“Some-times there’s a man. I won’t say a hee-ro, ’cause what’s a hee-ro? But sometimes there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time’n place, he fits right in there, and that’s the dude” – The Big Lebowski
Jack Brabant is very much part of the zeitgeist. It’s an exciting time to live in Birmingham. Things are changing, and with change, comes opportunity.
“In 2008, the dream of owning your own restaurant became out of reach for many people. The banks just weren’t lending, and starting up a food business traditionally required a pretty sizeable outlay.”
It was around this time that street-food culture really started to take off in the US, in newly gentrified hipster-hoods like Venice Beach LA, Williamsburg NY, and Pearl District in Portland.
“The idea to do something really came about in 2012. There really wasn’t all that much going on in the way of street-food. Shoreditch had it. Manchester’s Northern Quarter had it. But we didn’t.”
“Digbeth seemed like the perfect place. Relatively empty streets, not many residents close-by, plenty of disused bars, nightclubs and warehouses. I met the owner of Spotlight, and asked if he’d let me hold a street-food event outside his club on a Friday night. Within a few months, we’d become business partners.”
“Restaurants were struggling at that point, especially the mid-range, £10 a plate restaurants on the high street. There were hardly any independents. All these talented chefs started crawling out of the woodwork. Baked in Brick, Low ‘n’ Slow, OPM, all these magnificent cooks, suddenly had a really cost-effective platform to serve their ridiculously high-quality food at a reasonable price. Throw in some records and some craft ale, or cocktails, and you’ve really got yourself something special.”
Jack would never, ever brag about this – It’s not in his nature. But I think a little perspective is called for here. DDC has served as a platform for over 100 different traders, many of whom have gone on to host pop-ups, cook at street-food events around the country, and, in some cases, start their own restaurants. Digbeth Dining Club itself has become an institution, with a real focus on quality, value and an unmatched atmosphere, three nights a week.
The quality has remained high throughout, and it’s now normal for 1000 people to eat at DDC on a mellow Thursday. That’s good going.
I asked Jack about the beats. “So we’ve experimented loads with music over the last six years. We’ve had techno, trance, house, hip-hop. But I think, really, the funk and soul vibe lends itself much more readily to the atmosphere of DDC.”
And the treats? “So, again, we’ve had everything. There’s always a couple of bars on. Cocktails seem to go down particularly well, but craft ale in a can never fails to impress either. It just depends on what people are eating, what kind of weather we’ve got, and the vibe on the night.”
And finally, I ask him one more, deeply personal question. Apart from DDC, where’s Jack’s favourite place to eat? He raises an eyebrow. Then I get a cheeky smile as he says: “Desi Pubs. It’s a Birmingham thing. The Covered Wagon in Yardley Wood. But any of the original ones really. The Vine. The Grove. The Soho Tavern. Indian food in a pub. It’s the best.”
To find out more about Digbeth Dining Club, visit digbethdiningclub.com