On the way home from the visit to Belinda’s house, Jinnie discussed with Paolo her thoughts for making the owner’s widow an offer for the Turners Hill Italian restaurant and converting it into Trattoria Trevi 2. Paolo said he thought it was a bit small, but Jinnie pointed out that as it was only on full three nights a week otherwise there was plenty of spare capacity. In any case, there was an oversize car park they ought to be able to expand into, as long as it wasn’t listed or in the green belt. From what she had observed the waiters were good and the chef knew what he was doing, he just wasn’t very adventurous with his menu. The place would benefit from a lick of paint, new carpets and furnishings but it was nothing Belinda’s team couldn’t put right quickly.
As soon as she got home Jinnie rang Alberto at the restaurant and asked if he could organise a special board meeting for Monday at 7 in the evening, as she had an important proposal to discuss. Fortunately, the restaurant still wasn’t open on Mondays. Alberto said, “Ok, but can you give me a clue as to what your proposal is as the others are bound to ask.” Jinnie replied, “No, it is important that this remains confidential for as long as possible.”
Jinnie’s next call was to the manager of the Turners Hill restaurant. Speaking in Italian she asked him if he remembered talking to her about the restaurant’s problems at lunchtime. He replied that he did. She asked if the restaurant closed on Mondays and he said yes. Jinnie gave him a Sat Nav address and asked if he could meet her there at 8 in the evening, and she thought she would have a proposal for him to take back to his staff.
The meeting began at 7 pm sharp and was conducted completely in Italian as Jinnie thought that any eves dropper was unlikely to understand them. She quickly explained the situation with the new restaurant and felt it was a wonderful opportunity to expand the business. She felt it could very quickly be brought up to Trattoria Trevi standards and that she was willing to help fund the purchase by leaving her director’s loan in place and that Paolo was certain that the Italian state would be up for another loan and it was only a couple of miles from Belinda’s company HQ in Crawley. Not knowing the area, Alberto asked if the area could support an upmarket restaurant and Jinnie replied, “Definitely, you should see the area Belinda lives in, a whole street of £2 million houses.”
By 7:45 the board had come to a tentative agreement, they would proceed by firstly talking to the manager at 8 and finding the price the developers had offered. Following the meeting, if they still thought the project viable, Alberto and Guido, the head waiter, would ask to observe the next day’s evening service. They would tell the manager that they needed to see the books and if they were happy they would get Belinda to quote for the work to bring the restaurant up to standard. All things being well they would then make the owner’s widow a bid, pitched a little over the developer’s bid.
At 8 o’clock Jinnie was standing on the pavement outside the Trattoria Trevi when Alfonso the manager arrived. He was stunned when Jinnie lead him into the restaurant and through into the new area where several tables had been pushed together to form an ad hoc boardroom table. Jinnie introduced him to the 6 original directors and still speaking Italian explained what they had in mind. Alfonso was then bombarded with questions, some he could answer, some he could find the answer to and others he could not. He knew the restaurant was owned freehold and that it was making a decent profit. He agreed that its menu needed a refresh and could be improved. He told them that before he died the old owner had lost interest in the restaurant and not spent any money on the customer-facing areas for a couple of years and the car park behind the building needed resurfacing. The last refurbishment had been in the kitchen, 3 years ago, and it was pretty modern.
Alfonso was also able to tell them what the developer’s offer was, as he had been given the figure to try to beat. Jinnie was staggered it was considerably less than the tentative figures the board had been working to. She suggested to the board they should beat it by £50,000 and point out to the widow that their offer was in fact worth considerably more as she would not have to hand out any redundancy payments or have any pension problems as they planned to take it on with all the current staff and continue running it as a restaurant.
The board we’re satisfied with what they had heard so far and quickly agreed to move to the next step of the plan. Alfonso agreed on the visit and that it should be kept as quiet as possible at this stage of the takeover as they didn’t want the owner’s widow or the developers finding out yet. Alberto said he would speak to the company solicitor and accountants tomorrow and Jinnie said she would ask Paolo to open preliminary discussions with the commercial section of the embassy on the Trattoria’s behalf.
Jinnie and Alberto then took Alfonso on a guided tour of the refurbished section of the restaurant and kitchen explaining that their contractor was about to bring the old area up to the level of the new section, and that included the reception area where they had just commissioned a bespoke reception desk. Alfonso asked if it was their intention to bring Turners Hill up to the same standard. Jinnie answered, “Not immediately, the intention is to upgrade the existing customer-facing areas to a higher level and improve the menu. Once we are filling the restaurant most evenings and getting a good lunchtime trade we have tentative plans to expand the restaurant by building on part of the car park and at that stage, we will do more work on the existing dining area.
Before he left, Alfonso asked if he could tell the existing staff of the plans. Jinnie and Alberto both said, “No.” Jinnie added, “We really need to keep this project secure until we make the offer and the best way is for as few people as practically possible to know until then.” Jinnie thought for a moment and then continued, “I guess you have a deputy who you trust, it might be a good idea to tell him otherwise it may not be easy explaining Alberto and Guido being in the restaurant tomorrow evening.”
As he left, Alfonso shook everyone’s hand and as an afterthought asked, “How quickly will you make up your mind on proceeding with a bid?” Alberto explained, “That really depends on the impression we get tomorrow, that what we and our accountant see in the books agrees with what you have told us about the restaurant being profitable and our contractor giving us a refurbishment cost we can live with. I suspect we will have a good idea by the end of the week.” Alfonso headed back to his car and Jinnie mentioned to Alberto that she hoped he got home Ok as he looked a little shell-shocked.
