February 5th, 2021
What’s the journey from bean to cup for your usual flat white? If you’re thinking fields of beans, tropical skies and smiling farmers bent at 90 degrees, you’re right. That’s one part of the story. The second part is what happens once the coffee reaches the UK. Presumably, now you’re picturing smashed avocado and repurposed wood.
What you won’t be envisaging in this caffeinated expedition is prison. You’re missing a trick.
Typically, we see brands prioritise customer needs before the needs of society. It makes sense: your patrons are the people who place the pounds in your pocket. But what about building the backbone of your business starting with what it can offer the community? That’s exactly what Redemption Roasters are doing, and they’re achieving impressive growth in tandem with noble altruism.
It’s simple, really. Redemption’s mission is to help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society. They train them in professional roastery and barista skills and then help their graduates to find work, either in their own coffee shops (of which they have five in London), or with their partners. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. Their 2019 report states that 100% of their London based graduates have found employment in their cafes (typically on a placement for between 6–12 months). Compare this with a 2015 YouGov survey of employers, and 50% of them said they wouldn’t even consider employing an ex-offender, regardless of what they were arrested for.
Initially the two founders, Max Dubiel & Ted Rosner, experienced coffee wholesalers, were approached through the Ministry of Justice to start a single barista school within a prison. Instead, they went a step further, and thought “why not start a whole roastery?” After launching in 2015, business boomed to the point where, earlier this year, they moved their roastery to HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire, quintupling their space in the process. They also now boast nine barista academies within prisons across England & Wales, too.
Throughout their history, there are countless times where one notices that they’ve gone above and beyond what was necessary. That’s how you get your audience to underline responsibility when they think about what your business stands for. This type of mission, and more importantly action, isn’t the marshmallow on top — it’s the spine of the company.
This seems like the opportune moment to talk about money. Whilst, yes, they pay those inside prison less than they would in a regular commercial outfit, their costs per kg of coffee are actually higher than comparable companies who operate in ‘normal’ conditions. Redemption Roasters have a greater need for staff, and they pay money towards the perpetual education of a churning workforce. Plus, they require special logistics to manage their supply chain. Getting a shipment of green tea through the heavy bolted gates was always going to seem a little suspect — “You can imagine what the gate staff thought that was.”
It’s one thing to appear to be focused on responsibility, and it’s another entirely to enmesh that ethos into your business model. Redemption have used their unique position to champion ultimate quality in their coffee. Caffeine Magazine claims that their students “trained four days a week for months.” This far exceeds the usual amount of training one would receive in a typical roaster/barista course, and as Ted Posner from Redemption says himself, “it’s something that takes a lot of time to master. And, to be blunt, that’s what a lot of these guys have.” As a result, there’s a certain gold standard expected from those who have been through the programme. They’re using the awkward and restrictive confinement of prison to intensify the skillset of their staff. Then, once they’re released, they do everything within their power to get them jobs.
This level of responsibility is not easy to copy. It’s clear from the level of thought they’ve put into the programme, into their partnerships with charities, and into their education programme, that they’re sincere in their desire to produce incredible coffee and also offer purpose to a marginalised section of society that is so often overlooked.
There’s power in appearance, no doubt about it. But in terms of clout, true responsibility always boils down to action. As Hatched’s Creative Director, Lee Casey, says, “taking responsibility… shows leadership. And with leadership comes a following, and with a following comes more influence, power and weight to make positive change.”
By using their knowledge of the hospitality industry, Redemption Roasters are championing a top-quality product in addition to providing much needed training and employment opportunities for ex-offenders. Their next goal is to extend their scheme to the unemployed and homeless. Let’s raise a latte to that.
Written by Jonathon Bartlett, Content Manager, NOKAMO.
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