Jinnie’s Story, Book Three – Chapter Twenty-One

The Big Build

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
The site had been stripped.
Digital color HDR image of the interior of a building being gutted for new construction,
John Hoey
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Jinnie, Alberto and the Sommelier met Belinda mid-morning two days later to see the West End restaurant. They were in the middle of their lunchtime prep so the visit to the kitchen was somewhat limited but the dining area was beautiful, very modern and tasteful. Belinda explained that it was the vision of Melissa and Andrew her head designer. The budget had been huge but the client was delighted with the outcome and business was booming in post-war Britain.

Due to the nature of the research being undertaken in Harlow, they would only host a visit on a Saturday or Sunday when no staff were present and due to the clear desk policy, no sensitive documentation could be left around. Alberto had been totally convinced they had made the right choice following the restaurant visit so opted to stay in Potters Bar for the lucrative Saturday lunchtime service so Jinnie asked Paolo to accompany her. Belinda was waiting for Jinnie in the reception area of the 7 story building along with Melissa and a man she introduced as Stan the Building Manager. Jinnie really only wanted to see the kitchen, restaurant and director’s dining room but Stan was insistent on the full tour. Jinnie was impressed by the offices, they were all glass partitions, the bench desks were modern, walls bright coloured vinyl and carpet colours designated each department. Mellisa kept pointing out details saying things like, “That was my idea,” and, “Andrew suggested that.” Jinnie thought, “What a talented team, I wonder what they could make of Vauxhall Cross?”

Finally, the bit Jinnie was waiting for arrived. The director’s dining room was traditional, all dark wood and deep pile carpets, while the staff restaurant was bright, clean and modern with a shiny stainless steel serving station. The kitchen was spectacular, spotlessly clean and more gleaming stainless steel. The walls and floor were tiled and it was filled with ultra-modern kitchen equipment. Paolo whispered in Jinnie’s ear, “The Embassy chef would just love this.”

Back in reception, Belinda and Melissa diplomatically headed for the ladies giving Jinnie a chance to speak to Stan. She asked what he thought of Belinda’s company’s work and he said, “Top quality as you can see here. When we moved into this building we tried them out on one wing on a single floor and were so impressed, before they were finished we expanded the contract to the rest of the floor. Then we gave them two more floors. Then the rest of the floors and finally the kitchen, restaurants and post room. We don’t regret anything, in fact we have just shortlisted them for our new build Leeds HQ and I think the job is Belinda’s, but for God’s sake don’t tell her.” When Belinda came out of the ladies Jinnie shook her hand and said, “I have just authorised the deposit via mobile banking.”

Jinnie, Paolo, Penny and of course Larry had returned to Cambridge and Jinnie and Penny were back working in Vauxhall. Jinnie’s department were not very busy and she was writing a report on the last mission. Her small team were writing ‘departmental procedures’. Someone in HR had realised they didn’t have any and to a Government department that was a mortal sin. Just before lunch on ‘start-up Monday’ Jinnie could not wait any longer and phoned Alberto for a progress report. Speaking Italian, so as not to be overheard, she asked how things were going. Alberto said, “Amazing, the workmen were waiting for me at 8 o’clock and immediately started moving in tools and equipment. The first skip arrived at 8:30. Belinda arrived and approved of what she was seeing. The Building Inspector popped in at about quarter to eleven and clearly knew Peter. They walked the site together and he has approved the statutory notices that Peter has displayed and said work was proceeding as the design. He has gone away happy telling Peter he would be in at least once a week.”

Alberto reported that all he could hear was crashing and banging and looking out of the window the first skip was nearly full. Jinnie was itching to see the progress and told Alberto that she would leave work early and stop off in Potters Bar on the way home to have a look. Alberto said to tell her what train she would be on and he would pick her up at the station saving her the trudge up the hill to the high Ssreet.

It was just after four when Jinnie arrived on site and the workers had all gone home. At first Jinnie considered calling Belinda to complain, then she thought about what time they started. She did a 9 to 5 day, if they chose to work a 7:30 to 3:30 day why should she complain, especially when they had got through so much as it became clear had been accomplished on that first day. The site had been stripped of all the existing furniture, carpets, ceilings, lights and internal partitions. All that seemed to remain was a single WC and a hand basin. Lighting was now coming from free-standing floodlights. Outside stood a 2/3rds filled skip. Alberto explained that was skip number 2 the first had been exchanged mid-afternoon and this one was to be exchanged for an empty one tomorrow morning.

