I’m not sure I’ve ever received such a warm welcome walking into a cafe for the first time as I did at the Juicy Gossip.
Run by volunteers alongside the Affordable Food Stoke shop and No 87 social supermarket, the Blurton cafe is open three days a week and offers diners bargain two-course lunches with a hot drink for just £2.50.
It reopened a couple of weeks ago after being closed for 18 months due to the pandemic – and the community is definitely glad to have it back.
When I popped in earlier this week I was treated like an old friend even though it was my first time in the building. The shop was bustling when I headed into the spotless cafe area which has half a dozen tables and was decorated ready for Christmas.
The menus on the tables showed that diners can choose toast for 20p, toast and jam for 40p, or the main option, a ham or cheese sandwich on white or brown bread with salad for just £1.
I confess that I’m a bit awkward when it comes to sandwiches because I don’t like butter or margarine, so I was relieved to hear that everything is made fresh to order and they could accommodate my quirks. Volunteer Melissa Beydilli offered me mayonnaise instead, but I assured her that I preferred it completely plain.
For dessert – also just £1 – I could choose between lemon sponge or marmalade cake, both made in house, with or without custard. I initially misheard the marmalade cake as Marmite cake, which didn’t sound quite so appetising, and I opted from the iced lemon sponge with a little jug of custard on the side.
When my sandwich and salad arrived I was suitably impressed with the huge plate of food. My grated cheese sandwich – with no butter! – was so full of cheese that bits kept escaping and the bread tasted very fresh.
The salad took up half the plate and couldn’t be faulted. Often a side salad means a piece of limp lettuce and a watery slice of tomato but not here. I was treated to a delicious mix of cucumber, onion, crunchy peppers, lettuce and sweet cherry tomatoes.
To be honest I was already quite full at this point after the generous serving of sandwich and salad, but I wasn’t going to miss out on the massive piece of lemon sponge.
I tried it without the custard first and it was moist and delicious, with the tartness of the icing perfectly complementing the sweetness of the sponge.
Adding the custard was the finishing touch – bringing back memories of school lunches, in a good way – and I easily cleared my bowl.
It was a really tasty, filling meal, with simple and straightforward good food, for an unbeatable price. I could barely eat my evening meal that night because I was still so full from lunch. I’ll have to go back sometime to try the marmalade cake, now that I know it’s not made of Marmite.
As for the coffee – well, I pretty much run on caffeine and normally drink coffee so strong that you can stand your spoon up in it. But I definitely wasn’t going to complain about my 50p mug of instant – it was full, it was hot, and it was brought to my table with such warmth that I didn’t really mind how it tasted.
While I was enjoying my lunch, the room was full of chatter and laughter with everyone being welcomed as friends. I could hear people praising the food and the bargain prices, and everyone was joining in each other’s conversations across the tables. Shoppers popped in to say hello and said they would be back later. I suspect it’s not called the Juicy Gossip cafe for nothing.
Nikki Barrett, who has run Affordable Food Stoke since November 2017, says the community missed the cafe while it was shut.
“When the cafe was closed during the lockdowns it left a big hole,” she says. “People love to come in and sit and chat.
“It’s all about affordability. Everyone would love to go to Costa or Starbucks but that isn’t always possible. Everyone is welcome here and we get to know each other. If we see that someone is struggling they will walk out of here with a bag of food.”
And customer Kate Sale, of Weston Coyney, agreed: “I’m so glad it’s open again. I love to come in and see Nikki and then do my shopping at No. 87.
“It’s so friendly and there’s no judgement. Every time I come in people are laughing and joking. There’s just such a good atmosphere here. It’s fantastic.”
I couldn’t agree more. It was a place full to bursting with heart and soul. It felt like real community, and it was lovely.
The Juicy Gossip cafe is open on Thursdays and Fridays 10am to 1pm and Saturdays 10am to 2pm, at 77 to 81 Meaford Drive, Blurton.
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