11:52 AM March 10, 2022
Robert Hunningher set up a soup kitchen and food bank from his Hoxton catering company during the pandemic and was awarded a British Empire Medal for his efforts to feed the local community.
Now, the Dalston resident has opened a Humdingers bakery and cafe in Hornsey Road, near Crouch Hill, and plans to run a weekly soup kitchen there later in the year.
In the meantime he continues to serve free soup, sourdough and veggie curries four days a week from his base in Hoxton Street.
“We get a real mixed bunch coming in,” he says. “Even if you have a million pounds you can have a free meal. There’s a boy of 13 who gets meals for him and his mum and at least he doesn’t go to bed hungry. There’s kids whose parents work nights and never get a hot meal. Everyone is welcome, we don’t judge anyone, there’s no religion or politics. “
Launched 12 years ago, Humdingers Catering became popular with fashion brands from Alexander McQueen to Gucci and Vogue. Catering for weddings, events and location shoots, it expanded next door, but it all stopped when the pandemic hit.
Despite the challenges during Covid, Hunningher turned over his staff and kitchen to feed 1,000 people a week, and cook meals for paramedics and staff at the Royal London Hospital. They also ran a year-long food bank – prompting the vicar of St Anne’s Church Hoxton to write on their board: “Thanks to Humdingers for spreading love throughout the community.”
“I always wanted to cook for the NHS and charities,” says Hunningher, who grew up in Highbury. “But we needed to make the rent, and doing canapes, and lunches for models and fashion campaigns, the more we did, the more it opened doors. For me I wasn’t interested in money, it was: ‘Look how much they are paying me to cook with these amazing ingredients. ‘
“During the pandemic we heard they were in trouble at the Royal London, with not enough food, and were the first to jump on board with 500 meals a day for two months. When they shut us down early at Christmas we had a big fridge of food that would go to waste, including 100 turkeys. We needed to cook so we said ‘let’s make masses of proper turkey roasts’ and gave them to the Royal London and the ambulance center in Homerton. come and eat with us and it was a real honor. “
Humdingers also runs salad and sandwich deliveries to NHS walk in centers and local charities such as Nia Project and Stonewall. Staffed by volunteers, he believes the soup kitchen gives his team a “passion and purpose”.
“I’m sure we get a few people who think ‘free food how wonderful’, but they are very welcome. It’s amazing how many friends you make and what it does for the morale of the team.”
Hunningher, who has two children and a wife who is an NHS speech and language therapist, attended St John’s Primary in Highbury then a specialist boarding school for his severe dyslexia. He says it was “a real honor” to get the British Empire medal last year and is off to Buckingham Palace in May for a garden party.
“It’s a really beautiful medal. I was shocked to get it. I still blush because I am a bit shy, but my granny who had a soft spot for the royals would have been proud.”
The new cafe boasts a stylish, cozy interior and serves coffee, pastries and bread all made in Hoxton Street. Future plans include an alcohol license to serve wine, and a soup kitchen in the summer which Hunningher will run from the back of a van if there’s not enough space.
“It’s amazing and beautiful. We’ve completely converted it and are desperate to start a kitchen soon. The more we make, the more we can put back into the community.”
Humdingers 524-526 Hornsey Road.