Frank Wang is back serving up coffee outside Bethnal Green tube station
- Credit: Mike Brooke
The people’s ‘champion Mr Coffee’ Frank Wang is back with a new stall outside Bethnal Green tube station after 20,000 protesters signed a petition when his electric feed was cut off a year ago.
The father-of-two who gave out free hot drinks to the homeless and rough sleepers was put out of business when his power supply was ripped up by contractors.
His customers who have been stopping off to pick up their 'coffee to go' for 15 years launched an online fundraiser to buy him a new cabin.
"I'm feeling so, so happy and grateful to all my customers," Frank told the East London Advertiser when he finally reopened for business at lunchtime today.
"I was shocked when I was put out of business and felt helpless. I came back one morning to find my electric box destroyed, which put me out of business."
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Frank's plight hit the headlines around the world as the East End and the Chinese communities rallied behind Frank. A reporter from Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Hilary Clarke, even turned up to welcome him back to his pitch outside the tube station entrance in Cambridge Heath Road. Customers were thrilled to see him back.
She said: "This is a great story that shows London can be a warm and generous place. This was a big news in Hong Kong.
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"The Chinese community here have rallied behind the campaign to get Frank back."
The mass petition was orchestrated by Sir Simon Woolley, who runs Operation Black Vote and works in the Government's Race Disparity unit.
"I've known Frank Wang 15 years," he said. "He's been a friend to the neighbourhood who looked after poor people and served up free hot drinks to the homeless.
"I knew we had to make a stand when I saw he was being hounded out of his business that has served to community.
"The battle for frank was the East End spirit—we rally round when someone is being trodden on. Frank's struggle was our struggle.
"The people of Bethnal Green rallied to those who are being railed against, translated into action."
It led to an impromptu rally with 200 banner-waving protesters turning up last summer, blocking the road at one point.
This was a real people's victory getting him reinstated outside the station.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs turned up today to welcome him back. He revealed: "The problem started when we leased out the new building next to Frank's stall to a restaurant chain, which unintentionally disrupted Frank's business.
"Some people didn't mind squeezing frank out—but they soon ran for cover when the protests began. TfL seemed to find it difficult to do something simple, like supply electricity to Frank."
Even Bethnal Green's pensioners came out to support Frank, like Collette Docherty and her friend Margaret O'Toole, both 85.
Margaret said: "It's just lovely to have a cup of coffee and get a newspaper when you get off the crowded tube train with a-thousand people and reach the top of the stairs. I can't understand why they had to push Frank out to make a second entrance to that restaurant—Frank was here first!"
The mayor is negotiating with TfL to get Frank's electricity reconnected to replace the temporary gas supply he's using at the moment.
Frank's customers couldn't wait for the electricity to be reconnected, so he decided to open up early as a thank you.