Jinnie’s Story – Book Four, Chapter Thirty-Two

Jinnie makes her final decision

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
The artisan sandwich delivery service started.
Pear and Goat Cheese Sandwich,
Ron Dolled
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Jinnie rang Bill Furr and suggested he might like a guided tour of the ‘Dark Kitchen’ now that it was virtually ready to go, adding perhaps he should organise a decent photographer to accompany him. The tour was organised for the Monday before the Saturday opening and it coincided with the first radio adverts going out. Jinnie couldn’t get a babysitter for that Monday morning so the twins had to go with her to the tour/interview. She parked in the Trattoria Trevi staff car park and was just loading the sleeping twins into their double buggy when Bill parked over the service road, in a visitor space outside the ‘Dark Kitchen’.

Bill and the photographer wandered over to Jinnie just as Alberto, accompanied by the receptionist, came out of the staff entrance to the restaurant. The receptionist said she would be more than happy to watch the twins while the rest of the party toured the new venture. Before Jinnie could accept, Bill held up a hand and said he had an idea. The Dark Kitchen had featured in the paper before and although exclusive photos and an interview were good press, a nice human interest angle was a killer story. A new young working mother and baby was good, but twins were vastly better. A picture of her and the twins on the front page would sell extra papers and, Jinnie thought, ‘And give loads more free advertising to us.’

The tour went well, the kitchens were gleaming and chefs were busy practising, kitchen porters were moving sacks, boxes and crates between the dry goods stores, the fridges, the freezers and the kitchens. Alberto explained the flow, call centre, electronic ordering, cooking and dispatch where orders were combined and drinks added and finally loaded onto vans or scooters for delivery. Pictures were taken and interviews with some staff recorded. Finally, they walked down the office corridor and Bill noted the names on the doors. Boardroom, Server room, Accounts, Project Manager, Finance Director, Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director. Alberto opened the door labelled Managing Director and invited them in. Jinnie hadn’t seen his office since it had been completed. It was tastefully decorated and boasted a deep pile carpet, a vast desk with a massive computer screen and a round meeting table with six chairs. But to Jinnie the crowning glory was the feature wall depicting a photograph of a mountain village which Jinnie guessed was Alberto’s home town.

Bill’s first question was addressed to Alberto, “If you are the MD, who is the COO?” Quick as a flash, Alberto answered, “That’s Jinnie’s office for when she finishes her maternity leave.” He had been very careful in his wording, he hadn’t actually said she was the COO or that she was on maternity leave from the restaurant group. The interview continued for another 30 minutes where Jinnie again mentioned that the next launch would be the artisan sandwich service in about 3 weeks and then she hinted at another project but this would be an up-market offering.

The radio advertising had several effects, firstly people started ringing the call centre trying to place orders, ignoring the clear start date in the advert. Then the hit rate on the website took off. The report on page impressions told them that every kitchen was getting hits with the fried chicken and burgers pages leading, but closely behind was the traditional English page. But the biggest effect was the extra free advertising it generated. Jinnie had promised Bill that they would give him two days free run at things. So that meant he had the rest of Monday to write the story up and then Tuesday to have the story on his website. They fully expected other outlets to pick up the story but she and Alberto agreed no interviews until Thursday when the Potters Bar Press hit the newsagents. Bill Furr or his editor, played a blinder, they put a teaser on the site but held back the main body of the story and the photos until late Wednesday night when it was too late for rivals to get the story out for Thursday morning. They also put a Potters Bar Press watermark on the website’s photos forcing anyone who wanted to use one to purchase the rights from them. Jinnie and Alberto lined up a string of radio interviews for Thursday. Alberto went into several studios while Jinnie did interviews from home talking to several stations via Zoom on the internet.

Late Thursday afternoon, after Jinnie and Alberto had compared notes on the radio interviews and agreed they had gone well, Bill Furr rang to tell her how happy the editor was. The early returns were telling them that the paper was selling far better than normal but they had also licensed the story and photos to several national papers. Jinnie thought she would have to buy all the dailies on Friday morning. She had hardly put the phone down when it rang again displaying Alberto’s name. Alberto said he had just accepted an invitation to appear on the BBC Breakfast sofa the following morning.

