I can promise that the major new project, The Fork in the Road restaurant and Bar Zero, will be a place of great food, great ambience and great opportunity.
Believed to be unique in North East, the charity-funded, not-for-profit eaterie will be run by highly experienced catering professionals who will mentor a number of trainees looking for a second chance in life, including ex-offenders, those in recovery from addiction and the long-term unemployed.
The Fork in the Road is based on Middlesbrough’s Linthorpe Road, in previously derelict premises once occupied by popular toy shop, Romer Parrish, opposite the town’s booming Baker Street and Bedford Street regeneration zone.
Two former offenders are among the restaurant’s first recruits, including a Redcar teenager whose job as a kitchen porter is his first ever employment after serving a year in prison.
As the chair and founder of the charity behind the project, I’m delighted to say that The Fork in the Road is dedicated to serving fantastic food but, even more importantly, changing lives.
We’re liaising closely with the Probation Service and other authorities to identify the right people to support, whilst we’re also working with a local college to create a training programme that will prepare those who need help into employment to prepare for a working environment.
We’ve created 11 jobs from the outset, but we plan to create many more volunteering, training and employment opportunities for some of the most vulnerable in our society over the next two years.
Those we’re supporting will work alongside and learn from highly experienced and skilled restaurant staff to ensure our standards are high and they learn from the best.
The 60-seat Fork in the Road will offer classic British dishes of an exceptionally high standard including steak and chips, fish and chips and a pie of the week, all with locally sourced ingredients.
We’re offering the stuff everybody loves to a really high quality. So we aim to ensure our steak and chips is the best in 20 miles and the fish and chips will be absolutely fantastic.
I’m confident we’ve got a broad menu that will keep everyone happy
This is a unique concept so there’s huge interest in the project, both locally and nationally, so we do expect to be busy.
We want people to come and enjoy great food and atmosphere in the knowledge that they’re helping us do some good for the Teesside community.”
During building work, local contractors uncovered old steel beams embossed with the name of iconic Middlesbrough firm Dorman Long, so the interior designs were amended to ensure the nod to Teesside history is on view for customers to see.
The restaurant will be the first on Teesside to have a “no tips” policy, with customers instead being charged a slight premium on food to allow the restaurant to pay staff a higher wage.
Customers will also be offered a £10 “sharing dish” that, rather than featuring food, is an opportunity for them to make a donation to some of Teesside’s most vulnerable people. Any profits the restaurant makes will also be used solely for the benefit of Teesside’s most vulnerable.
The Fork in the Road is being funded by my Middlesbrough-based national charity CEO Sleepout and Public Health England.
CEO Sleepout inspires business leaders to raise funds by being sponsored to sleep out for a night, with 15% of all funds returning to fund projects such as The Fork in the Road on Teesside.
CEO Sleepout has now raised more than £1 million for funds supporting those affected by homelessness and addiction.
More than 1,000 businesspeople, MP’s and clergy have given up their beds to sleep out in landmark locations such as Wembley, Lord’s and The Oval in London, Newcastle’s St James’ Park, Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground and both the Riverside Stadium and Preston Park Museum here on Teesside.
Also opening above the restaurant is Bar Zero, a dry bar which I believe will play an important role in Teesside's recovery scene, offering a great place to mix with friends and meet people, while also being made available to hire for private functions.
The planning of this project has been carefully managed by a group including Dot Turton from charity Recovery Connections alongside Jonathan Bowden and Rachel Burns of Middlesbrough Council’s Public Health Department.