Peter had been given a key to the site when he told Alberto he would be on-site at 07:15 the next morning to check his crew in. Alberto had no intention of getting to work that early, 10 am was usually early enough on those days they offered a lunch service and 4 pm when they opened for an evening only service. Jinnie wanted to keep an eye on the build, it was a major investment for her, but it was not easy living in Cambridge, working in London and the build going on in Potters Bar. In a phone call with Belinda they agreed on a site progress meeting every Friday afternoon at 4. Peter agreed to stay on late that day and Jinnie got ‘C’s’ agreement to leave early as things were quiet and it was for a fixed 10 weeks.

Jinnie and Alberto spoke on the phone most days. He seemed impressed at the progress. Jinnie arrived for the first weekly meeting to find Peter and Belinda deep in conversation and Belinda making notes on her iPad. Joined by Alberto, Belinda suggested a wander around the site. Jinnie was astounded, solid partitions had gone up on both the ground and first floor for the ladies and gents toilets, the first fit electrics looked to be making good progress and the grid for the suspended ceiling was complete on the first floor and half finished on the ground floor. The plumber had obviously started his first fix work. What surprised Jinnie was how neat and tidy the site was the floors had been swept clean and there were no tools hanging around. Belinda said that was Peter, his credo was ‘a clean site is a safe site’.

The four of them sat at a large table in the restaurant and as if by magic one of the waiter partners put a pot of fresh coffee and four cups on the table. Belinda unfolded a copy of the work programme bar chart and started crossing off completed tasks. When she had ticked off all of the week one bars and even several of the week 2, Jinnie started to smile. Belinda explained that when Jinnie had arrived she and Peter had been discussing whether they could get some of the material orders on-site earlier as things were ahead of schedule. Belinda said it was a task for first thing on Monday.

Belinda reached in her briefcase and pulled out several catalogues and explained that although a number of styles for things had been chosen she needed to settle colours so that orders could be placed. Of course these choices had no effect on the contract price. As things were ahead of schedule she particularly wanted to settle the design of the toilet cubicles as they were custom made to fit the space and the earlier the order was placed better the chance of getting them on time. The next thing was the wait station design as that was custom made by the furniture supplier and finally the doors as they often took a while to deliver as once again they were custom made. Jinnie saw a pattern emerging here, if it was custom made it took time, so she asked what was on the shortest delivery. Belinda smiled and showed the ranges of colours and styles commonly stocked. Jinnie and Alberto agreed on their choices and asked for Belinda’s advice on whether everything went together. She said she thought it would all match well but she said she would get Melissa and Andrew to cast an eye over it their choices and update the rendered images to reflect them.

The second week’s meeting followed the same format as the first week. Progress had again been rapid and Belinda’s bar chart showed that Peter’s men had done just a little short of 3 weeks work in 2 weeks. She had also brought the first stage payment invoice! Jinnie and Alberto were happy to authorise its payment as it covered the first 2 weeks’ work and they were well past that point. Belinda produced the updated renders and they looked perfectly good to Jinnie’s untrained eye but Belinda said Andrew had made a couple of subtle colour changes to lighten the chosen upholstery on the chairs and the toilet cubicles. Jinnie had to admit she couldn’t tell the difference but what she saw looked good.

At the week 3 meeting Jinnie was delighted to find that the ceilings in the new building not only had their grids in place but most of the ceiling tiles were in and many of the ceiling lights were working. Belinda pointed out that they were jury-rigged for work purposes and they wanted to install the new distribution panel needed for the combined buildings in the existing restaurant on a Monday, when it was closed. She promised the power would be up by Monday evening and her electrician had promised that power would be maintained to the 3 big fridges and freezers in the kitchen for the whole time. They would also take the opportunity to do a little preparatory work in the kitchen.

Belinda popped back to her car and returned with an A0 board with various rendered images showing the finished restaurant. In effect it was an advertisement for her company, but Alberto said he would be delighted to display it in the restaurant’s reception area as he was tired of trying to explain to customers what was happening next door. Belinda asked if they would like some of the images for the Trattoria’s website and Alberto said it would be nice but he had no idea how to change anything on the site and the company who had set it up for them had vanished off the face of the earth. Once again Belinda came to the rescue and promised her webmaster would be in contact on Monday.

