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
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
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