Jinnie had just entered the house when her mobile rang. It was Alberto and she had been expecting him to ring. He quickly brought her up to date with developments. The accountants confirmed that the restaurant was running profitability and had no major debts over and above the operating debts any normal business would have. The rest of the board were happy that the budget pricing from Belinda was fair. He had spoken to the Embassy commercial section and was confident the necessary loan would be approved. The board felt that they would generate enough cash flow to pay off the loan within 12 months and the project would then bring considerable benefits to the enlarged business. The board had given the go ahead to make a bid subject to Jinnie joining them in a unanimous decision.
Jinnie said she fully backed the decision. Alberto then told her the Lawyers were already drawing up the bid offer and he expected to be able to make the offer on Friday or Saturday. Alphonso was trying to set up a meeting with the Widow. Jinnie then said to Alberto that she had been thinking about the restaurant’s name. She suggested that initially they keep the current name and only rename it when the building had been extended and it was fully up to the Trattoria Trevi standard. She pointed out that there were dangers in having a second restaurant of the same name with lower standards initially. Alberto said he agreed and that he thought the board would as well when the facts were pointed out to them.
Just before 4 pm on Friday afternoon Alberto drove his Jaguar into the restaurant car park and pulled up alongside Jinnie and Alphonso who stood chatting by her Mini. They climbed into the Jaguar and Alberto said, “Sorry to have cut it so fine but firstly I had to wait for the lawyer to complete the photocopying of the Bid Document and then the M25 was a madhouse.” They climbed into the Jaguar and Alphonso gave them directions to the Widow’s house.
Jinnie sat next to Alberto and kept thinking ‘this route is familiar’ but it was only when they turned into the private road where Belinda lived that she realised why. The Widow’s house was on the other side of the road from Belinda and a few houses away. Jinnie told them that she had been in this road less than a month ago viewing a garden on an open day. Alphonso said, “The big house with the huge garden, lake and woods? We visited in the spring.” Jinnie replied, “Yes that’s the one, it’s owned by our refurbishment contractor.” Alphonso shook his head and said, “This deal was meant to be.”
The Widow’s home was lovely but Jinnie couldn’t help but think that with the input of a Belinda and her team it could be so much better. Alphonso introduced Jinnie and Alberto as directors of a Michelin Starred restaurant who were interested in making an offer for the restaurant as a going concern and then took a back seat. The Widow, who insisted they call her June, said she had already verbally accepted an offer from developers. Alberto replied, “Excellent, you have not signed a contract yet and I am certain our offer will better the developers and has the advantage that it is not subject to planning permission.” He went on to run through the project and listed all the advantages of going with their offer including the increased offer value and the savings to her in redundancy payments, notice payments, holiday payments and the ongoing pension fund arrangements. Finally he played the card that he and Jinnie had discussed on the phone earlier that morning and thought might just clinch the deal. “Of course,” he said, “our offer has the advantage of retaining the restaurant as the business your husband built and loved over many years and you will always be welcome to come and dine in the refurbished restaurant and sample some of our food.”
June stood up and walked over to them and offered her hand. “Yes,” she said, “It’s a deal. I never wanted to see the place turned into apartments, but it was the only deal on the table. I have sold this house, subject to contract, it is far to big for me and I will be moving to a seafront apartment in Hove. I couldn’t continue running the restaurant, I know nothing of the business except that it needs some investment and this is a perfect solution.” Looking at her watch June continued, “Now I wonder if my solicitor is still in the office at nearly 4:30 on a Friday.”
June managed to catch her solicitor before he left for the weekend. He promised to call in on his way home to pick up a copy of the Bid Documents and to review them over the weekend. Provided there was nothing contentious, he told June that it should be a quick deal. As the small group left an excited June’s house, Jinnie asked her if she knew the people over the road who had the huge garden with the lake and the peacocks. June smiled and said, “You mean Brian and Belinda, they are lovely neighbours and I will miss them.” Jinnie said, “Belinda is our refurbishment contractor.” June replied, “That explains why the house is always in such immaculate condition.”
Jinnie contemplated calling in on Belinda and telling her they had shaken hands on a deal, but decided to phone her instead. She was still in the Crawley office when Jinnie rang and said she was delighted to hear the news and would set the wheels in motion first thing Monday morning. Alphonso asked if it was Ok to tell the staff as they were all worried about their jobs. Jinnie said it was Ok but to make the point that it was all subject to contract.
