Monday, 18 June 2012

Thankless jobs

Fashionably late, Salvation Jane was officially launched 6 weeks after opening. Less fashionable or forgivable is the lateness of my thankyous.  Well after midnight I stood on a chair and said something heartfelt along the lines of a speech I’d prepared and had intended to give much earlier in the evening when there were more people in the room and less cocktails in me.  In case I actually did just slur “Iloveyousall” to the handful of family, friends and members of the band committed to drinking the bar dry, here is what I meant to say….

Tonight is my way of saying thank you because in the 3 and a half years I’ve been running a cafe, I’ve rarely taken the time to stop and enjoy a drink with the people who make the business what it is - staff, suppliers, customers and industry people.

It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was living a very different life as a policy advisor in Melbourne. A couple of months before I was due to fly to London on my one way ticket, I took a day off work to attend an industry seminar at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. It was called something like Tips for Success in Running a Restaurant and had a panel of industry stalwarts including two of my heroes: Sam Clarke from Morro in London and Alla Wolf Tasker from the Lakehouse in Daylesford, just outside Melbourne. I went along expecting to feel inspired and reassured about the huge career change I was about to make from public servant to restaurateur. Instead, the talk turned into a therapy session for the room full of chefs and restaurant owners, all talking over the top of each other about the hardships they’d faced in running their businesses – difficulties of location, finding and retaining good staff, the power of reviewers to make or break your restaurant, trying to maintain passion when you are so physically exhausted from the long hours...and on and on.

I sat there feeling the panic rise. At the end of the session I went up to the table of speakers and asked them: "Knowing all that you now know would you still choose the career you have?" Alla Wolf Tasker didn’t hesitate. She looked me in the eye and said “Absolutely. There’s nothing like the excitement and theatre of hospitality. Each day is a new performance; the table is set, the audience arrives and you put on a show.”

It’s true. Despite all the challenges that are continuously thrown at the team at Salvation Jane and Lantana, they are greatly outweighed by the rewards (I hope). When we’ve had a successful service where everything runs smoothly and customers tell you how much they enjoyed themselves, you understand the unquantifiable pay off for working in this industry. One of the biggest and unexpected rewards I’ve received is meeting so many wonderful and talented people from all walks of life who share the same passions as me - from the staff at Lantana and Salvation Jane, people working at other London restaurants and cafés, to our suppliers and customers. It is an incredibly creative, enthusiastic and supportive community which I feel so privileged to now be a part of. 

The only two people I want to single out for special thanks are our two head chefs who don't often hear the gushing about their food directly from our customers. George Notely at Lantana and Tim Dorman at Salvation Jane.

They are an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. I know I can be a pain in the arse sometimes but the reason we do work well together is because we are all obsessive perfectionists who will wake up in the middle of the night because we’ve realised there’s a typo in the new menu and can be put into a bad mood for an entire day by a careless mistake like over blanching the green beans. They are both serious and talented chefs who continue to make me incredibly proud,  

This is not one of our real dishes

and smile.