By Hannah Phillips
A café is getting rave reviews from customers despite having one vital difference– all the food is made by EX-CONVICTS.
At the Clink Café in city centre Manchester, every member of the four-strong team – from the waitresses to the chefs – is a former prisoner.
And while the customers leaving five star ratings might not instantly realise who their food has been made by, boss Jen Thomas insists it’s the perfect way for ex-lags to transform their lives and gain qualifications.
Ex-offender Emily, 27, from Manchester, said the café has helped her see light at the end of the tunnel after she spent four and a half months in Styal Women’s Prison.
Emily said: “When I was in prison, I thought I would never get a job anywhere, I thought nobody would employ me when they found out I’m an offender.
“Then I got a second chance to help turn my life around and gain qualifications.”
The cafe, which has a five star rating on TripAdvisor, has become famous for its freshly prepared breakfast and brunch dishes such as eggs Benedict, scrambled tofu on toast and avocado on toast, as well as salads and sandwiches.
One satisfied customer wrote on TripAdvisor: “The venue is excellent for catch ups.
“The food is excellent, service with a smile and coffee is better than the high street brands.
Fabulous venue and wow what a purpose. Giving back and changing lives.”
Another wrote: “Great surroundings lovely food and very, very good staff! An absolute must when in Manchester!”
General manager Jen, from Manchester, has worked at the café since it opened in 2017 and believes everyone deserves a second chance.
After spending 20 years in hospitality, she joined the team to help change the lives of people needing a second chance and ‘get them back on track’.
Jen said: “I have worked for many years in hospitality so it’s good to be able to share my experience with people who it will help to turn their lives around.
“Emily used to be quiet, she didn’t really interact with the customers and now she‘ll go over, sit down, have a chat.
“She’ll go over the menu with them and she’s really good at making recommendations for the restaurant. It’s become a passion for her.
“It’s really rewarding, it’s like giving someone a lifeline. You can see it build their confidence.
“It breaks down barriers, we need to change the way people think of someone who has been in prison.
“Some people would never guess Emily has even been to prison.
“All our customers are really supportive and if it’s the first time they have visited we often take the time to speak to them about what we do
“The reactions are always positive and we find they’ll return time and time again.”
The Clink also offers ex-offenders the chance to get back into employment and gain qualifications after leaving prison.
Since working at the café when she left prison in 2017, Emily has gained a food and beverage and professional cookery qualification.
Ex-offenders can spend up to one year working at the café, preparing themselves for going back into society full time and ensuring they don’t end up back inside.
Emily said when she leaves the Clink she’d now like to work with the probation service to stop offenders like herself going back through prison’s ‘revolving door’.
She added: “You don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. People would say it gets better and you’ll turn your life around but you don’t see it.
“You have to be in the right frame of mind to do that.”