Replace your bankrupt builder… oh, and find £3 million: life as a social entrepreneur in Hackney

EartH©DA0219: Village Underground chief Auro Foxcroft, at launch of his eaterie, EartH Kitchen, in EartH, ex Savoy Cinema, 11 Stoke Newington Rd, Dalston N16 8BH, 130219 ©
Foxcroft: cooked up a restaurant after “the madness” of renovating a cinema

You may not know Auro Foxcroft but you may have occasionally wondered about the Tube carriages stranded on a rooftop in Shoreditch. The social entrepreneur, 41, made them into workspaces for creatives, and converted the Victorian warehouse below to Village Underground, a venue for concerts, workshops and exhibitions. Similarly with a crumbling cinema in Stoke Newington Road: he revived the art-deco building as  EartH, a music and arts venue. A few weeks ago he added EartH Kitchen, a 150-seat restaurant. Loving Dalston asked him some quick questions

TubeDA11:  train carriages of Village Underground admin and offices for creatives, including an author 089211  ©
On track: the Village Underground Tube carriages can be seen from the street and the Overground railway

* The launch party must have cost a fortune…

Not compared with the madness of renovating a derelict cinema.

* You came back from a trip abroad only weeks before the restaurant’s scheduled opening to find your builder had gone bankrupt. You had to find a new contractor and borrow £3 million. Just another day at the office?

Fortunately not. But as my granddad used to say, the gods laugh at those who make plans.

EartH©DA0219b: launch of eaterie EartH Kitchen, in EartH, ex Savoy Cinema, 11 Stoke Newington Rd, Dalston N16 8BH, 130219 ©
Space place: one of the two vast rooms offering a total of 150 seats

* The interior decor makes good use of a difficult space. Who helped with the design?

It’s the great work of local designer Ben Masterton-Smith, ofTransit Studio. Boy, he had his work cut out.

* The restaurant scene in Dalston has grown extraordinarily in the last decade and there have been closures. EartH Kitchen has entered a highly competitive market…

Yep, here goes! We have Chris Gillard, a great chef, making delicious food. Plus thousands of people a week coming for shows who might just avoid the classic grab-a-kebab on the way home. 

EartH©DA0219Chris: Chris Gillard, chef of EartH Kitchen in EartH , ex Savoy Cinema, 11 Stoke Newington Rd, Dalston N16 8BH, at the eaterie’s launch 130219 ©
Launch-ready: chef Chris Gillard looks relaxed at the press night of the Dalston resto

* With Gillard in charge of cuisine and mixmaster Toni Castillo tending to drinks, you are aiming for a knowledgable, affluent clientele. And you have to lure them into an off-street venue. Simples?

Yes, we’ll be running a workers’ lunch, the right side of a tenner for everyone who needs a nice, warm place where they can get their laptop out. Bar snacks are coming soon: affordable pre-show bites — no one likes a rumbling tummy at a show — and small bites for after-shows. Brunch is going well: we’ve just added vegan options. 

EartH©DA0219b: EartH, ex Savoy Cinema, 11 Stoke Newington Rd, Dalston N16 8BH, 130219 ©
Savoy saved: the art deco cinema lives again as a music venue in west Hackney

* What kind of music do you like?

I’m eclectic as can be. Programming at EartH will increasingly reflect the wide range of artists and genres from around Planet Earth that inspire us.

* Any mega acts coming up at EartH?

I’m looking forward to Oumou Sangare at EartH on the 10 April 2019. We hosted her and her Malian band at Village Underground (VU) two years ago. We work with about 3,000 artists a year; she was definitely in my top 5 ever.

menu©DA19: Earth Kitchen menu and wine list  180219 ©
Menu and drinks: the wine prices in the last column are based on standard 75cl — not 125ml — bottles

* EartH and the resto are potentially a great asset to Hackney. Has the town hall been supportive?

Yes. It was challenging to get a licence for a venue that size, as it should be, but happily the council got behind the idea. We had a phenomenal response from local people writing to support our application. Thanks, everyone.  

* Last holiday?

Managed a week in Portugal last year. Desperate for a break now.

* Having started your social-entrepreneurial career by letting space in Tube carriages, which morphed into Village Underground, you’ve saved a classic building as EartH. Bet you’ve even more ambitious ideas…

After that holiday you asked about! We’ve got a Village Underground in Lisbon, Portugal, that’s doing great and we’re working on one in Barcelona, Spain. People ask us to get involved in projects all the time so there’s plenty to do. I’d like to get into social housing at some point.

menu©DA19: Earth Kitchen cocktail list  180219 ©
If the wine list features unusual grape varieties, the cocktails are more conventional

* A tip for any would-be entrepreneur — or do economic issues — let’s avoid the B word — mean the enterprising young should give up on their dreams for a few years?

Never! So many exciting things and approaches come out of economically hard times. We opened VU a year before the crash and made it. 

* EartH Kitchen, 11-17 Stoke Newington Road N16 8BH (0203 873 2345), opens Monday-Friday 8am-midnight; Friday 8am-1am Opening hours usually 8am/9am to midnight/1am but check website

Savoy©DA19: ex Savoy Cinema now Earth arts cinema London N16 © david.altheer@gmailcom 200119
Art-deco cinema: the former Savoy had crumbled during several incarnations

* All pictures on this page © DavidAltheer [at], and all for sale for reproduction. Most photographs are available in bigger formats.

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained. A link in no way expresses support for any site.

This site welcomes fair comments, including the critical. They may be edited for grammatical, legal or taste reasons, or for shortening. In the unlikely event that anything defamatory is posted, the sender’s details may have to be divulged. (Under UK law, this applies to any comment/discussion forum, eg, Twitter.) RSS feed link is at top right. Twitter: @lovingdalston Publicists, amateur and professional, should read Also relevant may be the note at the end of Photographs © David Altheer unless otherwise stated and apart from supplied pictures