Café serves free meals from real junk food

The team at The Empty Plate Caf� which is made up of volunteers. The caf� makes its meals from food that would otherwise be thrown away by supermarkets. Picture: Steve Robards
The team at The Empty Plate Caf� which is made up of volunteers. The caf� makes its meals from food that would otherwise be thrown away by supermarkets. Picture: Steve Robards

Waste not, want not.

It’s an expression we’ve all used hundreds of times before – particularly before tucking into that third slice of cake.

Mark Brocklehurst with customers Mark Herzig and Gianni Di Martino. Picture: Steve Robards

Mark Brocklehurst with customers Mark Herzig and Gianni Di Martino. Picture: Steve Robards

But one café in Durrington is taking the phrase to the next level by cooking up a storm using food that would otherwise be thrown out by supermarkets and serving it up for free.

The Empty Plate Café was set up by Mark Brocklehurst and Tori Hunter after taking inspiration from the Real Junk Food Project in Brighton.

Running every Tuesday at the The Love-it Hub in Maybridge Square, Durrington, the café operates under a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ scheme.

This means customers can pay whatever they think the meal is worth through donations to the café.

I’ve got my own cooker, but to make a meal like that for one... you’re just never going to do it

Gianni Di Martino

And if they can’t afford to pay, they can offer their time instead by washing dishes or another form of volunteering.

While the café helps people on low incomes, Mark, 38, said that their clientele come from all walks of life.

“Sean McDonald the mayor comes in quite a bit, as do quite a few councillors, but to be honest it’s a real mix of people.

“It’s a valuable resource for people on low incomes; they can come out and enjoy a good meal that they could get in a restaurant but without having to worry about the price.”

Mark Brocklehurst at The Empty Plate Caf� with Mark Herzig. Picture: Steve Robards

Mark Brocklehurst at The Empty Plate Caf� with Mark Herzig. Picture: Steve Robards

The space is lent to the café by Worthing Homes, which also runs Lovett Court, sheltered accomodation in the same complex.

Residents frequently use the café, including Gianni Di Martino. The 59-year-old lives by himself and said the café gives him a break from preparing his own meals.

“I’ve got my own cooker, but to make a meal like that for one... you’re just never going to do it.”

According to Mark, each week the café serves about 50 meals and makes roughly £130 in donations, all of which gets put back into funding. Since it has opened at the beginning of April, the team have prepared seven tonnes of food.

The team at The Empty Plate Caf� which is made up of volunteers. Picture: Steve Robards

The team at The Empty Plate Caf� which is made up of volunteers. Picture: Steve Robards

The café currently has links with Morrisons supermarket in Littlehampton and Marks and Spencer and Tesco in Worthing, which donate fruit and vegetables that have passed their sell-by date.

Dave Brown & Son Butchers in Lancing donates fresh meat, and using the donations Mark purchases condiments and store cupboard ingredients.

With a grant from the community chest fund the group bought new cutlery and saucepans. They also plan to buy a new freezer, so that more leftover stews, soups or sauces that are made can be preserved for another day.

Michael Rankin, 69, from Melville Way, Worthing, is a retired baker who volunteers at the café. He said that getting involved has improved his skills as a cook – much to the delight of his wife.

“I’m a baker, not a chef, so working here with Mark has helped me a lot. You get to know how to make larger quantities of food.

“We help each other out. I was a confectioner too, so I can whip up a batch of buttercream or meringue if it’s needed. I like doing the puddings but I can cook a nice bit of liver and bacon or sausages like I do at home.

“I’m the main cook in the house, so I come here for a break and end up doing some more cooking!”

The Empty Plate Cafe recently received an Eat Out Eat Well Silver Award from the Adur & Worthing Councils’ Public Health and Regulation Team. The café has also achieved a five-star food hygiene rating.

Mark said: “It means a lot. There are a lot of businesses out there spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on their budget and can’t get these awards, and we have using donated food.”

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