Sobar in Nottingham is not like other bars and restaurants in its vicinity: it doesn’t serve alcohol. But there is a reason for that — and the clue is in its name.
The venue, which is based in the city centre, is manned by voluntary staff, many of whom are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
Double Impact, the charity behind the launch of Sobar, has transformed what was the old Nottingham Building Society building in Friar Lane into a place serving food and drinks from morning to night, creating 20 full and part-time jobs in the process.
All profits made by the venture will go back into funding Double Impact’s range of services for people in recovery.
Central to the whole operation is the kitchen and cooking facilities, so Nottingham catering equipment distributor Cookco was called upon to supply and fit the kit that the charity would need to meet its goals.
While it certainly wasn’t a case of ‘no expense spared’, the charity was awarded National Lottery funding, allowing it the luxury of being able to invest in a complete commercial kitchen with enough firepower to serve more than 60 covers at a time.
“We were involved from the start in advising on what is currently trending in the food market, which is very much the stone-baked pizzas and things like that,” explains Cookco’s senior sales manager, Nic Banner. “The idea was to create something that is quick and easy to go because the location is right in the centre of the city and one of the major bus stops in Nottingham is right outside. They have got major footfall outside their door, so it had to be about quick, easy turnaround.”
The site is also opposite an office block, so Sobar hopes to entice workers with free delivery during breaks and lunchtimes. All in all, the venue will serve as a soup kitchen, coffee bar, alcohol-free bar and young adult bar, as well as a takeaway and restaurant.
Given the diversity of the operation, Cookco’s challenge was to assemble a kitchen that would work on multiple levels. “The unique side of the project was that the building comprised three very small rooms,” says Banner.
“But the rooms are quite far apart and there is a big corridor between two of them. The major hurdle for us was convincing them to bring the kitchen to the front, right next to the restaurant. The initial consultant they had wanted it right at the back, but given the building was probably 30 to 35 metres from front to back it was a long way to go from one area to the furthest point of the restaurant. In fairness they listened and they took my advice on board.”
In terms of lay-out, one room serves as the prime cooking area, another contains the dishwashing and glasswashing operations and the third is a preparation area that also doubles up as a training kitchen for volunteers. Cookco also carried out the stainless steel works underneath the main bar.
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Asked what quirks there were to the project, Banner replies: “The quirks came with the extraction and the pollution officer who I haven’t come up against very often! It was difficult because although it is in the middle of town with businesses next door, there was residential above the building. We were literally jumping through hoops to get it in there and in the end we actually got an instruction from a chief executive to just go ahead with it and do what we thought was right and see what the pollution officer said. So we did and we got it right.”
As far as catering equipment specification was concerned, the emphasis was on ease of use and speed of output. Kit from the likes of Blue Seal, Gram, Lainox, Roband and Simag — the latter supplied by Pentland Wholesale — was used for the job.
“The Lainox combis are very good and the reason we went for that is the simplicity of use — it is an absolute doddle to use,” says Banner. “We went for knobs and knockers given that potentially there was going to a lot of trainees from the drug and alcohol dependency units coming in.
“And the new Roband grill is absolutely brilliant. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had sold more than most people in the country. It is a fantastic product and everyone I have sold it to absolutely loves it.”
With the kitchen equipped well ahead of the venue’s recent opening, the charity is now looking forward to seeing the operation establish itself within Nottingham’s food circle.
Richard Atkinson, fundraising co-ordinator, said: “It’s fantastic to see months and months of planning finally come together. The business model behind the bar is hugely important to us as it allows us to provide extra support to help people on the road to recovery. There’s never been anything like this in Nottingham.”
Equipment from a variety of manufacturers was used during the fit-out, including:
Blue Seal: Cooking equipment & dishwasher
Gram: Refrigeration cabinets
Lainox: Combi oven
Simag: Ice machines
Pinnacle Stainless: Extraction canopy
Roband: Grill station