Kahaila sits on Brick Lane quietly and confidently doing good. You’d be excused for not knowing of its do-gooding, however: it functions primarily as a rather excellent cafe but like all the very best of things, it’s loveliness is many layered. Founded by Paul Unsworth, the concept of its creation was, ‘how to do church differently’. And in doing so, Paul has not only created a bright and welcoming space but a real community who gather round to eat cake together, enjoy the many events hosted and go out spreading the joy into the larger community.
Even the cake itself is virtuous. Luminary Bakery supply Kahaila and was set up by the wonderful Alice who approached Paul with concerns about the welfare of vulnerable women in the area. Finding herself then employed for one day a week, she went and spoke to these women, discovered that what was needed is employment and so Luminary Bakery was born!
Now nearly three years old, this partnership is a glistening example of imagination’s happy collision with altruism. We spent a day in the bakery kitchen with these women and their easy pragmatism, capability and generosity shone. It is a professional yet relaxed environment where work is done with flare and everyone from the managers to the interns smile frequently and freely. And then, of course, there are the baked goods…
Rachel and Aine are the two principal bakers and my goodness are they good; we got through hundreds of cookies and multiple traybakes of Banana Crumble Cake in the time we were there. Banana Crumble Cake was invented by one of the apprentices as her recipe challenge during the training the bakery provides; all things from Level 2 Hygiene certification to pastry masterclasses are covered. For this particular challenge, apprentices were given a brief to come up with a seasonal recipe for a tray bake at a certain price point. Throughout the concomitant recipe testing, it was even discovered that you can put whole bananas into a kitchen aid and it’ll mash them up for you- who knew?!
This experimentalism and drive informs the theme of empowerment these women are living, baking and breathing. Alice goes round homeless shelters and safe houses, in fact all over London doing talks and meeting people. This is how she met the bubbly and wise Tina who now works at the bakery after having stormed through her apprenticeship with both determination and skill. She loved it and after the 6 months training, applied for a job and got it, she now even teaches the sourdough making classes to the new interns. The buzz is obviously contagious but also selfless, Tina said to me, ‘I don’t really know where Alice finds the drive to do this; she is a total stranger who changed my life’. And yet she’s carrying on in the tradition.
There is even yet another layer: Luminary Bakery are opening a cafe in their Stoke Newington residence in March, oh glory be! They still have another £10k to go, however, so people we implore you: go get eating the cake at Kahaila and give your money or your time. This is not only the worthiest of causes, it’s for the worthiest of women.
Words by Mimi Biggadike
Images by Jennifer Wallis