Weeks 4, 5, and 6 all reported excellent progress and by week 7 they were now two full weeks ahead of programme and the new restaurant was looking good. The new toilets were all in and working, carpet tiles were down and covered with plastic protection. The new tables and chairs had been delivered and sitting in a corner under a protective cover. All the second fit electrics were complete. The wait stations were installed and the data cables that connected them to the new electronic ordering system had been installed together with a new rack-mounted computer which was in a new computer cupboard. At the previous week’s meeting, Belinda had asked for and been given permission to bring forward the closure to the Monday of week 8. The partners had decided that they needed to close a little longer to familiarise themselves and new employees with the new equipment and premises. The grand opening was to be on the following Saturday night.

A reporter for the Potters Bar Press had dined in the Trattoria in the early days of the build and it had resulted in a small article on an inside page, which had created a flurry of interest on the letter’s page. When the rendered images had appeared on the restaurant’s website, the local paper had asked for permission to print them creating lots of free advertising. With the grand reopening fixed, Jinnie talked to Alberto and suggested they use the paper for free advertising by telling them the opening was to be jointly by the PM and the Italian Ambassador. The plan worked perfectly, the local paper splashed the story that the PM was coming on the front page and the phone started ringing for bookings almost as soon as the weekly paper hit the newsagents. Alberto was already working on a seating plan for the evening. Of course, most of the partners would be working but not Jinnie, she was to host the PM and the Ambassador. Two tables were put together for the Walsh family, the PM, the Ambassador and his wife. A table was reserved for Belinda, her husband and her core team and several other tables were allocated to the families of partners.

The story was picked up by the national press and then the phone went crazy, by lunchtime the restaurant was fully booked. The decision was made that it would be too difficult to have an a la carte menu on opening night so a table d’hote menu with a limited choice was devised. Alberto decided that it would be silly to miss such a good opportunity and it was agreed to open on the Sunday with a fixed lunch service and the same table d’hote menu in the evening, Monday they would close as usual but Tuesday would be the first test of the full menu. Scanning the list of bookings for Sunday evening Jinnie recognised the name of a national paper’s restaurant critic, that made her wonder if others were booked under assumed names?

Belinda’s men were in very early on Sunday morning. Several men put down protective covering before starting knocking through for the support beams readying for the connecting openings. Teams were working on the kitchen extension, moving partitions to enlarge the area. The electricians were installing wiring for new equipment and installing cables on the new distribution board. The A/C men had ripped out some of the existing equipment including the air chiller and the extraction fan, new higher duty ones were necessary to cope with the new equipment and the enlarged kitchen area.

The data cablers installed the new equipment at the wait stations and it was all connected into the payment system with wifi operated card machines. They also linked together the two fire alarm systems and tested them. The data men now only had to link in the kitchen terminal and its order printer and to commission the system. However, that would that have to wait until the new kitchen was complete. Jinnie, Paolo and Penny had been invited to mum and dad’s for Sunday lunch and dropped in to see how things were going on their way back to Cambridge. They found Alberto and his young son standing looking at the three rough openings between the two buildings. His first words to Jinnie were, “I only hope this is going to be complete for Saturday.”

Monday started with a visit from Building Inspector. He had already approved the structural calculations and drawings for the supporting beams but needed to check that installation was the same as the drawing before the beams were sealed into the walls. With that OK’ed he took a look in the kitchen and also approved the work that had been done so far. Peter told him the plan was for all construction work to be finished by Tuesday evening. Wednesday the data people would be commissioning the ordering system, all the new furniture would be positioned, lighting levels adjusted and a deep clean carried out. Thursday was Belinda doing a snagging run, he fully expected her to find something, so he had Jason the decorator and Kevin the fitter there to sort anything out. The inspector said he would return on Wednesday to check the final work in the kitchen. He had no interest in the decorations he simply needed to be satisfied that the kitchen, structure, fire alarms and exits all complied with the building regulations and the appropriate certificates had been raised.

As promised, the site was formally handed back to the partners by Belinda on the Thursday evening, when she gave them back the keys to the old estate agent’s front door. Not that the key was much use as during the day the door had been converted into the final emergency exit with a break bolt locking it shut from the inside. She presented Alberto with the operating and maintenance manual, shook his hand and said she was looking forward to the grand opening on Saturday night but if anything came up before then he should not hesitate to phone her. Once she had gone, he and the original partners had a good look at the finished product. A table was moved a few inches but that was the only fault anyone could find.

