British Muslim businessman Iqbal Wahhab has made it his personal mission to help rehabilitate disenfranchised men by giving them work and responsibility. Through his thriving restaurant Roast at London’s Borough Market, Iqbal hires ex-offenders and helps train them for a career in the food industry. This is one of his most heartening success stories – Mohammed, a young Muslim and ex-offender:
I first met Mohammed at one of the regular breakfasts I’ve been hosting over many years with Switchback, a project taking people recently released from prison and placing them into jobs in the hospitality sector so they don’t re-offend. About 60 per cent of young offenders end up back in prison within a year. For those in work, that figure drops to nearer 10 per cent.
Mohammed was keen not to go back into the East London gang of drug dealers that had got him into prison. I liked him and he genuinely sought a better life. I’d just acquired an Indian fast-food place in Soho and gave him a job there, which he loved and did really well in. When we sold it, I asked him if he’d be interested in a vacancy we had in the kitchen of my Borough Market restaurant, Roast. He took it but hated it!
He stopped coming in and our chef and manager tried calling him but he didn’t reply. I then got hold of him myself and he had become down on himself, not because he didn’t like the kitchen environment but because he felt he had let me down.
The problem was easily solved – there was another vacancy as a runner (the people who take dishes to the table), which he took and did well in and then got promoted to waiter without any involvement by me.
"About 60% of young offenders end up back in prison within a year. For those in work, that figure drops to nearer 10%"
Then one day he came to see me to say he was leaving – he’d found a job managing a café on a building site, which I was delighted about and we stayed in touch. Whenever I have lunch parties at home I hire him to be a waiter. Over the next two years he would come along and before guests started arriving he would tell me how things were going – every now and then he would tell me of another café he had been asked to head up for the same firm and eventually he was in charge of four!
He’s now moved on from there and gets job offers from organizations that have seen and been impressed by the rigour he applies to his job and the fact that he had made a point of recruiting 50 per cent of his teams from the ex-offender community.When I open my next restaurant I will probably offer him a position there – but I might not any longer be able to afford him!