It was a very happy Jinnie who drove her Lexus back to Potters Bar to drop off Alberto and Guido. As she drove, the directors chatted. Jinnie asked if both the others were happy how the opening day had gone and they both replied yes, but there were little things that needed thinking about for the next shop. Staffing levels were definitely one and additional products were another, but both of these had quickly been addressed. Jinnie then told them about requests to purchase loaves of bread and how she had commissioned a report from the branch manager.
Alberto said, “I think we might have the capacity to make the bread, but we might need another baker or two, depending on what we could sell, but I don’t believe we have space in the shop to sell it. Both counters are already packed with stuff and I don’t think we have room in the shop for an additional bread counter without taking out tables. That would have to be looked at financially very carefully.” “That’s true,” said Jinnie, “but I have an idea. There is no baker in the locality, alright Sainsbury’s sell mass-produced bread and cakes but nothing to match ours. What if we opened our own shop?”
“It could work,” said Guido, “but I don’t think there are any local shops available to buy or lease.” “But there is,” replied Jinnie, “the old-fashioned chemist’s shop next door might not be on the market but it is definitely available, I have spoken to the owners and the wife is anxious to sell and retire. The beauty is, it shares a party wall with us, that would make it easy for our kitchen to supply, we only have to make access through the wall. We could use the space at the back of the shop for all sorts of things. It could be storage, extra selling space, we could even expand the kitchen if the business really takes off. We could make it a standalone shop or join it to the eat-in area through the party wall. Oh, and the main reason they have not already sold the business is Boots is just up the road. The old couple who run the shop actually own the whole building and take a rental income from the solicitors who occupy the two floors above. They are open to selling the whole building or just the shop, the upper floors have a separate lease.”
“How did you find that lot out?” asked Alberto. “I asked them,” replied Jinnie. “Well I guess it all comes down to what the report says and if we can afford the purchase price and the fit-out.” Said Guido. “Absolutely,” said Jinnie, “But I have a good feeling about this. I don’t think we have seen anything yet, I think we are on to a winner with this business.”
Jinnie dropped Alberto at the restaurant, he wanted to check on the business, but Guido was not working that night so Jinnie said she would drive him to his door. Jinnie decided this was the perfect opportunity to talk about his son and Lucia. Jinnie asked after his family and Guido said he was a little worried about his youngest son Vincenzo, he was arguing with his mother. “Oh,” said Jinnie, “is it serious?” “That’s the problem, his mother won’t tell me what it’s about and all Vincenzo says is that his mother is so old fashioned.” “How old is he?” Jinnie asked, “twenty-three,” replied Guido. “He is a bright lad, he got a good degree from the LSE and has a good job with one of the big banks in the city. I think the problem could be his mother has always had her heart set on him marrying the daughter of her oldest friend.”
“What does he think of the friend’s daughter?” asked Jinnie. “He doesn’t know her,” said Guido, “She lives in Maria’s home village in Italy and they have never met.” “Well, if that is the problem I’m not really surprised they are arguing. He probably has a girlfriend and doesn’t appreciate his mother trying to force him into an arranged marriage.” “You are probably right,” said Guido, “Since he was about 18 his mother has been on at him about getting married and giving her grandchildren. I only want him to be happy but this situation is upsetting the whole household. I need to sit down with him and find out if this is the problem. I have been trying to keep out of it, but talking to you I don’t think that Maria is being fair. I suppose I am going to have to tell her to back off, she won’t like it but I can’t see any other way.”
The following morning Alberto phoned Jinnie to say that at the previous evening’s council meeting they had finally agreed to grant them planning permission for the Queen’s Head and did she want to phone Belinda and tell her the good news? Jinnie asked if he remembered how long the programme of work was. Alberto said he thought it was five months and that would mean a late January opening. “That’s a pity,” said Jinnie, “It would have been nice to catch the Christmas and New Year trade.”
