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Elena Salvoni is no stranger to awards. In fact, she's no stranger to Cateys, either, having scooped the Manager of the Year award in 1996, where judges were bowled over by her flair for service and skill in creating successful restaurants "that are always full".
Now in her 90s, Salvoni has reluctantly retired from Elena's L'Etoile, where she worked for the past 15 years, but she is still regarded as a beacon of great restaurant service by movers and shakers in the industry. In fact, she still works the floor of Soho's Little Italy twice a month. In a recent Caterer interview, she said: "I can't explain to you how much pleasure I get from my job. This is what my life is all about. I just love looking after people. My job is the great richness in my life and that's worth more than anything."
Her career began in her early teens. Having left school at 14 to work as a seamstress, fate soon brought her an opportunity to work in her first restaurant, Café Bleu in London's Soho. She recalls that the restaurant manager Joseph Paccino taught her everything about serving a table "and how to be there if a customer needs you". Her loyalty saw her follow Paccino to Bianchi's where she worked for 30 years, taking over as restaurant manager when he fell ill.
At 65, Salvoni tried to retire, but her talents were still in demand. Nick Lander tempted her back with the words "I'll buy L'Escargot for you". She signed for two years and stayed for 10, eventually moving on to work for Roy Ackerman, who set her up at the legendary Elena's L'Etoile in 1994, where she stayed for 15 years.
If Salvoni's energy and zest for life and the industry don't leave you wondering what you are doing with your time, then her passion for great service certainly will.
"When I get up, I know I'm going to work to enjoy it," she told Caterer. "When I put a foot in the door of a restaurant, I get the feeling it's going to be a good lunch. You've got to show that to the staff, so they are ready to give customers a smile."
Few can boast a lifetime's service to the industry of such a high calibre. And few have inspired some of the industry's leading restaurateurs to invest in a restaurant for them. Salvoni has done it not once, but twice.
The Judges Nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award were compiled from recommendations by Caterer and Hotelkeeper readers and from suggestions from each of the Catey judging panels. The judging panel was made up of members of the Caterer and Caterersearch.com editorial teams.