The Robin Hood restaurant opened on a side street in central Madrid on Tuesday, operating a simple but unique business model.
At breakfast and lunchtime the initiative runs as an ordinary Spanish bar, selling coffee, croquetas, and cigarettes, before reopening in the evening as a restaurant, serving a sophisticated sit-down supper to people who cannot afford to pay.
Run by local charity Mensajeros de la Paz, which means "messengers of peace", the cafe aims to feed 100 homeless men and women each day, in two sittings.
“The inspiration came from Pope Francis, who’s spoken again and again about the importance of giving people dignity, whether it’s through bread or through work," said Father Ángel García Rodríguez, who set the charity up 54 years ago, in an interview with the Guardian.
“So we thought, why not open a restaurant with tablecloths and proper cutlery and waiters? People with nothing can come and eat here in the restaurant and get the same treatment as everyone else," he added. "It’s just common sense.”
Mensajeros de la Paz also run a social centre in a nearby church, providing about 200 homeless people with breakfast and lunch each day.
Inequality has soared in Spain, which has been in a state of financial crisis since 2008. The country's overall unemployment rate is now close to 20 per cent and youth unemployment is among Europe’s highest, at 42 per cent.
In this context, Mensajeros de la Paz has become known for its progressive initiatives, including free wifi, virtual confession via smart phone app, and free tea and coffee at Father Rodríguez's church, all day, every day.
Last year the charity organised a gala dinner for 200 homeless people on Christmas Eve in Madrid's City Hall. The food was prepared and served entirely by a team of volunteers.
“‘Man does not live on bread alone,’ but the Bible forgot that some people don’t even have bread,” Father Rodríguez told the Guardian. “So we’re trying to give them bread”.
Despite it's name, taken from the English folk hero who stole from the rich in order to redistribute their wealth to the poor, the 79-year-old priest said the restaurant's business plan did not include ambushing anybody with medieval weapons. “The idea is not to rob from the rich to feed the poor but to share,” Father Rodríguez told Europa Press.
He added, speaking to the Guardian: “The name is just to spice it up a bit and to get people to notice. We could have called it ‘The Brothel’ and I’m sure that would have got people’s attention, too.”
The restaurant's opening night on Tuesday was reportedly packed.
“The food here is great and very elegant,” one homeless diner, Ramón Luis, told the British newspaper. “I’d give it loads of stars and I’ll be back tomorrow.”
The causes of homelessness
The causes of homelessness
1/7 Family Breakdown
Relationship breakdown, usually between young people and their parents or step-parents, is a major cause of youth homelessness. Around six in ten young people who come to Centrepoint say they had to leave home because of arguments, relationship breakdown or being told to leave. Many have experienced long-term problems at home, often involving violence, leaving them without the family support networks that most of us take for granted
2/7 Complex needs
Young people who come to Centrepoint face a range of different and complex problems. More than a third have a mental health issue, such as depression and anxiety, another third need to tackle issues with substance misuse. A similar proportion also need to improve their physical health. These problems often overlap, making it more difficult for young people to access help and increasing the chances of them becoming homeless
Young people's chances of having to leave home are higher in areas of high deprivation and poor prospects for employment and education. Many of those who experience long spells of poverty can get into problem debt, which makes it harder for them to access housing
4/7 Gang Crime
Homeless young people are often affected by gang-related problems. In some cases, it becomes too dangerous to stay in their local area meaning they can end up homeless. One in six young people at Centrepoint have been involved in or affected by gang crime
5/7 Exclusion From School
Not being in education can make it much more difficult for young people to access help with problems at home or health problems. Missing out on formal education can also make it more difficult for them to move into work
6/7 Leaving Care
Almost a quarter of young people at Centrepoint have been in care. They often have little choice but to deal with the challenges and responsibilities of living independently at a young age. Traumas faced in their early lives make care leavers some of the most vulnerable young people in our communities, with higher chances of poor outcomes in education, employment and housing. Their additional needs mean they require a higher level of support to maintain their accommodation
Around 13 per cent of young people at Centrepoint are refugees or have leave to remain, meaning it isn't safe to return home. This includes young people who come to the UK as unaccompanied minors, fleeing violence or persecution in their own country. After being granted asylum, young people sometimes find themselves with nowhere to go and can end up homeless
A homeless woman, Carmen Junquito, said the tablecloths and crockery made a welcome change to the soup kitchen sandwiches she normally had for dinner.
“This restaurant is life and happiness to me,” she told the Guardian. “It’s the best thing there is; the best thing in the world.”
Father Rodríguez said if the initiative proved successful, he hoped the Robin Hood restaurant would become the first in a chain of similar establishments.
He added that he also hopes to attract famous chefs, who will volunteer to cook in the kitchen from time to time.