Jinnie rang Belinda’s mobile and she answered, “Hello Jinnie, I’m just looking at a prospective job, can I ring you back in about ten minutes, I’ll be free to talk then.” “I not going anywhere,” said Jinnie, “I’m in my home office with Larry for company, so you can ring on my mobile or on my landline”. Belinda was as good as her word and rang back in less than ten minutes. When Jinnie said that the Windsor restaurant planning permission had been granted and she was free to start, Belinda said, “OK, I have a bit of juggling to do with manpower. Richard is finishing off at Manor Royal and when he’s done in a couple of weeks he is moving on to the Potter Bar completion. Peter is busy at Vauxhall Cross and is going to be there for ages. We are only about halfway through phase one so he is going to be there for at least a year. Jason is currently helping Richard but he is moving to be foreman on the PM’s house when we start next week.”
“That means it’s going to be Kevin. He’s currently at a school in Streatham refurbishing all their toilets and is due to finish soon. He’s new, but has worked for another refurbishment company. The school is delighted with the job and so am I. I think we are going to win another job, in Redhill, but it’s not very big and mainly decorating, carpets and installation of furniture. I think that Simon, one of the men currently working with Richard has enough common sense to run a small job like that. If he proves his worth I might use him on a bigger job. Otherwise I am going to have to poach someone from another company.”
“Gosh you are busy,” said Jinnie. “With all the work at Manor Royal and Trattoria Trevi your side of the business has slipped under my radar. We really need to get together and talk about it.” “I have everything in hand,” replied Belinda, “but there’s a board meeting next week, how about we have a walk round at the Queen’s Head early in the morning, then we can have a coffee and sandwich lunch in my office, away from the madness of the HQ, before the board meeting, and I understand Miranda would like to run an idea past you.”
Jinnie’s next call came on her mobile and said ‘number withheld’. Jinnie guessed it was the PM and said, “Good morning Nigel, I trust everything is OK.” “Absolutely”, said the PM, “I understand that the groundworks for my new house starts on Monday and that Jason is going to be running the job. I don’t know him, only Peter and Richard, but I hear that Wright Refurbishments is very busy.” “That’s right,” said Jinnie, “Belinda is mega busy and has had to take on extra supervisory staff and promote others. And I have yet another little job I might want to have her look at.” “Oh,” said Nigel, “I don’t know about that, my agents have let me down! I know about your planning permission being granted and that your sandwich shop did tremendously well yesterday but nothing else yet.”
Jinnie laughed and said, “Well, you are right on both counts, but the other thing is still in my mind, but as soon as we start working on it I am sure you will be told what I am planning.” Nigel said, “OK, I suppose I better tell you why I phoned. The planners have granted me permission for a six-foot brick wall all around my new estate with remotely controlled steel bar gates on the drive. But I want to have a gate between our gardens so that you can come and see me and I can come and see the twins. My idea is that it should be opened by a digital fob so we can use it at any time.”
Nigel continued, “The fob could be linked to the security system so that the alarm wouldn’t sound every time the gate was used. We could also put a cat flap in the door for Larry that works on that fob that lets him in your house and office. The other thing is that, as you know, I have permission for an indoor heated pool and I wondered if you and Lucia would like to teach the twins to swim.” “That all sounds wonderful,” said Jinnie, “and I’m sure the twins and Larry will love it. Larry is getting too old to be scrambling over a six-foot brick wall.”
The Trattoria Trevi monthly board meeting came before the DKL meeting and Jinnie took the opportunity beforehand to sound out Brian on the company’s financial position and could they afford to purchase and convert the chemist’s shop. Brian said the company finances were strong and he didn’t think that would be a problem. However, he wondered if they would need ‘change of use’ for the chemist and that was not a foregone conclusion. Jinnie said she wondered if it came under the new ‘permitted development’ rules and Brian said his understanding was it might if it didn’t sell hot food to take away and Jinnie replied that in that case people would have to go next door to the sandwich shop for hot pies and hot sausage rolls as it had the right licence.
