“I want Bellanger to be the neighbourhood place – for everyone, for all occasions.”
Jo Cromwell joined Corbin & King in April 2014 and after a time in Head Office and at our sister restaurant, The Wolseley, Jo moved to Bellanger where she has stayed ever since.
A friendly face you may recognise from the Reception desk, this year sees Jo become General Manager. We ask her what she’s most looking forward to achieving in the role, her areas of focus for the community and why in the restaurant world, she finds that intuition reigns supreme.
Tell us a little about your background.
I don’t actually have a hospitality background at all. I was a nursery teacher for three years in my past life before joining Corbin & King in 2014 as the office administrator and receptionist in Head Office. After about 9 months I wanted to explore other routes in the business so I worked in the Reservations team for a while before going onto the floor at The Wolseley as an Assistant Maitre D’. It soon transpired that C&K were opening a restaurant in Islington (where I was born and brought up) so I was asked if I wanted to transfer over there as I knew the community and so on. I was only supposed to go for a little bit… but here I am, over three years later!
What do you enjoy most about hospitality?
People. People say we sell food but we don’t sell food. We’re all about the people – staff and customers – that’s what restaurants are. I enjoy hearing people’s stories, where they’ve come from and generally I just like giving people a good time. I come from a big family and we’re constantly hosting – it’s that same kind of feeling.
What would you like to achieve for Bellanger this year?
In short, I want Bellanger to be the neighbourhood place – for everyone, for all occasions.
You can come in and have a coffee & a croissant and feel special and recognised, or you can come in for your husband’s 50th birthday with ten of your friends and have a real event and trust that we’re going to deliver the same service, if not better.
I’m so eager to ensure our solo diners feel well looked after, too. I think they’re such an important part of the business because they are the people who come because they want to be there, not because someone else has suggested it.
Do you see many solo diners?
We have a real variety – a complete mix of people with different reasons for why they are with us and that is part of what makes Bellanger, Bellanger.
We get the business crowd of course, we have parents with young children, we have friends catching up and we have an older crowd as well. It’s a real neighbourhood restaurant – we actually hardly ever get people who are just going to come once. Three years later, we still have customers who we saw in the first week of opening. In fact, we have one customer who has been in at least twice a week since we opened back in 2015. She’s high of 500 or so visits and I would say about 400 of those were as a solo diner.
You recently made some improvements to the Private Dining Room. Is that area of the restaurant a focus for you?
Yes, we have the space and we have the talent within the team. The Private Events we’ve hosted previously have had such great feedback but we get so many requests and we haven’t been able to honour them all. Now we can and we’d like to make sure our customers know about it. Weddings in particular; with Islington Town Hall so close by, it makes perfect sense in terms of a venue for that. The room seats up to 52 so it’s great for those after a more intimate space in which to celebrate.
You host a few events in the restaurant throughout the year, too. Is that also something you’d like to build upon this year?
Definitely – events are important, but not just events held in the Private Dining Room. It’s nice to involve the community and inviting them to events is a good way of pulling people together.
We know lots of people that know each other, which is another thing that makes Bellanger so interesting. A couple of customers call us ‘The Queen Vic’ because the restaurant does have that feeling of familiarity when you walk in. We have groups of customers who come to events like ‘Fete des Rois’ together and they talk about it for weeks, months even and then plan to come again together the following year. Tapping into that community spirit is so important for me – especially being from here I’m particularly invested in looking after them.
What would you say are key skills for succeeding in the hospitality industry?
I would say intuition is the biggest skill you can have in hospitality – that and being emotional. As much as people see the industry as being about food and wine, it’s so much more a people industry. If you can’t emotionally connect with people or understand them – your staff and customers – it’s near impossible to give them a good time. All you’re trying to do is make people feel better when they leave to when they came in and that in itself is a skill.
And finally, are your regular customers asking after your predecessor, Dilou?
Yes! Happy to say that Dilou remains in the C&K family but has moved to the group’s first opening outside of London – Café Wolseley at Bicester Village as General Manager there. If you haven’t been up there yet it’s well worth a visit; Dilou would love to see some familiar faces too!