Lockdown may have kept their doors closed for the past three months, but two Edinburgh restaurateurs are determined to put food on the table for those who need it most.
Despite not generating any income, Dean and Layla Gassabi of Maison Bleue have spent June cooking more than 2,500 meals for city children deprived of the hot lunches they’d normally receive at school.
The big-hearted father and daughter duo, who also run sister eatery, Morningside’s Maison Bleue Le Bistrot, have partnered with charities Children 1st and Choices for Change in an effort to help the most vulnerable in society.
The philanthropic initiative is being funded by Petroleum Experts (Petex), who approached the Gassabis with the idea and asked them to select a worthwhile cause.
Having helped a raft of other charities, including Social Bite, in recent years, Dean and Layla decided the plan was a “no-brainer”, and called on two of their kitchen staff to assist as volunteers.
Since the start of the month, the team at Maison Bleue have produced 100 meals a day for Children 1st, and an additional 100 meals a week for Streetworks, helping those who are homeless.
Once cooked, the meals are delivered to 25 families who have been identified by Children 1st as being in urgent need.
Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, Maison Bleue say they will be producing the meals until the end of July and possibly even longer.
Co-owner Layla Gassabi said: “Children 1st’s Parentline helpline revealed a huge surge in demand in the first week of lockdown, and one of the things mentioned was parents’ ability to provide food. A hot meal is something that many families simply can’t have.
“It was an absolute no-brainer for us to get involved.”
Lisa Glenday Murdoch, Head of Philanthropy and Partnerships at Children 1st, said: “We are delighted to have partnered with Choices for Change to give local children and families some stability in these challenging times.
“Thanks to Maison Bleue and Petroleum Experts, parents know that their family will get a healthy meal, children are trying new foods, and families are enjoying special time as they eat together.”
Dean Gassabi, who founded his Victoria Street restaurant in 1998, said the past few months have been very stressful financially, with the Covid-19 crisis wiping out all bookings between March and July.
Last week, Dean called for the council to push forward with plans to pedestrianise Victoria Street, and allow al fresco dining – as it could be the only way for businesses to survive.
For the time being, however, Dean says he and Layla are fully concentrated on putting their professional worries to one side and helping struggling families for as long as they are able.
He said: “If it wasn’t for Petex funding this, we wouldn’t be able to do it, so we are very thankful to them.
“There are families who don’t have money to eat – it’s getting to that stage.
“We started on the first of June and are looking at doing this until at least the end of July, but, obviously, once we reopen, we’ll be looking to cater for our business once more.
“We’ll be looking to do this for as long as we can, because it’s going to be very hard for everyone concerned for the foreseeable.”
Aware that children can be fussy eaters, the Maison Bleue kitchen, which normally specialises in high-end Mediterranean cuisine, has been making food that has the right balance between being tasty and healthy.
Layla said: “It’s a balancing act to provide something that’s tasty but also healthy.
“We are keen to make sure the children are getting their five a day, so we try and incorporate that inside a lot of the sauces. That way we can make a really wholesome, tasty meal, with all the goodness packed in too.”
There is one day in the week that is certain to go down well with the kids. Each Friday, the team make sure they get a sweet treat, such as a banoffee pie or chocolate fudge cake.