How I Got Here: Stacey Sherwood-French

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with director of Sheffield restaurants Jöro and Konjö Stacey Sherwood-French

Related tags: Restaurant

The director of Sheffield restaurants Jöro and Konjö on the challenges and rewards of hospitality, and why there should be more focus on championing the next generation of business leaders.

Why restaurants?
Because no two days are ever the same! It’s a challenging and rewarding work environment. I personally love to feel challenged and always like to be learning and meeting new people. I love working with creative people and watching them grow too. I think if I hadn’t have pursued this career path then I may have been a teacher or social worker. Obviously the love of food and drink plays a huge part, working with the best producers and suppliers, we have access to so many ingredients that you wouldn’t find  day to day otherwise.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
In the year 2020…… Ha! Otherwise, I suppose more encouragement to be pro-active about change. For many years I would try to conform to what I thought was an accepted approach or attitude to working in hospitality. How many hours were worked, how people spoke to each other, being female in a predominantly male environment. You can be successful and have a work life balance! It took me quite a few years to stand up and speak out or have the confidence to take control. We operate Jöro on a 4 day week to allow for a better work life balance within the team. It’s rare but I still to this day have to correct people who will sit in a meeting and try to directly speak only to my husband. If they don’t listen we won’t do business with them. Thankfully a lot of change has occurred since I started out.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Ynyshir, Wales. Gareth Ward and Amelia Eiriksson – just the most amazing all round experience. Location, food, drinks, service, atmosphere – every time we visit we feel like we have escaped the madness of city life. Absolutely love the warmth of the whole team and relaxed atmosphere, food and drinks are some of the best you will taste.

What motivates you?
Sense of achievement – not just personally but as a team. Having businesses where everyone involved continuously feels like they enjoy what they do and achieve something daily, whether that’s learning, teaching something new, completing a service, introducing guests to new foods or flavours. I feel very proud to be able to say that and continuously strive to ensure that never stops in our businesses. In hospitality we’re here to create experiences, it’s what makes us happy.

What keeps you up at night?
Thinking about what we can do better! I’m a perfectionist so if something is playing on my mind, or I don’t think something is right, I won’t rest until I’ve analysed every detail.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
Very hard to answer this one as so many people and experiences shape how you work. Starting out working for my mum instilled my work ethic and perfectionist attitude to always doing things the best you can. Then working with Matt Bigland, owner of the The Milestone Group, shaped my approach to business. He gave me opportunity to grow whilst learning and supporting me, he always encouraged me to go for it. Two mottos came from this; ‘we’ve been through worse’ and ‘solutions not problems’. Then my husband and business partner Luke, he’s more of a risk taker and promotes a care free attitude. Without that approach we wouldn’t have opened Jöro!

Worst business decision?
Nothing specific comes to mind – just that I am too cautious! I will over think a decision before I make it. There has probably been missed opportunities due to over thinking.

Best business decision?
Opening Jöro and trusting our decisions. When we opened there wasn’t anything like it in Sheffield. Plenty of places to eat but very much the same style or format. We brought very different ingredients, flavour combinations and opened inside metal shipping containers, serving tasting menus. We lost track of the amount of times people asked us if we actually thought it would work! If you never try, you never know. There is now an exciting food scene emerging in Sheffield and we were a big part of pioneering that.

What time do you wake up?
7am.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee, latte specifically, although I have a personal rule not to drink coffee after midday as otherwise I struggle to sleep.

How often do you check your email?
At the least hourly.

How do you let off steam?
Days out and eating out.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
A night on the sofa these days, although after the last year that might change for a little while.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
I can rarely get into the kitchen, Luke honestly loves cooking that much, but if I do, then a Sunday roast chicken with all the trimmings.

Typical Sunday?
Sunday is a no-rush-around family day. So currently my husband and I will get up have breakfast then head out for a long walk with our dachshund Leonard! We’re currently completing a reservoir walk every week in the peak district where we live, tracking routes so we can do a big combined route in spring. When we are allowed to visit family pre/post Covid we usually do one or two Sundays a month visiting our parents and family.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Booked a holiday to Mexico with Luke and left the next day. We used to do this quite often, do a holiday search online, pick a random destination and go!

Favourite holiday destination?
Asia – we try to take time when we can to do a three to four week holiday and go travelling around. I didn’t take any time out to travel between school, uni and working full time. So instead we do a month trip and discover an area. We’ve visited Thailand a few times now doing this, and also Indonesia. Japan is next on the list.

What are you currently reading?
The Secret Barrister.

What boxset are you currently watching?
Snowpiercer.

What was your dream job growing up?
A singer when I was younger – definitely can’t sing though!

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Trust your instincts, work hard, be honest and speak out about your ideas and thoughts. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts because a good team will nurture those ideas, encourage and guide creativity. Networking is also key, there are so many benefits to having lots of industry friends or colleagues, word of mouth goes a long way and advice and support from your peers is invaluable.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
More independents emerging in cities and towns across the UK on the high street, instead of being tucked away or non-existent. Pre-pandemic the industry especially in the North was growing and I really hope that in 2021 we continue to see this, despite the hardships we’ve been through in the last year – the industry is resilient, we adapt, pivot and never give up. Obviously this is dependant on local authorities working with their local independents and nurturing the next generations of business leaders via funding, controlled business rates and creating developments that are affordable for start ups on the high street. Sheffield City Council is actually pro-active in championing the cities independents and is currently undertaking a huge overhaul of the city centre. It will be encouraging to see a mixed use of the new spaces and a new business community formed, with long term investment in businesses and in turn I believe it will attract visitors back to the city centre as well as retaining a talented workforce, particularly within hospitality and retail sectors. I would like to visit cities and see independents whilst walking down the streets, without having to go off track to find them or make journeys to just destination dining places to enjoy unique experiences. We worked hard but we were also very lucky to be offered the space that we opened Jöro in with very little personal financial risk. Our landlord has a passion for dining out and invested a lot of time and money into the space in return for commitment to allow us to do what we do, whilst re-paying on a reasonable lease. There needs to be more of this to allow for growth.

Bio

Born in Nottingham, Sherwood-French first entered hospitality as a part-time waitress and supervisor at The Bridge Inn Hotel & Spa in Walshford, Wetherby while she was studying for her A-Levels. Later, having gone to study at Sheffield Hallam University, she joined The Milestone Group of bars and restaurants as a part-time supervisor and, after completing her degree, progressed to the role of general manager and, later, operations manager. In 2016 she co-founded modern-British restaurant Jöro with her partner and now husband Luke French. The pair have subsequently opened street food concept Konjö, and are set to open boutique hotel and chef's table concept House of Jöro later this year, alongside a new dining and drinking concept called Nama within the new G.P.O Food Hall in Liverpool’s MetQuarter development.

Related topics: Restaurant, Profiles

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