Alberto phoned Jinnie as she sat reading a copy of the Evening Standard on the train home to Cambridge. On page 3 was a story about the Trattoria Trevi and its grand opening explaining how No 10 saw it as a development in the great friendship between the U.K. and Italy and that the partners were Italians who had chosen to stay in Britain after the war. Jinnie was pleased to see she didn’t get a mention other than the article saying a mystery backer had stepped in to provide finance when the banks had refused and that the Chancellor was talking to the big banks about their lending policy and had threatened legislation if it wasn’t changed. At the bottom of the article, it said to look out for a review by their restaurant critic in Monday’s paper. Alberto’s first words to Jinnie were, “Thank you, it’s beautiful and without you we couldn’t have done it. It is now ours and we all love it.”

Jinnie dropped Paolo and Penny off at her parents on Saturday morning and headed for the Trattoria. She had decided that it had to be her little black dress for the opening and it had been dry cleaned especially for the occasion. She had left it in its protective plastic in the car which was in a position reserved for her in the staff car park at the rear of the building. As she entered the restaurant the phone was ringing and she heard the newly employed receptionist saying how sorry she was but the first available evening table for four was a week on Tuesday. The booking was duly made on the new computer system and the receptionist turned to Jinnie and politely asked how she could help her. The poor girl went bright red when Jinnie told her she was Mrs De Luca and one of the partners.

Alberto was right, the new area of the restaurant was beautiful. It only made Jinnie think, ‘What a pity we didn’t get Belinda to decorate, re-carpet and supply matching tables and chairs for the old restaurant. We do have a cash leftover as the project wasn’t as expensive as we budgeted.’ Alberto appeared at her side and formally introduced her to Jo the new receptionist. They headed into the kitchen as it was the main area Jinnie had not yet seen. Jinnie thought it looked wonderful and asked the head chef if he was happy. He didn’t have to speak, his ear to ear grin said it all. Jinnie was shown the table she was going to sit and eat at that evening and how to control the microphones for the speeches. Alberto indicated another table and said half a dozen reporters were going to be seated there including the man from the Potters Bar Press who had inadvertently got the publicity ball rolling.

Jinnie was impressed. The new area looked lovely and was being laid up for the evening’s service. The diners were all booked to arrive by seven, the guests of honour were due to arrive at seven-fifteen. A further 30 minutes was given over to greeting them, getting them a drink and speeches, with food service due to commence at a quarter to eight. Jinnie and Alberto went into the kitchen and grabbed a coffee before retreating to his little office. The first thing he did was show Jinnie Belinda’s final invoice. It was for a little less than the quotation plus Building Inspector fees and Jinnie asked why? Alberto said he had asked Belinda’s accounts department contact, Lucy, the same question and apparently fewer skips than estimated had been used. Jinnie was astounded at the honesty, no one at the restaurant would have been any the wiser if the final bill had been as quoted. Jinnie mentioned her thoughts on the original restaurant space and Alberto said he had thought the same thing himself but had decided that it might be wise to see how business was before instigating another project.

The PM’s advanced security team arrived along with a sniffer dog and proceeded to set up a magnetic anomaly arch over the main entrance, that every guest would have to pass through. The adorable spaniel explosives sniffer dog worked the rooms without finding anything until he finally stopped and indicated outside a fridge in the kitchen. The head chef laughed loudly and opened the fridge that clearly contained a single bowl. The chef explained it was the leftover meatballs from the staff lunch that he was going to eat for his supper but the dog was welcome to them.

Jinnie nipped out of a staff entrance to get the little black dress from her car. She was descended on by two burly men who flashed a Security Service ID and demanded to know who she was and what she was doing. Jinnie replied she was Mrs De Luca, one of the partners, and she was retrieving her dress for the evening from her car. She was asked for proof of her ID and showed them her SIS photo pass and their attitude changed instantly. Jinnie collected her dress and re-entered the building and headed for the ladies to change.

The first diners started to arrived around six fifteen and Jinnie was on hand, with Alberto, to welcome them and have Jo check them in and deal with coats. A waiter then showed them to the table and each was served with glass of Champagne. When her mum, dad, husband, sister and sister’s betrothed arrived Jinnie took them to their table and called the wine waiter over with the glasses of Champagne. For the head table it was not the ordinary stuff, but vintage, and the waiter had been briefed to keep their glasses topped up. Jinnie had secured a table for several of her friends and was delighted to welcome Dirk, Willie, Gretel and her current boyfriend who she showed to a table in the old part of the restaurant but with an excellent view of the table where the speeches were to be made.

