Sandwiches for Society

Rose Street in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town is home to a multitude of cafés and sandwich shops, but one stands out from the crowd. At first glance Edinburgh-born sandwich shop Social Bite appears similar to the rest, with cosy sofas, an array of home-made cakes and the smell of coffee in the air, but upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that it is rather different. There are signs in the windows welcoming homeless people to come in for a suspended coffee – that is, a coffee that another customer has already paid for – and pictures on the walls introducing the charities that the business donates money to. Perhaps most poignant of all is the sketching on one of the shops’ walls, depicting a homeless man holding a sign that reads ‘Keep your coins. I want change.’ So why is all of this here? Well, it’s because this is not any ordinary sandwich shop – it’s a social business.

A social business is not a traditional company nor is it a charity, but rather a business that aims to sell a product, make a profit and then use those profits for a good cause. This kind of business pays its staff at a regular market value rate, but provides better than average working conditions, has investors that recoup the money they originally invested but receive no extra revenue and uses its profits to cover all of the business’ costs before directing the remainder into charities and worthy causes rather than the shareholders’ pockets. The concept at the heart of this type of business is quite simply different; the objective is to make a difference to society rather than to make money. Everybody involved in the business, from investors to owners to employees, shares this common goal.

Social Bite embodies these ideals and donates all – yes, 100% – of its profits to charities, such as locally-based homeless charity Shelter Scotland as well as more far-flung projects, such as Grameen Eye Care Hospital in Bangladesh and the Microloan Foundation in Malawi and Zambia. The Bangladeshi hospital performs free or subsidised eye examinations and operations on the country’s poorest people whilst the Microloan Foundation provides women with small loans and business training that allow them set up their own businesses and escape poverty. Alongside making financial contributions to Shelter Scotland, Social Bite also helps the local homeless community through ensuring that at least 25% of its workforce are from a homeless background. When the sandwich shop employs homeless people they help them into accommodation as well as giving them a steady job and income, immeasurably transforming their lives for the better.

Social Bite has big plans for the future; a new branch of the shop will open in Shandwick Place before Christmas and January will see an expansion into Glasgow. The Social Bite team says that their dream is for the business to develop into a large chain, able to compete with the likes of Pret a Manger and EAT, but they remind customers that no matter how big and successful the company gets, no individual will become rich from the profits – they will simply be able to help more vulnerable people around the world.

It’s open from 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. Monday to Friday at 131 Rose Street, for freshly prepared Sandwiches, Salads, Soups, Baguettes, Wraps, Hot Meals, Gourmet Pies and Organic Coffee. For more background, explanations and comments from customers, have a look at this video clip


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