Visit The Fork in the Road on Linthorpe Road in Middlesbrough and you’ll find an ordinary restaurant – which is actually one of the highest compliments you can give. Because this is not your average eatery.
The Fork in the Road is a not-for-profit restaurant that provides work placements and training to people from a range of backgrounds including former and current offenders, the displaced or homeless, those in long-term unemployment or people suffering from physical or mental health issues.
It is the brainchild of Andy Preston, a successful businessman who has developed several charitable causes over the past 16 years.
All the proceeds from The Fork in the Road – which was developed alongside a dry bar, located upstairs – go to CEO Sleepout, one of Andy’s charities that looks to fight homelessness and poverty across the UK.
The philanthropic businessman explains more about the restaurant’s origins: “We won a grant from Public Health to develop the dry bar but when I did my research, I realised these venues tend to lose a lot of money. I didn’t want it to become a millstone around the [CEO Sleepout] charity’s neck so we came up the idea of opening a fully-licensed restaurant next door where both venues could share the costs, the rates and have staff in common.”
The Fork in the Road opened on Christmas Day 2016 and inside, you’ll find an atmospheric restaurant with modern décor and furnishings and two areas for private dining.
When my colleague and I arrived at The Fork in the Road, we were greeted by a very professional guy who couldn’t have been more attentive or helpful as he seated us and went through the menu.
It later transpired that Joe is a serving inmate at a local prison and has proved to be one of the restaurant’s brightest stars.
He tells us that he began as a pot washer in the kitchen before Andy recognised his people skills and moved him front-of-house to become a waiter.
Joe now works up to six days a week as an assistant manager, immersing himself in all aspects of the restaurant’s operations.
He says: “The Fork has been a turning point in my life. I love working here, especially interacting with the customers. I feel I’ve found my forte and I’m so grateful to Andy for giving me this opportunity.”
Andy adds: “Everyone loves Joe; he’s been on the perfect journey and our goal is that he will continue to grow his career with us.”
The menu provides a good selection of bistro/gastropub-style lunch and dinner options along with plenty of promotions to take advantage of. These include a set menu (three courses for £19.95/£26.95 including wine and coffee), selected meals and a drink for £10 before 6pm, a Sunday roast (from £12.95 for one course) and a Tuesday night steak night where steak and fries are available at a very reasonable £12.95.
The sweet potato tagine with spinach and chickpeas served with pomegranate cous cous, flatbread and yoghurt (£9.95) immediately caught my attention, and on Joe’s recommendation, I put my order in.
My colleague decided to go for the £19.95 lunchtime set menu and while he polished off his starter of wonderfully crisp salt and chilli fried squid with avocado alioli, I tucked into some olives and thinly sliced bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic (£4).
My tagine was worth the hype and was flavoursome and filling and my colleague’s main of chicken breast with creamy Diane or peppercorn sauce served with chargrilled asparagus and buttery mash also hit the spot.
We couldn’t help finishing off our meals with dessert and the roast white chocolate mousse with raspberries and crushed meringue (£6.50) and the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and
vanilla ice cream (part of the set menu) were both nicely presented and well proportioned.
Andy later tells me that the restaurant is about to launch a new initiative where it will invite local business leaders to work an evening’s service as a waiter/waitress. They will get to experience a new sector while any tips they make will be donated to the charity.
“I’m on a mission to make the whole community – including the business community – see us as a resource and something to support,” says Andy.
The restaurant – and neighbouring dry bar – is undoubtedly an important community resource, and Andy is rightly proud of what he and his team have achieved
But for the concept to work long term, the businessman is mindful that the restaurant must measure up to other dining destinations in Middlesbrough.
In my experience, The Fork in the Road achieves this and more.
It is well worth a visit the next time you’re in Teesside and looking for an eatery where its extraordinariness lies in its ordinariness.