Interview with Angela McNay (Unity Grill)

Unity Grill Logo

This is an interview I did with Angela McNay, the owner and operator of Unity Grill, a social enterprise and restaurant based in Ayr. I was also fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a meal at Unity Grill, and you can check out my review of that by clicking here.

So why the name ‘Unity Grill’?
I toyed with other names for quite a while but Unity is what we are all about so it felt like that had to be in the name so that people got an idea of what we stood for right away and the whole menu is based around the grill.

Why open it in Ayr?
I’ve lived in Ayr for the past 13 years and my children have grown up here. This is where I call home. It’s a beautiful place with some wonderful people. Ayr has some very wealthy areas but it also some very deprived areas. If you were a visitor here it’s very easy to overlook that.

What inspired you to open a restaurant like this?
I recently finished my degree in Social Policy and my research was on food poverty. When I started I couldn’t understand how food poverty could exist in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I’ve spent the past 3 years with South Ayrshire Foodbank where I’ve lucky to have been involved in all aspects from supermarket collections, giving talks and giving out the food to those in need.

There are so many things that struck me about all those people I met along the way. The vast majority of people don’t want something for nothing they know when their situation is better they want to give something back. Food poverty is a very isolating issue. If you can’t afford food at home you certainly can’t afford to eat out. It’s an ordinary thing we take for granted. We meet friends for lunch or celebrate over dinner. If you face food poverty you are further isolated from a culture that revolves around food. I wanted to create a space where everyone would be welcome regardless of their ability to pay.

Do you think a ‘pay it forward’ style business is sustainable?
The model isn’t based on ‘pay it forward’ most people will pay the prices on the menu that will allow us to use our profits to offset the cost of meals for those who cannot afford it. It’s important to recognise that money isn’t the only thing of value people have. Our in need customers will volunteer their time in advance in return for a voucher. Their time has a value and they will earn what they receive. Our better off customers are welcome to ‘pay it forward’ if they choose.

How difficult has it been to put this business together?
I have been incredibly well support from the business programme I’m on. I’m a student at The School for Social Entrepreneurs. I also have a board of directors to lean on. There have been a few hurdles along the way and things got difficult but as they say ‘every day’s a school day.’ I certainly know a lot more now than I did at the beginning.

What kind of food do you plan to serve?
I got my start in the kitchen when I lived in the US so the food is pretty influenced by that. I’ve tried really hard to create a menu unlike anything in Ayr.

Do you have any volunteers ahead of time who want to be involved/do you have a way for people to contact you to volunteer?
We have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people wanting to volunteer. We will be having recruitment days in October to make sure we match the right people to the roles. The volunteers will supplement our paid staff. We want our volunteers to have an enjoyable fulfilling experience with us.

Do you have the support of any other local businesses/charities?
We are supported by some incredible local businesses who have given up endless hours to get us to this point. Our architects Denham/Benn are working pro bono. I dread to think how many hours they have put in. The next phase of building comes courtesy of Ashleigh Development and Jewsons who have shown incredible generosity. Everything we have needed has either come free or heavily discounted. The list is so long and we couldn’t have done this without that support.

What has been the overall reaction to ‘Unity Grill’?
Ayr is ready for something like Unity Grill. The reaction has been unbelievable. I could not have imagined such a welcoming response. So many people have taken us into their hearts and really feel invested in the project and what we are trying to achieve. Ayr has a wonderful community spirit and we’ve managed to tap into that every step of the journey. We ran community workshops to teach people skills while helping us fit out the public area. We had a donate a chair campaign and people like to see what happened to their chair. We’ve up-cycled them to match. There has been incredible media interest in Unity Grill as it’s the first of it’s kind. 99.9% of messages are positive and supportive. There is the odd occasion where people have been negative but that mainly comes from outside or from people who don’t really understand what we are doing.

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