Jinnie said, “Good but that’s a national show.” “I know,” said Alberto, “but the ‘booker’ insisted it was of national interest as it was an idea that will be closely watched and likely repeated if successful.” Jinnie said, “OK, I understand what time are you on?” “About 8:50,” replied Alberto, “according to the provisional running schedule. The BBC car will pick you up at 7:00.” “What are you talking about?” said Jinnie, “I can’t possibly leave the twins.” “You don’t have to,” replied Alberto. “They especially asked for them to be brought into the London studio, the girl said the viewers adore babies. Anyway I’ll be in there to help.”

The BBC production girls made a huge fuss of the twins when Jinnie pushed the double buggy into the green room followed by Alberto lugging a huge hold-all packed with bottles of baby milk, nappies, salve, baby powder, a change of clothes for each twin, wet wipes and many other things. Once again the twins slept through the whole experience, even when Naga Munchetty held Millie. On the way out of the studio, Alberto fired up his mobile and checked his messages before saying, “We have three more people wanting to interview us, ITV want us on This Morning, LBC want us on James O’Brian and Talk TV want Mike Graham to talk to us. I think we could do one and they are all promising to take us home afterwards.”

Instantly Jinnie said, “Talk TV, I like Mike Graham and they are on radio as well as TV, besides I would probably slap Jobbie, he is a sarcastic left winger and is bound to say something nasty about the PM and Scofield has gone down in my estimation since coming out.” “OK, Talk TV it is, I’ll let them know and tell the others we have prior engagements.” Once again the girls behind the scenes at Talk TV all made a fuss of the twins and Mike Graham was a real gent, asked all the right questions and made a fuss of the twins. He admitted that he hadn’t been to the Trattoria Trevi, as it was the wrong side of London for him, but he wished he could try it. Jinnie suggested he could go to their Turners Hill restaurant, adding that it had exactly the same menu and standard at Potters Bar, it just hadn’t been assessed for the Michelin Guide yet.

In the advertising break after the interview, Jinnie invited Mike and his partner to try the restaurant as her guest. She said that, unfortunately with the twins, it was almost impossible for her to get there in the evening, but she would book the Chef’s Table for him and her good friends Brian and Belinda who lived close by. Brian was the company finance director and Belinda owned and ran the company that had designed and refurbished the restaurant and built the recently completed extension. Adding that her company had just finished building the Dark Kitchen and was probably the Southeast’s fastest-growing refurbishment and fit-out contractor, growing from nothing to a multi-million pound turnover in just a few years.

It was mid-morning on Saturday when the call centre started receiving its first orders. Some were hoping to order fried chicken, but had to be told that kitchen wouldn’t be open until next Saturday. However, the majority were for burger, fries and milkshakes, but even they had to wait as the burger kitchen was to be officially opened by his Worship the Mayor at midday. At noon he was to put the first burger on the grill for the cameras. At two minutes past noon the burger would be binned, the grill wiped down and the first order put on by a proper chef in his whites.

At seven minutes past noon, the first order of 10 cheese burgers, a bean burger, chicken burger and 12 lots of fries reached dispatch where five milkshakes, four Pepsis and three Pepsi Max’s were added to the order which was added to an insulated bag. In the next two minutes two more orders were put into insulated bags. All three went into a smart new van which drove out of the yard. Alberto explained to the Mayor that the van was equipped with a special GPS system that not only gave the driver directions to his drops, but worked out the best order for the quickest delivery. This software was similar to that used by most internet delivery companies.

Once the Mayor and most of the press had gone Alberto phoned Jinnie, who was anxiously waiting for news of the launch. He told her everything had gone to plan and every system had worked perfectly. He was building up to five o’clock and the lines opening for the two Trattoria Trevi kitchens’ advance orders. The first delivery from them was supposed to be six in the evening.

