You don’t always need to put your marching boots on to support women’s rights. Just eating food can make a difference – as these inspiring female-focused food collectives prove.
Whether we’re out on a date or having brunch with our gang, most of us enjoy finding a new hangout spot with a magical mix of good food and great atmosphere. But what if that choice became a little more considered, and the place where you picked up a coffee was also working to empower disadvantaged women in your area?
Welcome to the idea of a feminist café: a social impact eatery that uses its profits or services to benefit the lives of women who really need it. Some donate a portion of their takings to women’s charities, while others offer training or employment to disadvantaged women. Either way, female empowerment is just as integral to their mission as delicious food.
Depending on where you are in the country, these gems can be few and far between, but we’ve found eight brilliant examples that definitely deserve your attention. From the inimitable Soul Food Sisters co-op in Glasgow, which supports migrant women experiencing social isolation, to London’s scrumptious and stylish Luminary Bakery (which helps struggling women build a future), the women behind these organisations are very special indeed.
So go forth, scoff cake, sip tea, and give your pounds to a café with a cause.
Soul Food Sisters Café, Glasgow
If we had to pick a head girl of the feminist café world, Soul Food Sisters would be awarded that enamel pin in a heartbeat.
Based in Gallowgate, Glasgow, the café is run by eight women from five different continents with a focus on developing skills to encourage women to start their own businesses, increase their confidence and build their skill set. Its ethos is also rooted in reducing the feelings of isolation that come with starting again in a new place, especially as a migrant.
The start-up functions as a co-operative, and those who work there long enough can be invited to become members and get involved with all aspects of running the business. From peeling potatoes to representing themselves at business meetings, everyone is paid a flat rate and works, learns and progresses together.
You can hire the Soul Food Sisters to cater an event for you or take part in one of their bi-annual workshops, which help women come together and learn cooking skills from a range of different cuisines.
As many of the workers are volunteers, the café’s hours are limited to Wednesday to Saturday, but the team is always looking for new helpers to make staying open over the weekend possible.
MILK café, Glasgow
MILK is a social enterprise that supports refugee and migrant women living in Glasgow who are struggling to establish financial independence and helps them create a supportive social network.
Not only does the café offer a chance of employment, but MILK is big on helping the women it works with prepare for the future. Employees are encouraged to attend masterclasses to develop essential life skills such as form filling, job interview techniques and proficiency in English.
Refusing to stop there, the café reaches beyond its immediate patrons and also puts on a series of workshops open to all women in the community, which are designed to connect, support and build relationships and confidence.
From a weekly women’s art group to drop-in sessions in which women discuss the objects that are meaningful to them, MILK is dedicated to developing a sense of community.
Glendale Women’s Café, Glasgow
This little café in Glasgow’s Pollokshields has one mission: to create a caring, warm and friendly environment for every woman who needs it.
Part café, part community centre, Glendale Women’s Café is open every Tuesday from 9am until 3pm as a place for women in the area to get together and make new connections.
To help facilitate this, and better equip the women taking part, the café puts on events like English speaking classes to ensure that those who come along really get something out of their time.
As well as more practical events, the café also runs poetry evenings, craft workshops and music events to bring women together and – most importantly – have some fun.
The café isn’t known specifically for its food, but everyone who visits will be welcomed with a hot cup of tea.
South of England
The Feminist Bookshop, Brighton
Brighton’s Feminist Bookshop café ties together two of our great loves – delicious vegan food and books – to create a café-cum-bookshop with an emphasis on promoting female writers.
Unlike some of the other venues on this list, The Feminist Bookshop is open to all. But at its core, it aims to champion women by supporting and promoting feminist writers, creatives and entrepreneurs.
The founders hope the bookshop will increase awareness of alternative narratives and experiences and will provide a safe, fun, open space for dialogue, discussion and debate.
Bramber Bakehouse, various locations
Bramber Bakehouse has a unique plan when it comes to helping women, particularly those who have been exploited.
Through eight-month courses, the team behind this artisan bakery teach vulnerable women valuable skills in baking and employability, which in turn help them find full-time work elsewhere.
This business is at an especially exciting point in its growth, having just finished its third round of workshops. In the future, the team hope to set up a permanent bakery (currently it has no full-time residence) that will work alongside local businesses, generating more work for those who have taken part in the courses. Eventually, Bramber Bakehouse would also like to create a full residential internship programme that would provide women with qualifications.
Keep an eye on Bramber Bakehouse and see how it progresses.
The Luminary Bakery, Stoke Newington
With its striking monochrome checked floor, duck-egg blue walls and Pinterest-worthy food styling, The Luminary Bakery is the kind of café you could waltz into on a Saturday morning without even registering its feminist credentials. And when you learn about all of the wonderful ways it helps women, you’ll want to become a regular even more.
The bakery is a social enterprise that creates opportunities for women who have experienced social and economic disadvantage, by offering a safe and professional environment where they can learn transferable skills. This includes courses, work experience and paid employment in the bakery to break generational cycles of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty.
The bakery invites you to become part of the Luminary family by visiting the Stoke Newington-based café, ordering from the cake shop, volunteering or donating.
Darjeeling Express, Soho
On the surface, this restaurant is a masterclass in authentic flavours taken from founder Asma Khan’s Calcutta ancestry. Beautifully designed, with an ever-changing menu featuring seasonal vegetables from organic British producers, Darjeeling Express makes for a great eat-out option.
But more than just celebrating the cuisine of India, it celebrates Indian women and seeks to push back against the misogynistic traditions that harm them.
An all-women team of self-proclaimed housewives runs the kitchen at Darjeeling Express, and have done so from day one. Not only do they create home-style food cooked with passion, they use a portion of the profits from this to support Second Daughters Fund, a charity close to Khan’s heart.
In some more traditional parts of India, sons are still preferred over second daughters, and in some cases the birth of a second daughter is actually mourned. These little girls can grow into women who carry this hurt and disadvantage for the rest of their upbringings.
To help ease this, Darjeeling Express sends celebration packages for the birth of second daughters in Kurseong (a small town in the district of Darjeeling), and continues to support these girls through their education.
You can donate directly to the cause through the restaurant’s website, or just go in for a bite to eat.
North of England
Blackburne House, Liverpool
Blackburne House is an organisation which supports vulnerable women in its local area, by offering them the chance to further their education and in turn, support themselves financially with better employment options.
They offer a range of courses, particularly in areas where women are still under-represented, as well as affordable childcare help and access to a women-only wellbeing centre.
The centre also has its own bistro, located on the basement floor of the grade-II listed building. The restaurant uses as much local and seasonal produce as possible, and acts as a safe space for women to gather, spend time together and connect.
Images: Brooke Cagle / Instagram
Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.