5 US restaurants run by convicted prisoners
You don't need to do time to dine in the clink
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but what about a restaurant? Barred windows, dark corridors and a row of panic buttons doesn't sound like the perfect backdrop to your next fine-dining experience. Ok, we are being a little far fetched.
In the United States, there is currently one restaurant (included here) that's inside a prison and open to the public, where inmates run both the kitchen and the front of house.
Restaurants staffed by ex-convicts looking to build a brighter future and founded by people on a mission to make a difference are popping up across the US from New York City to Dallas, Texas. The food is delicious, with ingredients commonly sourced from local farms, kitchen gardens and horticultural schemes to grow and cultivate produce.
Menus across the five restaurants FoodTribe has selected here range from fine-dining fare to hearty plates of wholesome food and tasty grilled cheese sandwiches. Rock up and enjoy a decent meal knowing you're helping to give someone a second chance in life.
The Fife and Drum, Massachusetts
Fife and Drum menu
To eat lunch at this restaurant, you need to arrive at around 11.30am. There are no reservations, the room fills quickly and you will probably have to wait for a table — there are only 12.
Welcome to Fife and Drum, the restaurant run by inmates at the Northeastern Correctional Center in Concord, Massachusetts: a pre-release and minimum-security prison on 300 acres of farmland from which the restaurant sources produce, with herbs from a kitchen garden.
The decor here is basic and pretty bare, but the hearty meals are made from scratch, and reviewers online say the desserts are delicious. A three-course set-menu will set you back just $3.21!
The Fife and Drum offers culinary training for inmates, a program run for almost 25 years by Eddie Jacobs, a trained instructor and former restaurateur. It’s currently the only prison restaurant open to the public in the United States.
Edwins, Cleveland, Ohio
Book a table at Edwins and it's likely the waiter who serves you will have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. This smart and luxurious restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, serves upscale French cuisine and employs former prisoners from front of house to the kitchen.
Brandon Chrostowski founded Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute in 2007 to give formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry, while providing a support network necessary for their long-term success. When Chrostowski was young he had a brief scrape with the law and wants to give other people the second chance he got.
Edwins provides a six-month training course for former prisoners. In 2016, EDWINS Second Chance Life Skills Center opened and there's an on site bakery, butchers and shop. Students work nights to learn culinary and service skills that may well lead to full-time jobs.
Watch Brandon Chrostowski's Ted X talk on Edwins and his journey here.
All Square, Minneapolis, Minnesota
All Square Facebook
All Square is a grilled cheese restaurant featured in Time magazine’s “The World’s 100 Greatest Places of 2019” thanks to its superb sandwiches, but also its efforts to invest in the minds and lives of those impacted by the justice system.
The restaurant, which is not-for-profit, is staffed largely by people who were formerly incarcerated. To get a job here, you need a criminal record. Its mission is to provide employment and train people who are often shut out of meaningful work due to previous mistakes or bad behaviour.
In 2018, civil rights lawyer Emily Turner quit her job as a US Housing and Urban Development attorney to open All Square. Having previously worked on prisoner reentry, housing segregation, and fair housing, she wanted to find a truly hands-on way to make a difference.
On Mondays, when the restaurant closes, employees take classes in entrepreneurship and law. The restaurant’s team includes a CEO who was a five-time felon, a community organizer who was born in prison and later served time, and a businessman who was wrongly convicted.
Together, they planned a 13-month program to train others with criminal records (including some who haven’t been to prison). Employees – called fellows – spend 30 hours each week working in the restaurant, and are also paid for 10 hours of structured coursework.
Café Momentum, Dallas, Texas
Cafe Momentum Facebook
Since January 2015, Café Momentum has worked with more than 750 young men and women through our 12-month internship program to see them achieve their full potential.
Chef and founder Chad Houser created a transformative experience for people coming out of juvenile facilities to "serve up hope". They rotate through all aspects of the restaurant, focusing on life and social skills, coaching and development. Far from just a cafe, the restaurant serves fresh, locally sourced, sophisticated new American cuisine in the heart of downtown Dallas.
Produce comes from more than 20 local farms and ranches that support Houser's mission. Chefs and Interns cure their own charcuterie, make cheeses from scratch and ferment vinegars. Cafe Momentum is well-known by regulars for its smoked fried chicken.
Drive change food trucks
Drive Change Facebook
Drive Change started out in 2013 as one (now award-winning) food truck called the Snowday, that employed young kids who had been incarcerated on Rikers Island, an island between Queens and the Bronx and home to New York City's main jail.
Founder Jordyn Lexton was an English teacher at Rikers Island High School (some inmates were as young as 16 years old) and seeing the grim future forecasted for his otherwise bright, talented young students on leaving the jail, he wanted to make a real difference in their lives.
A couple of years ago, the organization received major funding and adopted a new business model that includes an industrial kitchen where year-long paid fellowships giving culinary arts training are offered to 36 people at a time. Expect some mother-waveringly good bites too.