The Portsmouth street food firm helping Syrian refugees

Need Street Food is now based in The Merchant House on Highland Road, Southsea, Hampshire with founder Pete Hunt and chef Stuart Armstrong. Picture: Malcolm Wells
Need Street Food is now based in The Merchant House on Highland Road, Southsea, Hampshire with founder Pete Hunt and chef Stuart Armstrong. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Everyone enjoys a good wholesome meal but thanks to a business enterprise in the heart of Portsmouth the food tastes that bit sweeter knowing that proceeds are going to a good cause.

Diners can be satisfied that 10 per cent of any food purchased from Need Street Food vending outlets is being directed to the humanitarian crisis of displaced Syrian refugees.

Chef Stuart Armstrong

Chef Stuart Armstrong

Need Street Food founder, Pete Hunt devised the initiative when on a holiday in the USA with his then-pregnant sister.

‘I was there at a time when the refugee crisis was at the height of its media exposure and there were heartbreaking images of severely malnourished children.

‘I was due to become an uncle and the prospect of new nephews and nieces made the situation much more pertinent.

‘Street food is really big out in the States and so  this got me thinking about a new business initiative which could be used to help those in need,’ explains 29-year-old Pete, who last year teamed up to provide the food at The Merchant House, Southsea.  

A shipment of the food packets, donated by Need Street Food, being loaded up

A shipment of the food packets, donated by Need Street Food, being loaded up

It was at this moment the foundations were laid for a new venture which would not only launch a successful local business but has since ensured thousands of refugee children are now receiving the sustenance they need.

Need Street Food’s latest shipment has seen over 100,000 food packs distributed to help children and pregnant mothers who have been displaced as a result of the refugee crisis. 

‘We are working with our charity partner, Plump’d, who have devised a paste called Plumpy Nut which provides life-saving food by giving these children the goodness needed for a developing body.

‘We have also started to distribute Plumpy Mum which is specifically for pregnant and lactating women to ensure mothers remain healthy and produce nutrient rich breast milk,’ says Pete.

Containing a concentrated mix of nutrients, carbohydrates and fats the long-life Plumpy Nut product needs no preparation and is ideally suited to the difficult conditions experienced in refugee camps.

For Plump’d director, Alia Brahimi, the food packs are critical to ensuring the well-being of displaced young children and mothers. ‘The packets will be used in the Idlib and Aleppo provinces of northern Syria, where many aid agencies regularly experience drastic supply shortages. Our donation of Plumpy Mum will mark the first time this product is being used in Syria and will play a critical role in the management of nutrition for pregnant and lactating women,’ she explains.

Visibly enthused, Pete’s eyes light up as he describes the life-saving difference their support can make. 

‘There are countless case studies which show the help this product can provide. In late 2016, our Syrian partners spotted Tasneem in the Atmeh refugee camp. At 19 months, she weighed only 6.5 kg and clearly suffered from acute malnutrition. Tasneem began consuming two to three packets of the Plumpy Nut and her weight soon increased to nine kilograms. She is now a healthy little girl,’ beams Pete.

Unlike most 20-something entrepreneurs it is this capacity to make a difference, rather than monetary gain, which motivates Pete. In addition to providing funding, Pete delivers the food packs to the distribution centre in Birmingham.

He says: ‘I think it is important to give something back. It is important in your working life to do something you believe in which can’t be satisfied just by making money. I am not religious but I do believe in karma. We have been born into a privileged position of being in a location where we are afforded a good standard of living but it is important to help those who aren’t so lucky.

‘While finance is obviously important, I do genuinely believe that there has been a shift in business culture to do something meaningful and worthwhile. We need to be financially successful for the business to grow but for me it is about how much good you can do and what difference you can make’.

It is this same fundamental belief which attracted head chef, Stuart Armstrong, 32.

‘I met Pete last year and he told me about the project. I have children myself and so anything that I can do to help this cause is brilliant. When the last shipment of 100,000 packs were sent off it was a brilliant feeling to know the difference it could make,’ explains Stuart.

Need Street Food have recently sent food packs to Yemen to support what Pete describes as ‘the worst food crisis in living memory’. However with a total of 119,000 food packs delivered to Syria it is here where efforts have been focused. 

The refugee crisis began in 2011 after the outbreak of civil war and the fear of political persecution from president Bashar al-Assad. Successful uprisings which toppled Tunisia's and Egypt's presidents led to pro-democracy protests.  Fearful of all-out anarchy, Assad responded by killing hundreds of demonstrators which led to the onset of civil war. 

As a result, more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed, more than a million injured, and more than 12 million – half the country's pre-war population – displaced.

‘While no longer in the public spotlight, this crisis is still ongoing. It is horrific to see children displaced and lives torn apart. People can make a real difference by supporting this cause,’ says Pete. 

‘Plump’d is tremendously grateful to Street Food and its customers. Together, we are sending thousands of sachets to children in Syria who have never been more vulnerable,’ said Alia.

Business remains true to city

From humble beginnings Need Street Food has blossomed to represent a dining experience now synonymous with Portsmouth.

Lots of people will have experienced Street Food at the many local events catered for across the city.

‘I initially started selling food out on the road. We have done Victorious, the Southsea Food Festival, WarrierFest and the Seafood Festival at Gunwharf Quays,’ explains founder Pete Hunt. 

Since March 2018 Street Food has teamed up with the Merchant House, in Highland Road, Southsea, to provide a permanent base where it regularly attracts hundreds of weekly diners to sample the culinary delights of traditional street delicacies from across the globe. As well as revelling in great quality food, Pete believes customers enjoy the satisfaction of supporting a good cause. 

Pete says: ‘We have a wide range of demographics and a loyal customer base. People regularly return as they love the fact they are putting something back into a worthy cause,’ explained Pete.

Despite plans to expand to London’s largest street food market and 'several real ale bars’, Pete has vowed to remain true to the business’s Portsmouth heritage.

‘I am Portsmouth born and bred. As a business it is important to think globally but we are very much based in the city,’ he stressed.  

U nderpinning the expansion is the opportunity to further support those in need. ‘The bigger we are, and more successful we are, then the greater support we can provide,’ says Pete.