On the Sunday before the Turners Hill restaurant was due to re-open Jinnie, Guido, Alberto and Alphonso stood with Belinda and Peter in the reception area. They had just finished their final walk through and there wasn’t a single item left on the snagging list. The build was complete with the exception of the final clean the following morning and all the parties were delighted. Jinnie thought the refurbishment was first class, the place looked fabulous, if a little dusty. Andrew’s choice of colour combinations was, as before, perfect and the restaurant looked inviting. Jinnie thanked Belinda and Peter once again for a job well done, on time and on budget and reminded them both them and their partners were on the guest list for Tuesday evening. Jinnie reminded them that this wasn’t the same sort of opening as for the Trattoria Trevi with only a few guests and mostly paying customers, what in the business was, she believed, called a soft launch.
Alberto, Guido and Alphonso slipped away to talk restaurant business. The new menu had been devised and the chefs had been to the Trattoria Trevi to learn the new dishes. The same electronic ordering system as was installed in Potters Bar had been installed as a late addition to the project. It wasn’t strictly necessary for the 60 covers they currently had but it had been sized for the 200 covers they intended to have in a year or so. Alphonso reported that the large ‘Under new Management’ notice on the front of the building was hardly necessary as the leaking of the change of ownership of the restaurant had caused it to be reported in the local paper which had resulted in every evening for the next fortnight being fully booked. The paper had made much of the new owners Michelin Star and its association with the PM.
Jinnie and Belinda slipped away to join Paolo and Brian who were waiting for them in the nearby pub. They had booked a table for Sunday lunch and intended to try the pub’s roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and three veg special which had reputation for good value for money. Over the meal it became apparent to Jinnie that Brian knew of her full-time job. Although he said nothing obvious to either Paolo or Belinda, Jinnie picked up on subtle hints that Dirk had drawn his old friend into his circle of security service friends.
Jinnie rather liked Brian, who it emerged had risen to a full colonel in the Paras before a training accident in which he had injured his back, forcing his retirement on an enhanced pension and with a lump sum compensation payment. That, and the several independent directorships he had been head-hunted for, would account for the fabulous house he and Belinda owned, thought Jinnie. He obviously had a very sharp military mind and Jinnie guessed it was Dirk’s intention to use him to help plan future missions.
On the following Tuesday evening she met Paolo at Victoria and took the train to Three Bridge. They then took a taxi to the Turners Hill restaurant arriving shortly before the first public reservation at 6 o’clock. Jinnie spotted Alberto’s Jaguar in the car park and wondered how long he and Guido had been there. The reception desk was manned by a member of staff she had never seen before but who had clearly been briefed to expect her. The reception and dining area look wonderful with everything new and spotless following the previous day’s final clean. Alphonso was in the final throws of his last-minute staff briefing and he called Jinnie over and introduced her to the staff saying she was the power behind the takeover and they should make sure that she was treated well as she would be dining that evening.
Jinnie made an off-the-cuff short speech, saying that she was no more important than any other customer and that they should treat everyone equally well, as it was almost certain that restaurant reviewers would be in tonight and at any time in the next few weeks. Then, looking at her watch she said,”I better not detain you as I am certain you all have last-minute things to do and we only have a few minutes before the first customers are due to arrive.”
Jinnie and Paolo had reserved a table of six for 7 o’clock and were hosting Belinda and Brian and Peter and his partner Jenny to thank them for all the work done in such a short period. Jinnie was anxious to observe the restaurant working for the first hour or so until her guests arrived so she joined Alberto and Guido as they drifted around the rapidly filling restaurant while Paolo took a seat at the bar and ordered a Peroni. Alphonso was pulling out all the stops and greeting every diner before handing them over to a waiter who led them to their table. Unlike her first visit, the staff were all dressed in black trousers, black shoes, white shirts or blouses and black bow ties. The exception were the wine waiter and his assistant who had red bow ties and Alphonso who was wearing a yellow bow tie and a black jacket. Jinnie approved.
The restaurant was quickly filled with the sound of guests talking, glasses clinking and knife and forks on the specially commissioned crockery. Alberto whispered to Jinnie that things looked to be going well in the dining room and he was going to pop into the kitchen to ensure everything was Ok there. Jinnie opted to join Paolo at the bar and wait there for her guests to arrive.
The four guests arrived together and Alphonso greeted them with the same enthusiasm as any other guest but personally led them to their table and handed each of them a menu saying the veal was particularly good today, he had had it himself for his lunch. As he headed back to his post by the reception desk the wine waiter appeared asking if they wanted drinks from the bar while they choose their starters and mains. Jinnie suggested Champagne as she had asked for a bottle to be placed on ice earlier and Belinda said, “Why not, this is a special evening, the completion of our third project with you.”
