Real Junk Food Project will temporarily occupy the former Milkjam site on Oxford Street

It’s been a potholed journey for Manchester’s Real Junk Food Project (RJFP). It was December 2015 when Confidential first reported the waste food warriors were opening a café, but this later hit the buffers when its proposed home - The Wonder Inn on Shudehill - was threatened with closure.   

After more than a year of searching for another suitable site, the RJFP Manchester team finally announced they were opening up permanently in Ancoats this summer - however, ‘genuine, unavoidable’ delays mean this has now been put back until the end of this year. Needless to say, we were unsurprised when Director Corin Bell told us: “We just want to open now!”  

Fortunately, accommodating property company Bruntwood has come to the rescue and granted Bell’s wish, offering the use of pop-up dessert bar Milkjam's old premises on Oxford Street for three to six months. This means RJFP can now open Manchester’s first pay-as-you-feel café food waste restaurant slap bang in the middle of Manchester. 

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RJFP will open temporarily in the St James building on Oxford Street

As with other branches in the RJFP network - which was founded in Leeds in 2015 and now spans the UK, Europe and Australia - Manchester’s café will collect unwanted (yet quality-assured) food from restaurants, allotments and supermarkets and serve it up as tasty nutritious meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis. 

With roughly one third of consumables wasted worldwide every year - despite some 795 million people living in food poverty - the social enterprise tackles food waste at the root, weeding out culprits like premature best before dates and rigorous aesthetic standards. After all, who cares about wonky veg if it tastes good?

We’ve been popping up for long enough now, and we can do so much more in a full time space of our own

The Oxford Street site will include an ethical coffee bar in partnership with Second City Coffee, takeaway breakfast and lunches and a 40-cover restaurant offering breakfast and lunch on weekdays, plus regular fine dining evenings. Celebrated local chef Mary-Ellen McTague, who led the RJFP pop-up events since 2016, has departed to run the rebranded café at Manchester Art Gallery but will continue on an ad hoc basis as exec chef, with Matt Bailey taking over as head chef (the team are still on the lookout for a sous chef).

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In Britain alone, an estimated 15 million tonnes of food are wasted from plough to plate

In line with its sustainable non-profit ethos, the ‘upcycled’ venue will use donated, unwanted equipment where possible - aided by local company CHR Equipment Services - while the team, supported by an army of volunteers, will be spending July and early August sanding and repairing chairs, building a coffee bar from reclaimed wood and painting and decorating. Anyone who would like to donate some time, energy or materials should email volunteering@realjunkfoodmanchester.co.uk

Having hosted regular events since it was founded in mid 2014 - from weddings to gala dinners, local community projects to restaurant pop-ups - RJFP Manchester has gained a loyal following and its January crowdfunder raised over £39K in 28 days towards a permanent venue; nearly doubling the original target of £20K. 

Director Corin Bell said: “The support that we received from the Crowdfunder was just amazing, beyond all of our expectations. The delays have been unavoidable, but really tough. It’s just fabulous to have contracts signed and know that we’re not far from being able to fulfill our promise to everyone who’s supported us. We’ve been popping up for long enough now, and we can do so much more in a full time space of our own.” 

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About Real Junk Food Manchester:

Real Junk Food Manchester is reducing food waste, and its huge environmental impacts in and around Manchester. Around 15 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK alone, and the vast majority of that food is perfectly edible. When we waste food we also waste land, water, diesel used is farming, packaging, energy to refrigerate and so much more. The lowest carbon, most sustainable thing we can do with food that is going to go to waste is put it in a belly, any belly, rather than a bin - any bin (landfill, anaerobic digestion, or compost). 

Change for the better

Real Junk Food Manchester is an amazing mix of practical action and campaigning. As well as providing great meals, we raise awareness, knowledge and skills around food waste, sustainable food, and healthy diets. We want to make Manchester’s residents healthier and happier, and help to make our food system fairer and more sustainable. In our permanent home we intend to offer cookery classes, lectures, workshops, recipes and discussion. We feel strongly that if you work in a huge social and environmental problem like food waste, the only ethical end goal is to make your project no longer needed, by making the system better. This is our long term goal. 

Background - Who are we?

Real Junk Food Manchester is a not for profit project. We source food that would go to waste, cook it up into awesome dishes, and serve them to anyone and everyone on a pay-as-you-feel basis. We aim to stamp out food waste, campaign to make our food system fairer and more sustainable, and support some of Manchester’s most vulnerable residents.