Shortly before seven the final guests arrived and by five past seven Jinnie, who was getting more and more nervous, nipped to the nearest loo. Coming out of the cubicle she bumped into Gretel who told her she was looking terrific and not to worry everything was wonderful. Jinnie said, “I hope you can tell me that at ten-thirty tonight,” and hurried back to her post in reception waving to Belinda and her party as she passed.

The PM and the Ambassador and his wife arrived promptly at seven fifteen and their cars were parked in the spaces reserved for them immediately in front of the restaurant. The PM and the Ambassador were both in dinner jackets, Nigel in white and the Ambassador in a wine coloured one. Jinnie took them over to the table and reintroduced them to her family and checked that everyone at the table had a full glass. She noticed the PM having a quick conversation with the wine waiter but couldn’t hear what was said. Jinnie took a sip from her glass and determined that it was the only drink she was going to have that evening, she wanted to be alert just in case anything went wrong.

Alberto switched a microphone on and addressed the guests. He welcomed everyone to the newly refurbished Trattoria Trevi he promised them that the formal part of the evening was about to start and he had been promised that the speeches would be short as he realised everyone was hungry. Then without ado he introduced the Prime Minister. The PM stood up and Jinnie flicked his mike on. Mr Farage was in a jovial mood and held up his glass and looked at it quizzically took a sip and said, “Excellent, but you all know me, I like a drink as much as the next man, but the drink I really like is a beer.” With excellent timing the wine waiter arrived with a pint of draught beer on a silver tray.

When the room settled down the PM made a short speech emphasising how happy he was to be invited to the reopening and how it was a sign of the great Anglo Italian relationship that had developed after the war of liberation and the Italians throwing off the German yoke. He wished the restaurant well and without mentioning her name he thanked “his young friend” for his invitation and handed over to the Italian Ambassador. His speech was a little longer than the PM’s as he made it switching between English and Italian. He too emphasised bilateral cooperation and how pleased he was to see so many English people in the restaurant supporting an Italian business. He too acknowledged Jinnie by saying that one of his most trusted embassy staff was married to one of the partners who owned the restaurant. Finally he asked everyone to stand and raise their glasses to the success of the restaurant.

As the Ambassador and the guests sat down a huge gateaux was wheeled out of the kitchen and the PM rose to speak again. He said that to celebrate the opening he and the Ambassador were to jointly cut the cake. He joked that because he wasn’t trusted with sharp knives they were going to use a blunt sword and that at the end of the meal everyone would be served a slice. Alberto presented him with a sword and the two guests of honour, jointly, cut into the cake accompanied by loud applause. As the cake was wheeled back to the kitchen waiters streamed out bearing the antipasti. Jinnie whispered to the PM, “I know you can keep a secret, there are three more identical gateaux in the kitchen, if we had to serve that one to everyone you would get a very small portion.”

Jinnie was trying to keep an eye on how the service was going, despite a lot of new staff and a new system everything appeared to be going well. Even the terminals at the wait stations were living up to the hype. Between courses Jinnie tried to speak to some of the diners. The nearest table of four had booked as soon as they saw the reopening date in the local paper and had been regulars at the old restaurant. They were enthusiastic and loved the decor. She edged over to Belinda’s table and was introduced to her husband. Belinda was anxious to know if everything was working and was relieved when Jinnie said that as far as she knew everything was holding up fine.

When she returned to her table, her dad was deep in conversation with the PM and unsurprisingly they were talking politics and the latest opinion polls that were indicating even stronger support for the Government than at the election. Her mum was chatting with the Ambassador’s wife about the education system and had apparently invited her to visit her school in Hadley Village. A four-way conversation was going on between her husband, the Ambassador, Penny and her fiancé. She retook her seat and felt a little on the periphery of things until the next course arrived and the conversation changed. The evening went well and the PM proved to be very personable talking to anybody and everybody but it might just have been something to do with his beer consumption. When it came time for him to leave, Jinnie escorted him to the door. He paused to say goodnight to some other departing diners and to have his photo taken with them before returning to Jinnie.

Jinnie thanked him for coming and for his speech. He replied that it had been his pleasure and he had enjoyed the food and meeting her family. As he was about to leave, he whispered in her ear that he was glad the refurbishment had finished a little early because things were about to get a bit hectic. Jinnie remembered what he had said earlier about France.

In Chapter 22 – Preparations for further missions.

© WorthingGooner 2022