Possibility of prison relocation means future uncertain for inmate-staffed ‘Serving Time Cafe’

Posted at 8:33 PM, Apr 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-10 23:39:06-04

DRAPER, Utah -- The Serving Time Cafe is a unique eatery right outside the prison walls in Draper, where inmates make and serve the food. But after 6 years of business, the popular lunch spot may close if the prison moves to a more rural location.

"If we're out where there's nothing, then we don't have a clientele and we can't stay here without the inmates because how do you get them here to work," said Carolyn Price, who is a Corrections Supervisor.

Price is the founder and manager of Serving Time Cafe. Her goal is to get inmates working and interacting with the public.

"It's like not being in prison for the day," said Debra Aranda, an inmate who works as a server at the cafe. "At the end of the day we have to go back into the gates, but while we're here it's all new air."

Nine women who have gone through extensive checks and who are model inmates are chosen to be part of the staff--getting them out from behind prison walls and working in the packed cafe Monday through Friday.

"We get to come here and participate in making other people happy, serving them good food with a smile," Aranda said.

Inmates make and serve the food, ranging from the prison blues burger to the parole violator, and the goal is preparing inmates for life after they've served their sentence.

"I was in here before one time, and I went straight from here to outside and it was really hard for me to feel comfortable and getting a job; there was a lot of shell shock to it, so I'm very comfortable now. I fell like I could get a job the first week I got out," said Julia Higbee, who is an inmate and server.

The women make $1.40 - $1.75 an hour, which they can use to pay restitution or save.

"We're trying to give them a chance to do the best they can when they get out of here," Price said.

But with plans up in the air for the prison relocation, many are concerned about what will happen to the cafe.

"I would like to see it go with the prison, but I would like it in an area that we still have a clientele--the people would come, the girls would still have an opportunity to get out and come to work everyday," Price said.

And if it does close, many residents will be sad to see it go.

"A lot of disappointed people that live in the area and work in the area because it's a nice place to come out here enjoy the good food," said Lisa Young, who frequents the cafe.

The cafe has seen a lot of success stories from inmates who have worked there. Recently, a woman was released and was able to get a job in the food industry and she is now managing a restaurant.

The prison says only time will tell what will happen with the cafe.