Expansion for cafe run by staff with big hearts

A café which has served up traditional tasty food for nearly a quarter of a century will be able to cater for even more hungry Teessiders after the completion of an expansion.

Over the years members of staff at Jean’s Kitchen, the cornerstone of Middlesbrough’s Dundas Indoor Market, have gone above and beyond to help their community and customers.

They have run get-togethers for the town’s older residents, taken regulars out on their birthdays, supported them at funerals and during COVID – when the café was closed – cooked meals in their own kitchens and delivered them to their homes.

Forty-five-year-old manager Louise Matthews, who started work in the café when she was just 16, even did one customer’s washing because his local laundrette was shut.

Louise has also raised thousands of pounds for local charities, finishing two London Marathons and six Great North Runs.

Jean Hall arrived at the indoor market just after it opened in 1990.  The first Jean’s Kitchen was a sandwich bar she ran with her mum, sister and niece.  She bought the café nine years later and said it too has a family feel.

Together Jean, Louise and their team of seven have worked in the café for almost 140 years and even at the aged of 69 the boss has no plans to put up her feet

“I love my job.  We’ve got some lovely customers. Some of them have come from day one,” said Jean.  “We’re like one big family so you don’t mind coming in for work.  We’ve got a lovely atmosphere here.  That’s what special about this place.”

The bigger café is coming just in time as Jean’s Kitchen continues to be busy despite a difficult time for Middlesbrough town centre.  “We were worried when the big shops closed, particularly Marks & Spencer, but honestly we’re still doing well,” she said.

“Over the years you find what sells and what doesn’t.  We’ve tried different things but it’s always been simple English food like mince and dumplings, parmos, egg and chips and toasties.  I supposed it’s a bit old fashioned but it works and there aren’t many places in Middlesbrough that do it now. I don’t know how many cafes have closed.  Loads have come and gone.”

Jean’s customers have included Middlesbrough first team coach Jonathan Woodgate and Olympic sprinter Richard Kilty – both fans of her mince and dumplings.

The work on Jean’s Kitchen is one of a number of developments at the Dundas Indoor Market.  Another long-term occupier Nicole Bean is opening a second shop and visitors will notice new signage and branding.  There are also improvements to the underground car park serving the market and Dundas Shopping Centre, which has welcomed a new business. The Brickyard Bakery is the brainchild of Ed Hamilton-Trewhitt who will be selling affordable artisan bread, pastries and savouries and at the same time providing training for young people who he hopes will have a bright future in baking.

Dundas Indoor Market Manager David Harris said: “These are exciting times here and it’s great that it’s all happening in time to welcome people in the run up to Christmas.  Jean and her team are shining examples of both how to run a business successfully over so many years and how important it us for to help members of our community, particularly when times are tough.”