During the afternoon the rest of the family joined Jinnie and Paolo in their Hadley home, where they were going to try out the delivery service. At five on the dot, Jinnie hit the speed dial on her phone and got through to the call centre on the second ring. Everyone had listed out what they wanted so Jinnie read out the order for what was basically four British meals, one burger meal and one Italian although everyone had gone for a British dessert, three treacle tarts, and three apple pies, all six served with fresh cream. The call centre operator told her that some of the meal items selected would take a little while to cook so it would not be dispatched until about six twenty and the computer showed an estimated delivery time of six twenty-eight. Did she still want to proceed with the order? Jinnie said yes please and the girl on the other end took the debit card number.

The call handler then advised that as they had ordered three courses it might be a good idea to put the oven on low about 10 minutes before the food was due so they could keep the main and dessert courses warm while the starter was being eaten. She also advised that an automated text message would be sent to the number she was calling from five minutes before the food was to be delivered.

The driver arrived four minutes and 30 seconds after the text message and even carried the insulated container into the kitchen where he unloaded it onto a worktop, bade them, “Have a good evening and enjoy your meals,” before turning on his heel and leaving for his next drop. While Paolo popped the mains and dessert in the oven and the six individual containers of cream in the fridge, Jinnie dished up three prawn cocktails, two chicken soups and a minestrone soap all of which were appropriately nicely hot or cold.

Everything was correctly delivered and the food was excellent. Mr Walsh commented that it was a pity they didn’t have their drinks license yet and that it might be nice if they could somehow deliver coffee. Jinnie made a mental note to talk to Alberto about coffee and tea.

Jinnie phoned Alberto to find out how things were going and he reported it was a madhouse, and much busier than he had expected. He wondered how many were just trying them out as it was the first night. But he reported that they were keeping on top of demand but he was going to recommend the hire of three additional mopeds for next Saturday when two more kitchens were up and running.

The following morning Jinnie sent Paolo out to get a copy of every Sunday paper, as she wanted to see if there were any reviews of the Dark Kitchen. While he was out, Alberto rang to say that everything went well last night and despite the delivery service being under pressure they had received no complaints. He reported that the accounting software showed they had turned a decent profit on the evening, without including the licensing fees. The Italian kitchen had made a small profit but the English one had done far better than expected. The Sales Director of the Super Burger outlet had phoned him to say he was delighted, sales had been excellent and hadn’t affected business in the branches within the delivery area.

Paolo arrived back with an armful of Sunday papers. There was nothing in The Sunday Times or The Observer but that didn’t surprise Jinnie. However the Sunday Telegraph had a little bit reporting the opening and rehashing some of the Potters Bar Press interview, but it said a full report of a test purchase would be in tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph. But the Mail, Express, Mirror and Sun all had reports. They had all done the same thing, made a mixed-up order with things from all three working menus. All four had received exactly what they had ordered, the food had arrived at the advised time, had been hot and tasty. The Mail and the Express had organised dinner parties in reporters’ homes who lived in the delivery area and had enjoyed their evenings saying how good the food had been. Both commented on the fact that only soft drinks were available but said that an alcohol license had been applied for and was awaiting the next licensing session.

On Monday morning Mr Walsh rang Jinnie to say he had just read the review in his copy of the Daily Telegraph. The editor lived in Brookmans Park and had organised a dinner party for six. They had stuck to the English kitchen menu saying everyone knew how good the Trattoria Trevi’s Italian food was so they had wanted to test their English offerings. The meal had arrived two minutes early and they had appreciated the call centre’s advice on having the oven ready on warm. Three diners had tried three prawn cocktails, two soup and one pate, all of which had been excellent. All six had gone with the beef Wellington two with medium rare beef and the rest with medium. The packaging had clearly identified which was which and it had been delicious. Between them they had four different desserts and the food critic, who was one of the guests, said the food had been as good as eating in a top-class London restaurant. The editor’s wife commented that it would have been impossible to organise a home dinner party and cater for so many variations and still be able to enjoy the party. The service was rated five stars out of five and Jinnie was delighted.

Penny waved goodbye to Irena as Dirk drove her off to Sandwell for her officer course. She was going to miss her. Her spoken English was now pretty good as was her English comprehension and understanding of British life, but her written English was not as good. She still mixed up there and their; four and for; and two, to and too. Penny told her not to worry, she knew plenty of university graduates who, or was it whom, got it wrong. Dirk had confided to Penny that her English was far better than he ever thought possible in so short a time and he expected her to do well on the officer course with the exception of report writing. Penny promised to phone Irena regularly and told her to ring Dirk or her if she needed any help.

