Let’s be honest, East London’s coffee junkies are spoilt for choice; Shoreditch Grind, Haggerston Espresso Rooms, Curio Cabal, Dirty Coffee, Troy, Nude Espresso, the Hoxton…the list goes on, and on. And on.
Every one of these venerable establishments will do you an excellent espresso, a lovely latte, a cheeky chai, or a f*cking good flat white.
How to stand out from the crowd, then?
First of all, you need to serve great coffee. See above for confirmation that this does not materially reduce the field of potential cafes.
How about delicious, healthy, homemade food? Good call.
Made fresh on site by 2 dedicated chefs (possibly named Shelley and Fern) and a gaggle of dedicated trainees?
We’re getting closer.
Available to eat in or take away?
That’d be nice.
Menu that changes every day?
Freshly prepared food that oscillates appetisingly between frittatas, tortillas, hot specials, soups, and an ever present salad bar? Seasonal, local and ethically sourced food?
Catering for groups of up to 120 people? Warm, vibrant space in the heart of Spitalfields available for social events, supper-clubs, pop-ups, and corporate events and meetings?
Ok, ok, enough – has Gordon Ramsey gone hipster and opened something new on Commercial Street?
It’s a Marco Pierre White? A Hoxton Hix? A blooming East London Blumenthal?
Nope, nope and nope.
It’s The Skylight Café from Crisis – and guess what? It’s mostly run by ex-offenders and the homeless.
Excuse me? Did you just almost choke on your mouthful of quinoa salad and pomegranate juice?
It’s raison d’etre is not simply to keep Aldgate’s hipsters, hackers and hustlers fed, watered and suitably hyperactive through a combination of superfoods and caffeine. Although it does that pretty well, and at very reasonable prices.
It exists to provide a route back into work for homeless people and ex-offenders.
Since August 2004, when the café first opened (way before tech start-ups were “a thing” and Shoreditch was on the “bleeding edge” of what it means to be cool and trendy…it was mainly just “bleeding”), the café has run its training programmes, helping people who had lost their way find their feet again.
So far, 400 people have completed Crisis Café’s 16-week programme, which can be joined at any time, all year round. The aim is to place up to 35 trainees into work every year.
The work ain’t easy; it’s “intensive, on-the-job training, 2-3 days per week, focusing either on Front of House or in the Kitchen”. Ultimately, the aim is “to make employment a realistic prospect”.
But there are perks and rewards – employees get personal and professional coaching and action planning, and opportunities to apply for work experience placements.
They get to attend social events and educational visits. They get some travel paid for and free food and drink on training days.
They get a structured training program which takes into account their skills and interests, support practising for interviews, help with job searches and the opportunity to obtain accredited qualifications.
The café itself is friendly and buzzing with activity, the coffee is a fine blend of palatable rocket fuel, and the food is cornucopia-like.
And if you’re looking for corporate catering, you can choose from a selection of bespoke packages including canapes, sandwich platters, hot / cold buffets – or – how very British – traditional afternoon tea.
Plus the space, which holds up to 55, is available to hire from 4-11pm weekdays, and 8am – 11pm at weekends for social and corporate events, with free Wi-Fi, wheelchair access, a music system and commercial kitchen – you can even bring your own booze. This is East London, after all.
If you haven’t tried Crisis Café, you are in for a treat. High ceilinged, bright, thanks to its “Skylight”, huge windows and art deco lights; it’s a break-out-the-laptop-and-make-it-happen kind of ambience – the perfect place to impress a new client, wow an investor, or shoot the breeze with the “techerati” – or hang out with friends.
And just as importantly, every time you drop in, you are helping to change somebody’s life for the better.
Entrepreneurs aren’t just permitted to fail once, twice, or countless times, they are celebrated for taking a circuitous, different and difficult path to success, well-being, and a socially rewarding enterprise. Why should it be any different for those whose lives, sometimes through no fault of their, sometimes through misjudgment, took a wrong turn?
Waking up and smelling the coffee is something we all need to do from time to time. Get your fix at Crisis Café, and grab a frittata while you’re at it. It’s a game changer.