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Wagamama: Supporting homeless and older people in the community

When you think of Wagamama, images of Japanese food, freshly cooked and swiftly served with chopsticks in a trendy environment comes to mind. Bowls of delicious Ramen, Katsu curry with a perfect dome of fluffy rice and hearing chatter as trendy young people get together for food and drinks.

However, behind the corporate veneer of the British restaurant chain, serving Asian food based on Japanese cuisine, are caring staff aiming to do their bit for the local community.

Ola Sroczynska is general manager at Wagamama in Colchester, having joined the team shortly after the Colchester restaurant opened three years ago. It now serves around 2,000 people per week.

Ola and her other manager colleagues were determined to do their bit for the community and “give something back” to the community that frequents their venue.

“As it is a university town, quite often it is young students who come to Wagamama for food as it is a trendy environment. But at weekends it can be families with their children or older people,” explains Ola.

“In fact, we have a couple in their 80’s who live in Braintree which is about 20 minutes away and they come to Colchester on holiday every three months and always come in to Wagamama. The staff love to see them and have a chat with them. While food may attract people to come and eat with us, customer service is key. People want to forget about the cost of living crisis and any other issues and enjoy their time with us and it is nice to be able to provide this,” explains Ola.

Naturally, the restaurant closes on 25th December for Christmas. But instead of any food leftover going to waste, the team at Wagamama reached out to a local night shelter for homeless people in Colchester and offered them any food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

“The night shelter was more than happy to receive any food donations to provide for homeless people on Christmas Day and came and collected the food we had left. There could have been anything from the menu there – ramen noodles, donburi bowls which are rice, meat, vegetables and sauce, curry, ribs, squid or gyoza,” said Ola.

In fact, volunteers from the night shelter collected enough food for around 30 meals for homeless people and Wagamama has been offering the same deal for the last three years.

“The main aim was to help people who don’t have the opportunity to go and spend Christmas Day with their family or friends,” said Ola, explaining that the cost would have been around £200-£300 of food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

The Wagamama Team, Colchester

Ola also reached out to her local Age Concern branch. Just prior to Christmas in 2019, a group of 6-10 older ladies went to the restaurant for lunch and while they were there, the staff at Wagamama supported them to use potato stamps to create their own wrapping paper which they went on to sell in the charity’s shop with all profits going to Age Concern.

“It was great to raise funds for the charity but more than that, seeing the ladies have lunch and chat to their friends while creating the wrapping paper was lovely to see,” said Ola. The staff at Wagamama explained how things worked at the restaurant and while it might have been different to the typical food they ate, they loved it, she added.

“I popped into Age Concern about a month ago and seeing some of the ladies there was lovely, it was quite emotional,” she added.

Furthermore, the chain supports the local LGBT community and host a pre-Pride meet-up where people from the LGBT community can meet up and have a smoothie or a drink and head to the event with fellow LGBT members of the community.

“Sometimes people don’t have friends to go to events like this with so it provides an opportunity for the LGBT community to gather prior to attending events such as Pride marches or celebrations,” added Ola.

Lucy Hopkins, Head of Practice at WillisPalmer, said: "“ love hearing stories of businesses going over and above to do something kind and help those in their local communities, and Wagamama Colchester do this really well. The general manager, Ola, is so keen to reach out to the local community and support those in need where she can, inspiring her team and colleagues to do the same so that it has become part of the ethos of the restaurant. Keep up the great work Wagamama Colchester!”

Ola has worked in hospitality since studying in Poland. But she says when she has raised the possibility of working with the local community in the past, other chains and restaurants have not been as enthusiastic about the idea.

“If Wagamama can donate £300 to help people in the community, why can’t other organisations? We want to raise awareness about what we are doing to encourage others to do the same,” said Ola.

“We want to give something back to the local community which supports us. It’s important to give more to people who have less,” concluded Ola.

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