Transforming unwanted food waste into delicious contemporary cuisine. Discover the remarkable story of the Magic Hat Café.

The Magic Hat started in 2015, set up by Duncan Fairbrother and Jess Miller, started while they were at university. The project is a direct action cause to intercept food waste by any means possible. They would then feed people using the intercepted food. After each meal they would pass a ‘magic’ hat around and people could contribute what they thought the meal was worth.

Joseph Harrop, General Manager at Magic Hat said: “Our whole aim is to engage people to reflect on the value of food that has been deemed as valueless by our food systems and consumption culture.”

It began as a pop up at a community centre in Byker, Newcastle. They soon realised how big of an issue food waste was in the North East and decided they wanted their own place. By 2021 the Magic Hat Cafe was born.

The Magic Hat, Newcastle City Centre

There are no set prices on the menu. Allowing customers to ‘pay-as-they-feel’ and contribute what they think their meal is worth.

Mr Harrop stated: “It’s always been a part of magic hat, reflect and put a value on the food we serve you that was previously deemed worthless.”

They intercept between a tonne and 2½ tonnes of food a week with produce coming from a whole range of places. Their biggest donors are an organization called Fairshare who are one of the biggest food interceptors of food in the country.

They also collect from Amazon Food, Lidl, Local Artisan Bakeries and Grocery stores. But this is just part of the job, getting the food back to the café in good condition is another challenge in itself.

Mr Harrop explained how they get the food back in one piece: “We have an ex Tesco Food truck, so we’ve got refrigerated and freezer sections making sure that we can get food and preserve its quality when it’s right at the tail end of its shelf life.”

When the food waste voyage returns the team have a couple of hours to turn food waste into high quality dishes worth paying for. Their kitchen team is very diverse with backgrounds in Middle Eastern cuisine, South East Asian cuisine and plant-based cooking. One of their chefs even joined off the back of working at a Michelin star restaurant!

Mr Harrop said: “The way that they can put a menu together is by having a very diverse set of skills and experience.”

A Magic Hat menu from October – Credit:

The 80 seater Cafe obviously doesn’t serve 2 and a half tonnes of week so they donate the rest to soup kitchens, food banks and other community centred projects.

“We’re well networked in to all of these types of places to try and make sure as little food as possible goes to landfill.”

The cafes huge operation generates 100 hours of voluntary opportunities in the kitchen and front of house a week. The positions are mainly based around developing food education, social skills, confidence and employability experience. It is open to anyone over the age of 16 although that doesn’t stop the oldies getting involved!

“Our oldest volunteer is 77 at the moment, there is a really nice big range of people that come through.”

The Magic Hat obviously requires a lot more hard work then your typical bog standard cafe. There are a lot of daily operations that have to fall into place each day. I asked Joseph to describe what it’s like working there:

“It’s a rollercoaster. I don’t know if you remember the TV program ready steady cook. They turn up with a bag of random food and you have to cook with it, it’s like a really, really steroided version of that.”

The ride hasn’t been easy for Magic Hat and a lot of obstacles have reared their heads. One particularly challenging obstacle was during March and April this year.

Mr Harrop explained that these months saw a massive reduction in the availability of fresh food on supermarket shelves and in turn there was hardly any fresh food waste:

“At that point it was just root vegetables, a lot of turnip and celeriac so it was really about getting inventive.”

Despite the occasional challenge, the Magic Hat has managed to build a legacy based on transforming food waste and bringing people together from all over the City. Still, they continue to grow, innovate and educate. A place definitely worth trying!

“I’d say it’s a great place to come and have some delicious affordable food to challenge your palate and challenge your expectations of what food waste is.”

Joseph Harrop, magic hat cafe