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Juliette Joffe – My Life In Hospitality

01 October 2009 by
Juliette Joffe – My Life In Hospitality

Juliette Joffe is the founder and director of Giraffe Restaurants.

Childhood sweethearts Juliette Joffe and husband Russel came up with the idea for Giraffe Restaurants while walking on a beach in Israel. Eleven years later they are the proud owners of 25 Giraffe restaurants globally, while their son Gideon, one of the couple's three children, runs a restaurant in Crouch End called Monkey Nuts.

The Joffe family clearly has a thing for quirky names. "The giraffe is a great symbol because it is child-friendly and lends itself to graphics," explains Joffe.

But Joffe's success in the hospitality industry dates to a time long before giraffes, monkeys and nuts. The Joffes met at school when they were just 13, and while Russel went on to study at catering college, work as a waiter at Langan's Brasserie and open the restaurant Coconut Grove in Christopher's Place, Juliette followed on for the launch of the Bistroquet restaurant in Camden in 1984. She worked front of house, Russel worked in the kitchen, and for the next three eighties-heyday years the restaurant attracted everyone from Spandau Ballet to Bob Hoskins.

Next came Café Flo in Belsize Park in 1987, which the Joffes developed into a chain of eight and sold on in 1994. During this period they also ran a Hampstead deli called Rosslyn. "This became my life," says Joffe, adding: "We bought it from a French guy and it was a true authentic deli. I had to be there all the time."

With experience of managing several successful hospitality businesses the Joffes did the unexpected: packed everything up and moved with their kids to Israel - a "lifelong dream". But before long, and after the aforementioned beach walk, the duo returned to the UK to launch their new project, Giraffe Restaurants.

"Living in Israel was a total departure from hospitality but we realised we had to come back to the UK because the kids weren't settling and we had the idea for the restaurant," says Joffe

In 1998 the couple launched the first Giraffe restaurant in Hampstead and, 25 Giraffe restaurants later, they still work together every day. Not that there is anything fluffy and romantic about the Joffe household's approach to work. "You have to be dedicated, hard-working and you need an element of luck, but mostly you have to believe in your business," says Joffe.

Good customer service is also paramount. "Every customer is right. Even if you think they are wrong, you need to make them feel they are right and valued so that you will retain them," she says. On the odd occasion Giraffe receives complaints Joffe says she will personally call customers to try to rectify any problems. "It is so important to go that extra mile. If the complaint is any more than ‘My food is cold', I will personally call the customer. This might be the difference between them wanting to come back or not," she says.

HIGHS… We have an annual "Goscars" ceremony where staff members vote every January for categories including chef, barista and manager. Last year was a special 10-year anniversary where we went all-out on celebrations, hiring a great hall at the Southbank Centre with red carpets, award statues, everything. I presented Russel with a special award, because without him none of our success would have happened.

Selling Café Flo was another high, as we'd seen it build up from one to eight and it was very rewarding that someone wanted to buy it. All the hard work was fulfilled.

My son has a restaurant called Monkey Nuts in Crouch End and previously managed Giraffe in Marylebone with my daughter Mattea. My other daughter, Jemima, worked in head office, and our son-in-law is operations manager for the group. The pride I feel as a parent is great. We taught them everything they know in hospitality.

LOWS… The first night we opened the Bistroquet restaurant the toilet flooded. I was in there with my skirt honked up around my knees mopping up the toilet.

I also used to loathe the mess after New Year's Eve at the Bistroquet when we all used to come in feeling heavy-headed.

Age 51
Family Married with three children
Favourite holiday Mauritius
Drives A-class Mercedes
Motto If you work hard you can reap the rewards

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • 1984 Opened Le Bistroquet in Camden Town
  • 1998 Opened the first Giraffe restaurant
  • 2008 Opened Giraffe franchise in Terminal 5 - "a proud moment"

RECESSION-BUSTING TIP

Run a tight ship with good controls - no more staff than you need in one shift, wastage kept to a minimum, a good deal for customers but buy-in low to make your gross profit.

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