Jinnie’s phone rang at about 10:30 the next evening. Glancing at its display it read “Alberto Calling”. Jinnie went through the usual pleasantries before Alberto said as usual in Italian, “I have you on loudspeaker in the car. Guido and I are on our way home. We can see the potential you saw in the business. It was three-quarters full tonight with bookings and then there were several walk-ups. The kitchen was slick and Guido thought the service excellent. Personally, I would change one or two dishes on the menu and introduce some upmarket dishes, for example, they only have sirloin steak on the menu, which was selling well, we could easily add fillet and rib eye. I think they could up the price on their drinks, they are cheaper than the pub up the road. We had a quick look at the books and they have been making more than Alphonso thought. The old owner was making a very nice living out of the place. I have been given computer access to the accounts so I will get the accountants to give them the once over.”
Guido added, “The decor is a bit dated, the carpets, curtains and furniture need replacing but we knew that and Belinda’s man Andrew will soon sort that out, he has a good eye for colour schemes and furniture. My only worry is the gents is awful, but you couldn’t be expected to know that from your visit. How was the Ladies?” Jinnie replied, “Not so bad that it stuck me as desperately in need of work. I suggest we ask Belinda’s opinion, but I suspect we could get away with a spruce up until we are in a position to bring the whole place up to the Trattoria Trevi standard.”
Alberto spoke again, “One other thing, they appear to have found several highly competitive suppliers and are buying some supplies, particularly meat, in at lower prices than we pay. I checked the quality and it is just as good as ours, I think I will get some quotes for the Trattoria.” Jinnie was beginning to feel relieved that her first instinct had been confirmed by two experienced restauranteurs. “Where do we go from here?” Jinnie asked. “I think we continue with our plan,” said Alberto. “Can you talk to Belinda first thing tomorrow while I deal with the accountants? Oh, and did Paolo get anywhere with the embassy commercial people?” “Yes,” Jinnie answered, “They are awaiting our call, but I suggest we hang fire until Belinda can give us a budget cost and the accountant can suggest how much we can finance ourselves and how much we need to borrow.” “Agreed,” said Alberto, “It looks like we will be reliant on Belinda’s costings.”
On Wednesday morning Jinnie rang Belinda’s mobile as soon as she came out of the underground. Belinda answered after two rings and Jinnie identified herself and asked Belinda if she was in the office yet? She said no she was running a bit late and was still driving in, Jinnie explained what she wanted and that they needed to get a price together ASAP. As they talked, Belinda said, “Ok, I am now in the office car park, hang on for two more minutes and I will be in a position to write down Alphonso’s mobile number and organise a walk round. I should be able to give you a budget price fairly soon after seeing the site and firm it up 24 hours later.”
Belinda was as good as her word and phoned Jinnie before lunch, Jinnie saw the call on her mobile but the office jamming stopped her from actually receiving the call. As soon as she was in the canteen at lunchtime Jinnie rang her back. Belinda said, “I have had a look at the project, first the good news, the kitchen is pretty good, tiled walls and floor, well-maintained equipment, plastic coated ceiling tiles, decent lighting and an excellent extraction and filtration system. It was clean and tidy, but I would recommend a deep clean just to be on the safe side. Now the middling news – the reception, bar and dining room. All need to be decorated, re-carpeted, new curtains, new tables and chairs and reception seating. I think with a decent clean, the reception desk is good enough. The ladies’ toilets are passable with a good deep clean and a lick of paint. Oh, and a light over the mirror, otherwise it will do until you extend the business, then it will need to be either enlarged or another ladies added. The bad news is gents is awful, it really needs ripping out and starting again, the same applies regarding capacity as with the ladies. The car park could do with some of the big potholes being tackled. Finally the signage. You didn’t mention it, but internally I don’t think it complies with the building code but that is only a minor cost. More importantly, if you are changing the name to give it a corporate image in line with the Trattoria Trevi you will need replacement external signage. I will give you a price as an optional extra.
Jinnie thought for a moment and said,”That lot sounds expensive.” Belinda replied, “No, not really. I will email a budget quote to Alberto within the next couple of hours. I reckon the bottom line, with all options included, will be around £75,000. Don’t forget this is all money that will only have to be spent once. All the work and furnishings will be good when you build the extension.” Jinnie said, “Thanks, we will make our minds up to proceed or not when we have got all the finances sorted, probably by Friday, but I can assure you that if we do, the job will be yours.” Then she added, “One other thing, how long will the work take and when could you do it?” Belinda said, “I’ll put it in the email, but if you close the place for the work, I reckon close after a Friday night service and reopen a week on Tuesday. I recognise it doesn’t open on Mondays, it will be 10 days. The gents is the big one and getting new cubicles in time is my only major worry. I have looked at the diary and I think we can squeeze you in in about 3 weeks time if we get the go this weekend.”
Jinnie thanked her, rang off and saw Emily looking at her with her mouth open. Emily asked, “Are you planning another restaurant?” Jinnie smiled and said, “Yes, but I would ask you to keep it secret for a few days. By Monday we should know if the project is on or off and then I can tell you about it.” Emily said, “Ok, that’s fine with me, just as long as I can be there when the PM visits.”
In Chapter 5 – The new restaurant opens.
© WorthingGooner 2022