Four weeks before Christmas, the artisan sandwich delivery service started with another publicity blitz. Every office in the delivery area was targeted with a leaflet drop and Trattoria Trevi hit the radio airwaves again. They also hit the dozen or so pubs within the immediate area of the kitchen and offered them a delivery business. They could pre-order a daily platter of pre-made mixed sandwiches of their choice or they could phone a special number to order one-off orders that, if they took more than 12 minutes to arrive, would be supplied free of charge.

The first pub to sign up was on the high street very near the restaurant, they didn’t currently offer food, other than crisps, peanuts and pork scratchings. They asked their lunchtime trade if they would like to have a sandwich offering and got a resounding yes. The first day they took a mixed tray of two dozen sandwiches. Not being very adventurous they ordered a mixture of ham salad, egg salad, cold pork sausages with English mustard and cheese salad all on white farmhouse bread. They sold out within an hour but kept taking orders and phoning up to place orders from the suggestions on the leaflets left on the counter. The next day they ordered a second tray adding prawns on brown and white bread, roast beef with horseradish and watercress, tuna salad and egg and cress baps again selling out.

The office delivery service proper had been an instant hit. What worked brilliantly was the use of the evening meal dispatch software which could sort out deliveries to a particular address and combine them into a single delivery and then arrange a van delivery route. Many people started ordering the day before making it straightforward to make the sandwiches. After a fortnight they surveyed customers to find if the service could be improved upon and added to. The customers wanted a hot sandwich option, bacon, fried egg and sausage in various combinations, hot salt beef on rye, and surprisingly tinned salmon and cucumber, cakes and soft drinks.

They introduced the cold items the following week but explained to their customers that to deliver hot sandwiches the vans would need hot boxes and these would be added over the Christmas break. To make up for it they introduced a range of seasonal Christmas fillings, turkey and cranberry sauce, pigs in blankets and roast gammon all of which proved to be instantly popular.

Just before Christmas the sales director of the Super Burger business made an appointment to meet Alberto and Jinnie in Alberto’s office. He brought his deputy with him and Jinnie asked Brian to attend. Jinnie suggested that it might be more businesslike to hold the meeting in the boardroom and organised coffee and biscuits for their 11 o’clock arrival. Alberto speculated that they were going to pull out. Although he knew how many burgers they were selling he had no idea if their kitchen was still hitting their profit margins. The two burgers men arrived spot on time and commented that the coffee was much better than the burger chain’s own offering, leading to Alberto giving Jinnie a knowing glance.

The sales director got straight down to business. The kitchen was performing far better than in their most optimistic projections. The board had had a discussion and decided that they would like to open further kitchens and would like Trattoria Trevi to partner them. Jinnie and Alberto had already discussed another kitchen and Brian had said that their finances could stand it. In fact they had found a prospective site on the Crawley Manor Royal estate, very close to Belinda’s offices.

But Brian wasn’t going to divulge that information yet, so instead he asked what sort of partnership were they thinking about. The burger man said, “How about a 55-45 joint venture company where we both put in that percentage of the costs and running expenses and share the profits in the same ratio?” Brian, Jinnie and Alberto withdrew to the chairman’s office to discuss the offer. Brian explained that for an initial offer that good they obviously had something that the burger company wanted. He suggested that they try to find out what it was. He would ask a few questions and also try to push for a 50-50 deal. He was going to appear very pushy, but this was business and everything was in play.

Brian told the burger company men that they had discussed the offer and were inclined to accept a deal where Trattoria Trevi Holdings had the fifty-five percent but were there any other provisos that they had? The burger men whispered to each other and finally said, “We could go to us having 52% to your 48%.” Brian looked around his side of the table before saying, “Switch that to 52% Trattoria Trevi Holdings and you might have a deal.” Again the Burger side went into a huddle before the sales director said, “We could go as far as 50-50 but we would have a couple of conditions, firstly we must have the first new kitchen up and running, even if only for burgers in under four months, as we have leant that someone is planning to open a kitchen in Crawley the next six months and secondly that Mrs De Luca accepts the position of managing director.”

