Cafe supporting rehab of female offenders to open as 'Italian delicatessen with a Yorkshire twist'

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A cafe in York city centre that has been empty since shutting suddenly a year ago is set to be turned into an Italian delicatessen – run by former female offenders.

York Cocoa House cafe on Blake Street closed just days before last Christmas and has been vacant ever since.

The former York Cocoa House will re-open as an Italian delicatessen. Credit: James Hardisty

The former York Cocoa House will re-open as an Italian delicatessen. Credit: James Hardisty

Now a planning application has been submitted by Blake Street Ventures to turn the site into an “Italian delicatessen with a Yorkshire twist” – supporting the rehabilitation of women from HMP Askham Grange.

A statement says: “We are a start up social enterprise that feels passionate about empowering women offenders to change their lives for the better.

“We intend to use these premises to operate a delicatessen café with a difference, because not only will it offer our customers a great service and experience, but it will also exist to reduce the risk of re-offending by seeking to increase training and employment opportunities for women offenders.”

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A crowdfunding page, which appears to have been set up for the project by the applicant Laura Gallery, aims to raise £8,000 to launch a venture named The Larder Club.

The planning application says ex offenders will gain invaluable training and experience through employment at the deli – including coffee barista skills.

It adds: “We seek to add value to tourism and business within our city and as a unit that has been unoccupied for some months, 3 Blake Street comprises a location and space with scope for us create a welcoming, comfortable and inviting environment where our customers can enjoy a quality and authentic experience.

“Within a city that houses one of twelve women’s prisons within the UK, we feel passionate about this issue within our community and passionate about empowering women offenders to change their lives for the better.

“As such, it is our intention to open a deli that is a little bit different as not only will it exist to offer our customers a great service and experience, it will also exist to reduce the risk of re-offending by seeking to increase training and employment opportunities for women offenders.

“We are committed to using the majority of the deli profits for our cause.”

The team are aiming to open the cafe by the end of January 2020.

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And the deli would serve up speciality coffee, charcuterie, cheese, paninis, Gelato ice cream and wine.

Products would be ethically sourced, either locally or from Italy. And there would be a shop where customers can buy oil, vinegar, savoury biscuits and other treats.

There are also plans to host events – such as cheese and wine tastings, birthday parties and family celebrations.

The building was formerly run as a cafe and shop by York Cocoa House – but shut suddenly in December 2018.

Founder Sophie Jewett said it was so the business could concentrate on the company’s other site, York Cocoa Works in Castlegate.

The 104sqm unit has been marketed at a rental rate of £45,000 a year.

The applicants have been approached for a comment. For more information about the fundraising campaign visit crowdfunder.co.uk/the-larder-club.