The Trattoria Trevi board meeting went well, Brian reported the two restaurants were going from strength to strength, trading well and profits were up again. The ‘in-home’ catering business was picking up for both Turners Hill and Potters Bar. Jinnie was particularly pleased with this as the business had spent nothing on advertising, all new customers had come through word of mouth. Their four dark kitchens were all trading profitably, but only just in Crawley where it was still a new venture, consequently the board agreed to an advertising campaign with door-to-door leaflets and adverts in the Crawley local newspapers.
The Manor Royal sandwich business was still to be formally launched. Although they were supplying the DKL HQ with sandwiches they had yet to canvas local businesses on the estate. It was agreed to start offering the delivery service starting with the adjacent offices on Manor Royal and that they would purchase another van fitted out like the ones used in Potters Bar as they seemed to do the job adequately. Brian had kept news of the Windsor sandwich shop to last as it had only been trading for just over a week. He reported that sales were far better than expected and it had traded profitably in its first full week. It would be a few months before the venture could be declared a total success, but he said he wouldn’t bet against it being one of their most successful ventures.
Jinnie reported that the sandwich shop was in the process of being set up as another separate business unit, Trattoria Trevi (Artisan Sandwiches) Ltd, 100% owned by Trattoria Trevi Holdings Limited. Alberto then nodded to Jinnie to get her to talk about the chemists next door. She explained her idea to the board but said all she wanted at the moment was a preliminary agreement to investigate the cost and practicality of the project. Once the purchase and refurbishment costs had been calculated she would come back to the board with a fully costed project. Once again it was agreed to proceed.
Alberto then said that he was happy to announce that the day before work had started to convert the Queen’s Head into Trattoria Trevi Windsor. He explained that there was so much work to do that the first stage would not be open for business until late January next year. However, he wanted to start recruiting senior staff, like a manager and a head chef as the type of staff required would probably have to give a long notice period to their current employers. Once again the board agreed.
When it came to any other business, Guido asked if it was too early to be thinking about additional sandwich shop locations. Alberto replied that he hadn’t considered moving so quickly and he wasn’t sure if their financial position would allow it yet. Brian said that financially they could easily afford to open several more before the year end as they were cheap and quick to open compared to a new restaurant. In addition if they choose an appropriate site it appeared they would quickly become profitable and start to pay off their investment. The current shop looked like it was going to pay off its initial costs very quickly on the current level of trading. Guido said he felt that every director should be on the lookout for potential new sites in areas with office space concentrations. Of course there were many places in Central London and he named London Bridge, the City, Canary Wharf, Kings Cross and Euston. But property was not cheap there, he wondered about Croydon, and Shoreditch. The directors all agreed to keep an eye open for potential sites.
As the meeting broke up, Guido deliberately made his way over and spoke to Jinnie. “I have had a quiet chat with Vincenzo and he says he has a girlfriend, a nice Italian girl called Lucia, but he has been scared to mention it because of his mother. I said I would talk to her and rather than being upset she was delighted that he had found an Italian girl, she admitted that she had been worried he was gay!” Jinnie laughed and asked what he knew of Lucia. Guido said, “Not much, she works as a nanny to twins and he says she loves her job. I have asked if he would like to bring her to dinner sometime so we can meet her. But he says she might find it hard to get an evening off.” Again Jinnie laughed and said, “I’m sure I can arrange for Lucia to have an evening off, I will make sure I am home to look after the twins myself.”
Jinnie parked next to a Wright Refurbishment van and once again admired the eye-catching livery which immediately told anyone looking at it what the company did and how to contact them. On the bottom of the cab door in very small print it said, “A division of Dark Kitchens Limited,” not so big that it immediately caught the eye but it was there if you looked. Jinnie had, on Belinda’s advice, invested in a pair of ladies’ steel-toe cap Chelsea boots and before getting out of the car slipped them on. Wright Refurbishment now insisted that all site visitors and workers wore protective footwear as well as a hard hat and high-vision jacket. Jinnie now always carried in the boot of the car, the boots with jackets and hard hats for both Wright Refurbishment and Trattoria Trevi. Today she was the client so it was the Trattoria Trevi jacket she donned together with the white hard hat that said COO on the front.
