Emmaus's community cafe on Felixstowe Road offers low-cost meals, and supports the social enterprise's vital work across the county. Charlotte Smith-Jarvis visits to find out more.


The rate at which Suffolk’s pubs are closing is devastating. Many buildings which were once filled with music, laughter, food and banter remain...untouched...unloved. Communities, especially in rural parts, have lost what was, often, the only place locals could socialise. 

But there are some positive stories to be found. Stories of revival, rejuvenation, and diversification. 

Emmaus Suffolk is in this number. The social enterprise is one of 30 schemes in the UK providing work experience and support for the vulnerable and homeless, helping them to get their lives back on track. 

In 2021, the Suffolk branch of the organisation took on The Royal Oak, on Ipswich’s Felixstowe Road, with a view to transform the forlorn former pub into a community café. 

Today, this family and dog-friendly spot is open from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday, serving hot food from 10am to 3pm, and cake from 3pm to 4pm. 

Meals are designed to be as affordable as possible – and in partnership with FareShare, which redistributes surplus supermarket food. 

Customers can pop in for the Watch Your Waite breakfast, named for Emmaus UK president Terry Waite CBE. Healthy lunches range from filled jacket potatoes and sandwiches, to the remarkably good value One Pot Wonder. Priced at only £2.50, this is available from Wednesday through to Friday, enabling anyone (and particularly those who are struggling financially) to buy a nutritious, home cooked, hot meal at a low cost. 

Money raised via the café is plunged back into Emmaus’s vital work. 

I visited with a friend to sample the first of a series of monthly evening pop-ups at the café (£25 per person for three courses). 

East Anglian Daily Times:

East Anglian Daily Times:

The first impression we both had was ‘warmth’. Both literally and figuratively. The Royal Oak is toasty, and has a lounge area that’s been dedicated as a ‘warm space’, which anyone can use during opening hours to relax, maybe read a book, and not worry about having the heating on at home. 

Alongside this is the Royal Oak’s pre-loved shop, bursting with bargainous clothes, shoes, homeware and more (I was very tempted by a pair of too-small heels). 

At the back is the dining area, which was lit-up with smiles and laughter on our visit, soundtracked by a soloist playing acoustic guitar. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

From the bar (which is booze-free) we grabbed a coke and very delicious no-alcohol rhubarb gin and lemonade to go alongside nibbles of pitta bread, olives and sundried tomatoes. 

Shortly after, the main courses arrived, designed to come out in one, carefully-planned sitting, like at a wedding. The small menu includes something for vegetarians/vegans, meat and fish eaters. 

And portions were enormous! As someone who is inherently greedy, I will tell you this - I could not finish what was on my plate. A huge, tender lamb shank, with oodles of creamy, tangy minted mash, loads of baby carrots, and enough gravy to sink a ship (just how I like it). 

My pescatarian friend was also beaten. By pan-seared salmon fillets with parmentier potatoes, capers, prawns and samphire in a butter sauce. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

East Anglian Daily Times:

Vegetarian diners had the option of curried cauliflower with Bombay potatoes, charred tenderstem broccoli and mango salsa. 

To finish we could have had berry vanilla cheesecake parfait, or lemon posset with wild berry compote, but were both fixated on trying the gooey vegan chocolate brownie, which came with salted caramel pecan ice cream. 

If you want to eat out to do good, to feel like you’ve had value for money (and to go home with a full belly), it really is worth giving The Royal Oak a try. You can find out more about the organisation and its work at emmaus.org.uk/suffolk