Entrepreneur Luke Johnson has led tributes to Giraffe co-founder Russel Joffe who died last week at the age of 62.
Among tributes posted on social media Joffe has been described as thoughtful, decent, and family-orientated and is credited with inspiring his many teams of staff into creating happy and welcoming restaurants.
Joffe and his wife Juliette Joffe were childhood sweethearts, having met at school when they were 13 years old. He went to catering college and worked as a waiter at Langan’s Brasserie in London before moving into a series of management roles where he refined his trade in the industry.
The husband and wife team opened their first restaurant Le Bistroquet in Camden which became a popular haunt with musicians before they sold it in 1987. They went on to found Café Flo in 1987, a bistro chain which they expanded to eight sites before selling seven years. During this period they also ran a deli in Hampstead named Rosslyn.
The couple then took the decision to move to Israel with their three children to fulfil a ‘lifelong dream". However, they couldn't stay away from the UK restaurant scene for long having dreamt up the idea for the family-friendly, all-day casual Giraffe dining concept while walking on an Israeli beach.
In 1998 the Joffes and his wife brought in friend Andrew Jacobs and together they focused on growing the brand that introduced a no smoking rule before the law in the UK banned it in restaurants, and offered children’s menus and crayons to keep younger patrons happy. After successfully launching six branches, the firm partnered with Johnson's Risk Capital Partners and 3i Group. Toogether they grew the business to around 50 sites until selling to Tesco in 2013 for £48.6m. Joffe initially stayed on as managing director before leaving the company.
He went on to help his son Gideon launch Laurel Canyon Ventures which comprises MonkeyNuts steakhouse, chicken shop Chooks and Bob’s Cafe. Joffe was chief executive and executive chairman of the group.
In a heartfelt tribute Johnson, who was chairman of Giraffe, wrote in The Times said: "In many ways, recruiting, training and retaining the best employees were Russel’s greatest strengths as a manager. Whether they were chefs, bar or waiting staff, he was a brilliant spotter of talent, able to inculcate an esprit de corps that few others have achieved in the casual- dining industry.
“Russel was a pioneer in enthusiastically hiring front-of-house staff with unconventional appearances. It was all about personality and energy, rather than slavishly following traditional ideas of how serving staff should present themselves.
“I was privileged to work with such a decent, talented man. He was taken far too soon and will be sorely missed by his family and friends, by the many staff who worked for him, and by the untold number of happy diners who have enjoyed his hospitality.”
Thomas Rose a chartered surveyor for the hospitality industry said: “Sad to hear of the passing of Russel Joffe. I met him many times in the early-mid years of Giraffe expansion and he was a shrewd businessman but always considered, fair and welcoming. A gentleman. Thoughts are with his family.”
The managing director of GlobalData retail Neil Saunders highlighted Joffe’s ability to spot talent in his staff: “Russel Joffe, the restaurant talent-spotter who walked tall with Giraffe.”
Joffe leaves his wife Juliette and their three children: son Gideon and daughters Mattea and Jemima.