Jinnie walked across the car park to the site Portakabin to sign in, even she had to follow the site rules. Belinda and someone she assumed was Kevin, were already there waiting for her and ready for what Belinda had said was going to be a quick look around. The trio headed over to the site which was busy and noisy. Belinda had obviously managed to source two of the extra large skips as they were sitting by the main entrance. One of them was clearly labelled ‘plasterboard only’ and the other ‘general waste (no plasterboard).’
Inside the building, at first sight, it was chaos, but as Belinda pointed things out it all started to make sense. The workers were divided into small teams, one removing carpets, another partitions and a third suspended ceilings. The loose furniture had already gone as had the little dark wood cubicles. Kevin explained the Salvation Army had taken all the tables and chairs, they had a furniture warehouse that gave away items to needy people. The large bar counter was about to be demolished to make way for the new combined reception and smaller bar. Belinda led Jinnie over to where a number of drawings were pinned to a wall and pointed out how they related to what was happening. Having been on several construction sites, now Jinnie was beginning to understand what the 2D drawings displayed, but it was the schematic electrical drawing that beat her and was delighted when Belinda admitted that she struggled with them. Jinnie recognised one or two of the people who had been working at Manor Royal, the foreman plumber, the air conditioning subcontractor and Gary the boss of the electricians who was running around rigging temporary lights.
The party wandered upstairs where things were not quite as manic. Belinda pointed out that up here they were planning to run behind the ground floor and still be fitting it out when the downstairs opened for business. Of course, she explained it would only be the ‘clean work’ that would be still going on then, things like painting, carpeting and installing furniture. Jinnie ask when the main stairs were going to be removed and Kevin said not until the chippies had finished the new stairs which would be a few weeks. They were being constructed off-site and because the stairs were in constant use the old ones would only be removed when the new ones were on site to replace them. During the couple of days that would take, all trades would have to use the fire escape stairs and that would be a pain.
Jinnie parked in one of the parking spaces labelled ‘Wright Refurbishment – visitors’, next to Belinda’s car. These offices were only a short distance from the DKL HQ building but had a completely different vibe, without the hustle and bustle of the HQ block. Despite being on a busy road the run of offices were set back behind trees, bushes and a car park with further parking to the rear and one side. Jinnie knew that Wright Refurbishment owned two adjacent offices but apparently had now taken the third, that Belinda had talked about, as their parking was now in front of three offices. Jinnie pressed the door intercom buzzer and a disembodied female voice said, “Good morning, how may I help you?” Jinnie gave her name and said she had a meeting with Belinda. The voice asked her to come into the lobby and someone would be with her immediately. The door clicked open and Jinnie entered the lobby.
The lobby had changed since Jinnie was last there. It now contained several brightly coloured tub chairs and a coffee table spread with several company brochures. Three doors off the lobby were all swipe card controlled. Before Jinnie had a chance to sit down Andrew appeared from one of the doors and welcomed her to the office before using the swipe card, he wore on a lanyard, to open a different door exposing the stairs to the upper floor. He led Jinnie up to a landing and opened another door into the main open-plan office. The last time Jinnie had been there it had been only occupied by a few people with a number of unoccupied desks, now it was busy with all the desks occupied. Jinnie recognised Lucy, who had always run just about everything, was now at a slightly larger desk set apart from the others and had a twin-screen computer in front of her.
As they walked through the office to Belinda’s glass-fronted office Jinnie was amazed just how busy it was. As they approached, Belinda saw them coming and came to her office door to greet her and she asked Andrew to get Miranda to join them. Jinnie took a seat in Belinda’s office while Belinda closed her office door saying, “That’s a sign we are not to be interrupted, besides Tim is in his office and he is a bit loud on the phone.” Belinda saw Jinnie’s puzzled look and explained, “Tim is my sales director, good at his job but he needs a volume control.”
