littlejohn.
Vesta can be found at 7 Queensferry Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4P.