Edinburgh snack van owner Mike English to close Leith Snack Bar after 21 years
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A beloved Edinburgh chef, that first began trading on Leith Links 21 years ago, has announced he will close his popular food van in the coming weeks – a move labelled by his loyal customers as the ‘end of an era’.
Mike English, 62, first setup shop in Leith in 2003, quickly becoming a well-known face in the community – working seven days a week for 17 years before changing to a three-day week in the last few years. Now, after putting in a rigorous two-decade-long shift, the man described as ‘a Leith institution’ has decided it is time to retire and plans to sell his famous food van in early August.
Mike said: “I’ve worked down here for 21 years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it. I’ve met people down here from all walks of life who are now lifelong friends and it’s been a pleasure working here.”
Friends and regulars of the legendary food van will have a chance to celebrate Mike’s well-earned retirement at a farewell BBQ on Leith Links next month. Taking place outside his van in Leith Gardens on August 6, guests can turn up from 10am and will be treated to a free breakfast.
Taking to social media, many of Mike’s regulars have posted comments wishing the popular chef a happy retirement. One said ‘sad times, a Leith institution’ while another said ‘I’m going to miss him – his cheeseburger rolls when yer hinging are absolutely amazing.’ Others described Mike as ‘a huge part of the community’ ‘one of Leith’s legends’ and another stated the closure would be the ‘end of an era.’
Mike, who was once a head chef on oil rigs, said he ‘had no intentions of opening up a snack bar’ back in the early 2000s, but working away from home for six months of the year promoted the ‘Leith legend’ to look for another job that would allow him to ‘see his kids grow up’ – a bold move that proved to be a great decision.
“I remember my first day – I took £22,” Mike said. “I thought what have I done? I’ve just left a job that pays £29 per hour and now I’m taking £22 for a whole day’s work. But the next day it was £25, then £30 and the following day it was £50, and things just got better and better and better. So I thought I’ll keep it going for another couple of months and 21 years later I’m still here.”
Alongside serving his regular customers, Mike also looked out for members of the local community, giving free meals to people who couldn’t afford to pay and also providing free food twice a year to neighbouring St Mary’s Primary School for their annual fundraisers – a gesture that saw Mike honoured with an award for services to the community.
The Leith chef was so beloved by the school that pupils sang outside his van on his 60th birthday – a moment Mike said ‘would bring a tear to a glass eye.’ Mike said: “When I saw all the pupils come out I thought it was a fire alarm, but when they started lining up and took out this massive poster and sang happy birthday – well believe you me – it doesn’t matter how big or strong you are – that will definitely sort you out.”
Looking ahead to his farewell BBQ on August 6, Mike said: “I’d like to say thank you to all my customers from over the years who have come down in the wind and the rain. I want to say thank you to them properly so they can come down for a free breakfast and maybe a wee beer and a glass of wine just to say cheerio. I’m really looking forward to that.”