Belinda said, “You have not been here since we took next door have you?” “No,” replied Jinnie, “It certainly is busy.” Belinda smiled and said, “This floor is now accounts and operations and Lucy is now my office manager. As you remember, to the right, through the connecting fire door in the next office is Miranda and her group communications department where she looks after all the DKL digital media and publicity. She now has the whole floor but is only using about a third. We had to expand our computer/server/communications room considerably and it now takes the whole of the floor below Miranda, and Nigel says there is plenty of space to expand when necessary. That has allowed us to move the client meeting room back so that it is now directly below us and the design department now has expanded into the vacated space.”
“As you no doubt noticed,” continued Belinda, “We now have taken the building to the left. The upper floor is sales and a company restroom where people can eat lunch and grab a coffee, while the ground floor is our proposals and estimating groups. They put together our tenders, get prices from subcontractors, and fill in endless qualification documents. Roger who runs the group has been with me for years, he and Lucy were with me when we set up the company. He instinctively knows which jobs are worth pursuing and we have regular meetings to discuss what to bid and what to decline. They also produce our operating manuals, I’m not sure why it’s not a job for operations, but Roger did the first one we ever wrote and it has been his job ever since.”
Before the conversation went any further, Miranda arrived accompanied with by another girl, both were carrying trays loaded with cups and saucers, sandwiches and cakes. The girl put down her tray and shot off only to come back with two vacuum jugs of coffee and a jug of milk. Belinda said, “Sorry it’s only M&S sandwiches and cakes, Artisan Sandwiches have not started deliveries here yet.” “Not long now before they do I hope,” said Jinnie, “besides, I like mini caterpillar cakes, I often pinch the twins.”
Belinda explained that at the moment she was working at about capacity and had been telling potential customers that they would have to wait a while for any new order they placed. Tim had suggested that they put their prices up to scare off customers but Belinda thought that would ruin their reputation for value for money. Jinnie asked if Belinda wanted to expand the business further and Belinda said no she was comfortable with the business the size it was, if it got a lot bigger she was worried the quality would drop. Belinda said it looked like the Home Office refurbishment was finally about to break, and that was a £5 million job but with the current workload it may be a few months before it could commence. Jinnie asked if it would be possible to squeeze in a regular flow of sandwich shop jobs. Belinda said probably, they were short, simple jobs, and didn’t require one of her best site managers.
It was then Miranda’s turn to present her idea. Miranda said, “I have been thinking about this for a while and I think there is an opportunity for an ‘events company’ on the market. My problem is it doesn’t fit comfortably within the DKL portfolio. I think it is really a Trattoria Trevi company. Having worked on the PM’s announcement, seen Mum’s catered dinner party and your housewarming party, I want to put them all together into a company that does all sorts of events, from weddings to corporate events and office Christmas parties.” “Interesting,” said Jinnie, “I remember how hard it was organising that housewarming party. I would have loved someone to do it all for me.”
“Exactly,” said Miranda, “Trattoria Trevi could handle the catering and bar, one of Melissa’s friends has a vintage China and glass hire business, you know where to get Marquees, we would need to have temporary staff and Uncle Neil has an agency. We might need to hire entertainers and musicians but I can see it being a stand-alone business unit of Trattoria Trevi.” Belinda broke in saying, “You don’t know this yet but Melissa and Steven have just got engaged. Brian and I want to throw a big engagement party in our garden and Miranda has volunteered to arrange it as a test of her idea. If it is successful I think we could initially sublet space for a small business on Miranda’s floor and see how it goes.”
Jinnie thought for a moment and said, “I like the idea, depending what you have in mind we could cater it out of Manor Royal or Turners Hill. If it goes well and you have a viable business plan I will put my weight behind setting up Trattoria Trevi (Events Management) Limited. Miranda jumped up and hugged her.
In Chapter 19 – The engagement party
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