How This Coffee Company Is Giving Prisoners Another Shot At Life

·4-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

According to the British Coffee Association, coffee is now the most popular drink in the UK. Around two billion cups of the stuff are consumed each day. So, if there was ever going to be a smart business idea, having coffee at the centre of it would be a wise decision.

Knowing all about Brits’ obsession with coffee, in 2015, Ted Rosner and Max Dubiel left their city jobs (Max worked with a technology consulting firm and Ted was a solicitor) to start a coffee wholesale company.

But, not satisfied with operating a business in a regular manner, the guys started thinking about how they could make their company more meaningful, with a story to tell behind it. After a chance encounter at a coffee trade show in 2017, with the Ministry of Justice, which was looking for industry partners to deliver barista training in prisons, Redemption Roasters 2.0 was born in 2017.

Prisoners are 50% more likely to re-offend if they leave prison without skills and a job, which is where Redemption Roasters comes in. With a roastery inside the walls of HMP The Mount prison in Hemel Hempstead, and a network of barista academies (including at HMP Bullingdon, Spring Hill and Wormwood Scrubs, as well as a coffee school in Containerville, London), prisoners can learn invaluable life skills that will set them up once their time behind bars comes to an end.

Each Redemption Roasters graduate is helped by the team to reintegrate into society following training in roastery work and barista skills. The company also actively helps to find work for the graduates either in one of its coffee shops or with wholesale clients.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

“We work rigorously in the coffee industry to challenge assumptions about ex-offenders, and secure careers for our graduates,” Ted explains. “We see the on-the-job experience we offer as a valuable extension of our academy training. Our graduates are smart hires, which is why we’re the single largest employer of our own graduates.”

One of Redemption Roasters' success stories is James, whose journey began in 2017 as a graduate at the company’s first roastery site at Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institute in Aylesbury.

“James’ passion for coffee was clear from the start,” Max tells Delish. “He often took books on the subject from the prison’s library to study before and after workshop hours.”

After serving his sentence, James left HMYOI Aylesbury in 2019 and began working for Redemption Roasters before moving on to New Ground: a growing roastery with a similar mission of employing ex-offenders.

“A few months into his time at New Ground, he took on the position of Head Roaster and he’s never looked back,” Ted tells us. “We're blown away by James’ tenacity as well as his talent, and his story is a great example of why we exist as a company. We strive to have tons more stories like this in the future.”

Unfortunately, despite stories like James', the founders of Redemption Roasters are often asked if what they do is just a way of making money from ‘cheap labour’. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Roasting coffee in a prison is expensive. The additional costs associated with more complex logistics, increased staff, education provision, and management time means our roastery costs per kilogram of roasted coffee are higher than for comparable companies operating outside a prison,” Max explains. “We do not achieve greater economic efficiencies through our prison-based facility; that’s not our aim. Instead, we recognise that the value for our business is in the unique story of social good behind our product and the brand loyalty that it creates with customers.

“Our business is successful because our customers and clients buy into our ethos, not because we have no costs.”

The business is such a success, in fact, that Redemption Roasters is expanding both its in-prison training as well as the commercial side of things with new coffee shop sites and wholesale opportunities on the horizon.

“We have just created a new role within the company who will deliver a technician’s training course in prisons with a focus on coffee machines,” Ted says. “This will be another world first and something we are really excited to be launching in the new year.

“We have also just signed a contract to teach barista skills in HMP Send, which will be the first women’s prison to have a Redemption Roastery academy.”

For a company whose founders “didn’t know whether the money in the bank would see us through to the next payroll” back in the early days, Redemption Roasters is a triumph, not just for the founders, but also for the many, many prisoners who have turned their lives around with its help – and all thanks to the humble coffee bean.

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