After another withdrawal to the chairman’s office, where they had a laugh because the rival in Crawley was themselves and they would have offered Super Burger first refusal on a kitchen. Back in the boardroom, Brian said they accepted the 50-50 offer, felt they could make the Crawley deadline, but Mrs DeLuca had some questions that needed answering about her proposed position. Jinnie explained that as they knew she was currently on maternity leave. But there was a problem, they probably didn’t realise that although a director of Trattoria Trevi Holdings, she wasn’t employed by them and would have to give her current employer a minimum of three months notice. Although she was on maternity leave until the middle of next June. As things stood it was impossible for her to take up a full-time job before Easter next year even if she could come to an agreement with the new joint venture company.

This rather took the wind out of the sales director’s sails. After another huddle, he asked who her employer was as they might be able to put financial pressure on them to release her early. Jinnie explained that she was a Government employee and that she could only tell them more if they had signed the Official Secrets Act. However, she had a few provisos of her own. Firstly she had been offered the position of Trattoria Trevi Holdings COO which meant she could work in Potters Bar and be close to her twins. Where were they thinking about establishing offices for the new joint company? Secondly, she currently held a very senior position and would need to be offered a substantial wage to consider giving up a job she enjoyed. If she took the job how much would she be paid, how much control would she have over the selection of contractors for the new kitchens, who else would be on the JV board, would she still be able to still hold the COO job part-time at the Trattoria and finally what plans did they have for further Dark Kitchen’s?

Before they could answer there was a knock on the door and lunch arrived. Several mixed platters of artisan sandwiches, cakes and soft drinks. Everyone helped themselves to their favourites and while they were tucking in, Brian drew Jinnie to one side and quietly said to her, “You realise you have them over a barrel, they are desperate to recruit you, they will say yes to anything reasonable you ask.” Jinnie replied, “I was beginning to think that but I really don’t want to be travelling to London every day and working with a board who are all appointed by Super Burgers.” “Well then,” said Brian, “insist that both parties appoint an equal number of directors and that Alberto is chairman with a casting vote in the event that a vote is tied. Bring in part-time non-executive directors, say two each.” “OK,” said Jinnie, “But will you be my FD if everything works out?” Without a moment’s hesitation Brain said, “Yes, this is the sort of exciting project I want to be in on from the start.”

Before the meeting restarted the sales director said to Jinnie, “I have had many sandwich lunches, but I must say that was exceptional, you have found an excellent supplier, are they local? If we could get them to supply our Crawley HQ it would be excellent.” Jinnie smiled and replied, “We make them in the Dark Kitchen and supply local businesses. It is a new venture and we have only been doing it for about a month but it is proving remarkably successful. “Interesting” came the reply.

When the meeting resumed, the sales director said he had spoken to his MD over lunch and they would lay their cards on the table, he said they really wanted Jinnie to be MD, even if it meant officially waiting until Easter. They envisaged that the JV would have offices in the Gatwick/Crawley area as Super Burgers HQ was in central Crawley, but it would have to be in a separate block as their building was already fully occupied. If Jinnie was unwilling to work full time in the area they would consider “working from home” and would suggest that gigabit broadband could be installed in her home for most things with her only coming to Crawley for board meetings and other important events. He said he understood there was a direct Thameslink train service between Potters Bar and Gatwick/Crawley.

The sales director continued saying they would agree to her continuing working for Trattoria Trevi as they would be a partner and not a rival. In any case, their food offerings were aimed at totally different areas of the market. As to further outlets, they saw scope for at least a dozen more kitchens in London, but it was a concept that would work in every British city and large town, even internationally! Jinnie picked up on the subtle nod from Brian and said, “What about the board, as we have agreed a 50%-50% joint venture I suggest an eight-person executive board of directors with four from each party and Alberto as chairman who will only cast a deciding vote in the event of a tie, add to that an initial four non-executive directors, two from each side.” After a bit more discussion that was accepted, perhaps too quickly, so Jinnie said, “I want Brian as my finance director, I will name other positions when I have discussed it with them. Oh, and one final thing, I want £500,000 per annum plus profit sharing, a non-contributory pension, other performance bonuses (to be discussed later), expenses, a company Lexus and an arrangement about working in school holidays when the twins reach school age.

