Giraffe founders Russel and Juliette Joffe talk about how they built their business into a brand, spearheading what would become a widespread trend in the UK – for restaurants that offered all-day eating, were family-friendly, and appealed to a wide cross-section of consumers.
On the benefits of having a world food menu:
Russel says: "If I want to do more Mexican food because I think Mexican’s in, we’ll do it. If I want to do more burgers, which we’ve done over the years, we’ll do it. If we don’t want to serve meat because no one’s eating it due to a scare, we don’t have to. There are no barriers to how we run our business and that’s what we wanted.”
On launching the concept in Britain:
Russel says: "People didn’t always understand what we were trying to do. At Giraffe, you can come in for a juice, you can have a bowl of noodles, you can have bacon and eggs, you’re not French or Italian. They would ask, what are you, what is Giraffe?”
On becoming a child-friendly business:
Russel says: "The first Hampstead site was bright, young, with an all-day culture, for everybody, for families, but it didn’t set out to be the premier family-led business it is today. That evolved over the years because of the way we treated people.” Juliette says: "It was healthy food, which people wanted for their kids. And the staff were trained to look after the kids. And if the kids are happy, the parents are happy."
Russel says: "People in this industry see Giraffe as having a great culture and training ethic. They try to poach our staff because they know they’ve had great training. Even over the past year, when times have been tough, we’ve rethought why we went into business and refocused on that culture of hospitality; we’ve talked to our staff and aligned all our people together. We've gone back to some of our original mission statements. You can sometimes forget them when you're running around trying to run a big business with a corporate board above you."
On buying 11 Tootsies sites for £2.5m in October:
"When we did this deal with Tootsies, I asked all of my key team, 'are you up for this because it's going to be hell, it's going to be a rollercoaster', and they responded, 'Yes, bring it on', and that gives me the enthusiasm to take this business to the next level. We can't do that on our own any more. We need the team and we've got that."
On plans for Tootsies sites:
The company will invest £1m across the group to convert sites. Five should be converted by Christmas and the remaining scheduled for the new year.
Russel says: "Because Tootsies ran a similar business, the beauty of the deal is that we don't have to rip the sites out and start again. To do 11 sites for that sort of money from scratch, well, you couldn't do that."
On future expansion plans
Russel says: "We're running a tighter ship than we were. That's the goal: to be sharper and tougher without losing the ethos of your business. From next summer we'll be looking for further sites. I'd like to take it to 50 within the next two years. It's important to keep the momentum going. If we can do 11 in one go, why not five a year? Who knows?"
- 1977 - 1984: Russel managed Langham's Brasserie, Coconut Grove and Odette's
- 1984: Opened Le Bistroquet in Camden
- 1987: Bought Rosslyn deli in Hampstead and launched the Cafe Flo concept
- 1994: Sold the eight-site Cafe Flo business and moved to Israel
- 1998: Opened the first Giraffe in Hampstead
- 2009: Acquired 11 sites from Tootsies to bring the number of Giraffes to 36 (plus five franchises)
For the full interview see the December edition of Restaurant magazine