Where Taste Rules
When ground-breaking social enterprise Café Britannia opened in 2014, the first day’s takings came to the grand total of £12. Nowadays the head chef and his team will ably cater for more than 200 covers during a Fathers’ Day breakfast.
Little did Davina Tanner OBE and former HMP Norwich Governor Will Styles know that a café run by serving and ex-prisoners would become such a success story and lead to two more venues in iconic Norwich buildings (not to mention two vintage catering vans, which are all geared up for events, festivals and parties).
Britannia Enterprises launched in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and HMP Norwich, and was given a year, by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling at the time, to work as a concept.
Chief Executive Davina admits: ‘We didn’t know that it would work.’ What sets the café - based at the former Britannia Barracks next to HMP Norwich - apart from thousands of other social enterprises is that the majority of the 30 or so staff employed are serving or ex-offenders. And there’s a big social impact to it all: diners are helping to employ offenders and stop them from re-offending (Britannia’s re-offending rate is just five per cent, compared to the national reoffending rate of 46 per cent).
All tips and profits generated go to rehabilitating prisoners and chosen charitable causes - since the launch, Café Britannia has donated more than £50,000 to Victim Support.
And in 2015, Davina was awarded an OBE, in recognition of her services to businesses and the wider community in East Anglia.
She says modestly: ‘I got it in the first year I was here - it’s surreal really as you see other people who haven’t got one and you think ‘why have I got one?’ But she adds: ‘It’s amazing and lovely to be recognised.’
Davina would be the first to admit she’s ‘not a foodie’. She has held senior roles at Arcadia, Tesco and intu Chapelfield shopping centre and says: ‘I would never have left Chapelfield to just go and open a restaurant or a café - that wasn’t my experience.’ However, devising the Community and Custody Project whilst at intu Chapelfield, has clearly inspired her. As did her time at value-driven Tesco. ‘I’m a Tesco girl,’ admits Davina, before describing the food at Café Britannia: ‘The food is very simple and done well - it’s all fresh and we’ve got a good relationship with our supplier, Pilgrim Foodservices.’
Although the menu might not scream locally-sourced, Davina does say: ‘We are talking to Archer's - the sausages are amazing.’
She makes the point: ‘Our USP ultimately is about rehabilitation - that’s the core that goes through it all.’ And the other unique selling point, of course, is the fact that the café up on Mousehold affords spectacular views over Norwich.
Café Britannia offers a day menu (‘breakfast is probably our busiest time’) and a dedicated afternoon tea room, and there’s also an evening bistro menu, which is popular in the summer months, although Davina is well aware of the fact that ‘there are so many amazing restaurants in Norwich, and in Norfolk’ to choose from. She makes the point: ‘I love Benedicts but it’s not the market I’m in.’ Whereas Café Britannia always has a good special offer on (the Around the World in 80 Days burger promotion ends on October 2, for example).
Last year Café Britannia was awarded Best Family Dining at in the Norfolk Food and Drink Awards, and, by the end of the year, Shop Britannia, next door, starting selling gifts, homewares and furniture reupholstered by offenders in the Prisoner Workshop. The café décor has always been what you would call ‘shabby chic’: ‘We did it on a shoestring,’ says Davina. ‘And it’s now become synonymous with who we are.’
Following the success of Café Britannia, Britannia Enterprises was approached by Norwich City Council to become custodians of the historic Grade I listed Guildhall – and the former Caley’s Café relaunched as Bistro Britannia in May of this year, fast becoming known as a place to go for comedy nights, quiz and dinner nights, and ghost nights. Davina has lots of plans for the Bistro, including a Sunday roast carvery and breakfast carvery, from Monday to Saturday.
And the latest news is that Davina and the team have become custodians of Waterloo Park pavilion, which opened this summer as Park Britannia. ‘What we are doing is opening downstairs initially and then the beautiful building upstairs – it’s an old 1940s dance hall and we want to do weddings and parties up there.’ She adds: ‘We’ll be able to seat 100 downstairs and a 100 upstairs.’ Both the former Britannia Barracks and the Waterloo Park pavilion are Grade II listed, with Davina reflecting: ‘I’ve ended up with three beautiful buildings which are all iconic to the city.’
It doesn’t sound as though Davina will be heading back to the corporate world anytime soon - if she has discovered one thing since starting the social enterprise, it’s this: ‘I’m a lone wolf!’
Besides, as she says: ‘I’m proud of the fact that we’ve made a success of it.’
Copyright © 2015 Feast Norfolk Magazine