The sales director once again spoke to his MD and coming back to the meeting said, “I think we can agree to all that. I suggest we have the heads of an agreement to pass to our lawyers.” “Yes,” said Alberto, “but I want an assurance that Super Burger will not interfere with Trattoria Trevi Holdings operations and I think we need to discuss the future of our Potters Bar Dark Kitchen. Will we be free to carry on running it or will you want to absorb it into the joint venture? We might sell it for the right price. Also, I would want to retain the option of two kitchens and a sandwich business in any new venture. We are also are on the verge of opening a luxury ‘dine at home’ business and I want to make it clear that this is not included in this discussion as it not part of the Dark Kitchen concept. The company structure for the kitchens and the delivery business are separate companies. Oh, and would we absolutely must have that first option to take kitchens in new builds or it’s no deal.”

The Super Burger sales director answered, “We have no interest in your restaurant business or your new luxury business and we will be happy to state as much in any legal agreement. I think it would make sense for JV to purchase the Potters Bar kitchen and as much as I like your sandwiches I see no reason why you should not be able to operate the business in the same way as any other company leasing a kitchen. As for first options, we think an Italian, an English and a burger Kitchen will make perfect base tenants in every new Dark Kitchen so we are more than happy to agree to that.” And with that hands were shaken on an agreement subject to the lawyers getting involved.

The meeting broke up again for a refreshment break and Jinnie, Alberto and Brian got together for a quick discussion. Jinnie asked Brian if he thought the company finances were strong enough to go into such a venture. He said, “Yes, we have invested just shy of a million in the Dark Kitchen and already recovered nearly £250,000 in upfront payments from the annual leases of the kitchens. We can sell it to the joint venture as a profitable going concern for around £2 million. We are making around £300,000 clear each month from the two restaurants by the time we have paid off borrowings for the Dark Kitchen we will have over £1.5 million in the bank. Plenty to finance our half of three more kitchens without considering income from the restaurants or the kitchens or sandwich business. Once the JV is up and running it should be self-financing in a fairly short time with every new build giving us several sources of income. I think we might even look at expanding the restaurant chain!”

“OK,” said Brian, “Now we have an agreement that we have shaken hands on, I can reveal we have an option on a building on Crawley’s Manor Royal. It was previously offices and kitchens for a catering company that supplied meals to airlines at Gatwick. They have moved on to new larger premises closer to Gatwick. The beauty of the building is that it has already got permission to be a kitchen and for 24-hour deliveries as heavy lorries served the airport. We were going to refurbish the offices to a high standard, seal the access to the kitchen area and either sell them or rent them. I wonder if you would like to see the plans our refurbishment contractor has drawn up? They include a massive mezzanine floor with fridges, freezers, dry and wet stores, dispatch, drying room, changing rooms, mess rooms and even a medical room on the ground floor of the industrial area. The kitchens will be on the mezzanine level with lifts to take ingredients up and down with a load of staircases for staff. We reckon there is room for eleven kitchens and the separate office accommodation is for around 200 on two floors. If we don’t have to repeat things like server rooms and can move the call centre to the office area we can probably squeeze in another one, possibly two, kitchens without drastically affecting the office accommodation. Oh, there is ample parking and the whole site has a security fence.”

Jinnie sat back listening to the discussion thinking, ‘I have just blagged a half million-pound job, probably nearer three-quarters of a million when everything else is taken into consideration. I have got jobs for Alberto and Brian. I want to ask Guido and probably Alphonso to be directors, while Dirk and Belinda could be non-executive directors, they are people I trust. I need to speak to ‘C’ and put in my notice. I need to tell Paolo, Mum, Dad and Penny. Oh, and I mustn’t forget Larry, but I bet Nigel knows already.’

© WorthingGooner 2023