The Gate restaurant – ambitious about autism

By Michael Daniel, Founder/Owner of The Gate

Charity, as the old adage goes, begins at home and doing good is something I’ve grown up believing in. You’d have to have some reason to set up a vegetarian restaurant business in London nearly 30 years ago with absolutely zero experienc and less money! Anyway, fast forward to a couple of years ago and I was discussing with my (now) Director of Business, John Page about how to get really hands on with a charity and I wasn’t talking about writing a cheque. I was having lunch with a good friend of mine who has a son who is autistic and the way she was describing her experiences really struck a chord with me. Now, as a child, me and formal education did not get on and as a result I felt like I
didn’t fit in at school. Imagine feeling like you don’t fit in ANYWHERE as a child.

So began our journey which has ended up with the unbelievable accolade of becoming the UK’s first autism-friendly restaurant. One of the proudest moments of my life.

Anyway, myself, John and our chef headed over to Holmewood School, North London, where we went with the intention of teaching the kids some basic cooking skills, but came away learning far more than we taught. See more about that here.

We then used those learnings to create a special menu that reflects the experience that you or I might take for granted, eating a meal without any fuss. Simple things, the shape of the food, the colours, how it’s presented. We then used that menu for a fund-raiser for our partner Ambitious About Autism (AAA). Again, it has to come back to the food, that’s our raison d’etre.

Behind the scenes, I was learning even more. We have always believed in investing in people but once again John took it to another level. We had a part-time waitress who was really enthusiastic and we gave her the scope to really carve out a role for herself here; it started with her unbridled enthusiasm for the project, carried on with her really developing the scope and scale of it, along the way she also ran a marathon (her first) to raise money for AAA and now she looks after all things CSR at the Gate. So I really have to doff my hat to Loni and I have to salute John for giving her the opportunity, seemingly from nowhere.

Sustainability isn’t just about your ingredients or what light bulbs you use, it’s a whole philosophy which can be boiled down to: people first.

We sincerely hope that we are just the first of many, many restaurants and businesses that will be autism friendly, yes, but will be about the people.

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