Jinnie kept an eye on the dining room watching the service and was pleased with what she saw. The flow of dishes from the kitchen was smooth and as far as she could see no one sat waiting for a long time between courses, dirty plates were being removed quickly, the wine waiter and assistant were topping up glasses and having a friendly word with customers and dessert menus were arriving speedily as were desserts. The wine waiter was missing no opportunity to sell up with dessert wines and coffee and liquors. Even the electronic ordering system seemed to be working well.
Jinnie’s table was reserved for the whole evening but the early diner’s tables were booked for a second service so it was important to ensure their tables were served quickly and relaid for the later bookings. It all seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine and although there were a few people in the bar, they didn’t seem to be waiting for a table to be set, rather waiting for their friends. But what impressed Jinnie most was the quality of the food. Although it had been decent before, now it was now excellent, although not yet up to Trattoria Trevi standards and the new items on the menu appeared to be selling well, particularly the fillet steak.
As Brian drained the last of his after-dinner brandy he observed to Jinnie, “You have worked wonders with this restaurant, I wouldn’t believe it is the same place and the same staff. The service has been immaculate, the food was good before but tonight it has been spectacular. Even if it is Belinda’s company’s efforts that transformed the place I must say it looks lovely and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring a client I wanted to impress here.” Jinnie thanked him for his kind words and told him they were going to experiment with corporate accounts as the restaurant was within easy access of Crawley and its Manor Royal Business District where numerous large companies were located. She would ensure that he was one of the first to be offered the chance to sign up.
When the last customers left shortly after 10:30, Alphonso called his staff together and thanked them for their efforts. After mentioning that not a single dish had been returned to the kitchen all evening, he went on to say it was a good start but it was only a start and he wanted to see that sort of effort every service. Jinnie simply worked her way around the room individually thanking people and shaking hands.
Alberto drove Guido, Jinnie and Paolo back to Hertfordshire and while heading around the M25 they discussed the opening night. Alberto was of the opinion that the evening had been a huge success and said that while everything bedded in, he wanted one of the original partners to be on hand every night. After that, he felt that they should be able to ease back on the supervision as Alphonso seemed to be running a pretty tight ship.
Jinnie and Paolo met Emma on the platform at Hadley Wood the following morning. Emma wanted to hear all the details of the opening evening and was anyone famous there? Jinnie was explaining that everything went better than she could have dreamed of, when her mobile rang. As usual for early morning calls, it was the PM. He started the conversation by saying, “My people tell me you had a most successful launch last night, my hearty congratulations.” Jinnie replied, “Thank You. It seems to have gone very well. I was extremely happy and had a lovely evening with some nice people.”
The PM continued, “Well I’m delighted you said that, as I have been asked by Dirk if Brian can join the team for any future missions that his skills might be useful in. It has been the simplest of tasks to clear him security-wise. He had already been vetted at the highest level, firstly as a colonel in the Para’s and then in the job he did for a while before leaving the Army. He doesn’t talk about it for security reasons, but for over a year he was an equerry to the then Prince Charles, before he became King. I have agreed that he can be called on if and when needed. He has a lot of military planning experience and is now a highly successful and practical businessman.” Jinnie said, “Good, I get on very well with Brian, he has a great brain, you should see what he has done with his house and garden.”
The PM said, “We have a couple of missions in the development phase, but I don’t think we have a need for your particular skill set yet. So I will leave you in peace for a little while to get on with running your department but if you don’t mind I will phone you regularly to check on my friend Larry. In fact if you don’t mind I would like to pop in occasionally to say hello to him. Mind, it would have to all be hush hush or the Special Branch protection officers will go mad.” Jinnie answered, “I think Larry would like that, but please give me a little warning as he likes to go wandering in the woods and I would like to ensure he was home if you called in, besides I would have to get some beer in!” Nigel laughed saying, “I do like a decent malt whisky too you know.”
As soon as Jinnie rang off Emma said, “Was that the PM?” Jinnie replied, “Yes, he always seems to ring about this time.” “Another mission?” Emma asked. “Not this time.” Replied Jinnie. He wanted to offer his congratulations on last night’s opening and to tell me that the next mission might be a while. However, he wants to come to visit Larry in secret.” “Wow,” said Emma, “I never realised you were that friendly.” By the time they reached Vauxhall Cross Emma knew all about the re-opening and what Jinnie had had to eat and drink.
Emma said it sounded lovely, but as she and Freddie were desperately saving so she could afford to have time off for maternity leave she doubted she would be able to try it for several years. Jinnie asked, “When is your birthday?” and Emma replied, “The 13th November, why?” “Because I am going to treat you and Freddie to dinner at Trattoria Trevi so you can experience fine dining instead of only hearing about it. Who knows, someone famous might be in that night.”
In Chapter 6 – News for Jinnie.
© WorthingGooner 2022