“The vision has always been to create an inclusive restaurant”

The Staff Canteen

Flavours, foraging and the fight to succeed, often against the odds, drive Oliver Kaviani, Restaurant Manager at JÖRO, the Sheffield-based dining destination that elevates the British tasting menu while striving to make it an accessible one.

Written by: 
Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

 “Situated in a shipping container, there isn’t a physical divide between the front and back of the house, so I’ve always been exposed to watching our kitchen team work,” says Oliver. Learning a lot from chef-patron Luke French and many other chefs at JÖRO over the years, through developing his organic and deepening understanding of ingredients, flavours and pairings, Oliver now naturally transfers this knowledge into the restaurant’s drinks development and pairings.

“I’ve spent many hours reading cookbooks at home, taking inspiration from how flavour combinations are built, even though I’ll never be able to recreate the dishes,” Oliver shares WD50 by Wylie Dufresne is one of his favourite books for that very reason.

Inspiration can come from anyone and everywhere. For Oliver, it’s the sporting world that he credits with showing him the drive and psychology of performance, motivation and success, with his favourite sports teams and managers influencing his front-of-house management approach.

Restaurant Joro Sheffield

As for drinks development, Oliver takes most of his inspiration from chefs. He has learnt a lot about being surrounded by an environment at JÖRO where the team constantly discovers new and exciting flavours, inspiring his drink creations. In dreaming up and developing new drinks, Oliver has found that getting out in nature to forage has always helped inspire him. “There’s something therapeutic about it, and it clears the mind for creativity!” Oliver notes.

“I’m a big fan of boxing, F1 and football, and I believe there’s a lot that can be taken from high-level sports managers and brought into hospitality,” Oliver says. “‘Man’ management, tactically putting the right team members into the right positions, teamwork, communication and dedication—the list goes on,” Oliver details.

A good service is like a well-rehearsed dance

The AA Notable Wine Award stands out as Oliver’s proudest achievement in hospitality to date. “As a team, it’s great to gain recognition and accolades for the restaurant, but the AA wine award is something I always had my eyes on gaining, and it’s all the sweeter after putting in a lot of work, developing our drinks list to get to the stage we’re at,” Oliver enthuses. He also gets a great feeling from seeing ex-JÖRO alums going on to do wonderful things elsewhere in the industry.

Joro Restaurant Sheffield Oliver Kaviani

“It’s a little cliché, but I’ll say it anyway,” caveats Oliver before continuing “a good service feels like a dance”. All the moving cogs work in tandem. “A happy team, a buzzing atmosphere, an alignment with the front and back of house, a busy restaurant and a wicked soundtrack,” notes Oliver.

Celebrating seven years, the 3 AA Rosettes and Michelin Guide 2023 Recommended JÖRO has been operating since December 2016. JÖRO’s food and drinks consist of seasonal tasting menus in five, eight or ten courses, showcasing the very best of produce around the world and heavily influenced by flavours from Southeast Asia and beyond.

Seven front-of-house team members and eight kitchen staff serve 32 covers per sitting, completing 14 a week between Wednesday and Saturday, excluding holiday closures. On Wednesdays, the sittings take place at 5/5:15 pm or 8:15/8:30 pm, while Thursday, Friday, and Saturday sittings are at 12/12:15:pm, 2/2:15 pm, 5/5:15 pm and 8:15/8:30 pm.

“Our drinks menu is also constantly evolving in line with our food and the seasons and involves our own label wines and spirits, specifically designed to coincide with our food,” says Oliver.

JÖRO offers optional drink pairings created by its team to complement each dish. The restaurant’s soft drinks pairing is a combination of drinks developed in-house and low/no producers that its team works closely with. Its alcoholic pairing is not restricted to only wine and regularly showcases sake, cider, beer, spirits and cocktails. “There are no rules, only that we will pair it with whichever drinks suits the dish best,” Oliver confirms.

Invest in yourself

“My advice to anyone seeking a role in hospitality is to invest in your self-learning, strive to be level-headed and always take feedback on board,” says Oliver. Dedicating a big part of his knowledge from the hospitality industry to self-learning, Oliver says he has always taken time outside the work environment to allocate for reading at home, often with a glass of wine in hand!

Joro Restaurant Sheffield Oliver Kaviani

Being level-headed is always the best way to make informed decisions, he asserts. “If you have the time to take five seconds to think before acting, you’ll usually come to a better decision,” says Oliver. Over time, he adds that this gives him the best outcome, especially when you have to make quick decisions ‘on the fly’! “I’ve learnt this the hard way!” Oliver shares.

Feedback from peers is always useful, too. “Throughout my hospitality journey, I’ve learnt loads from the people around me,” adds Oliver. Try not to take feedback personally, good or bad, however. “After all, feedback equals knowledge, and knowledge equals power,” notes Oliver.

Versatility, adaptability and inclusivity

“We’re a resilient industry that’s faced a lot of adversity recently,” says Oliver. The impact that Brexit and COVID-19 had on staffing is still being felt now, and more recently, the cost of living crisis is rearing its head on reservation numbers.

“The silver lining is that we’ve learnt how to adapt and have evolved our offering at JÖRO, with a growing retail and e-commerce offering just one example of how the business has pivoted,” Oliver adds.

Oliver’s focus always starts with his team. Training the team to be as versatile as possible allows them to make necessary changes as seamlessly as possible and has got them through the more challenging moments. “Considering we’re a small team, versatility also enables us to carry on during tougher periods, even during staff shortages,” says Oliver.

Every week at JÖRO, its management team will have a catch-up and debrief on any guest feedback on the challenges its team may face. Citing the team’s relationship as one of its biggest assets, Oliver says any ideas are encouraged. One of its greatest strengths is how quickly it can change operations. “This speed in implementing change has helped us overcome many challenges, remaining ahead of the curve,” says Oliver.

Joro Restaurant Sheffield Oliver Kaviani

Amid the cost of living crisis, JÖRO prides itself on always making a conscious attempt to ensure its menu prices are as approachable as possible. “The vision has always been to create an inclusive restaurant,” says Oliver. By striving to keep its menu prices down, the restaurant has remained as busy as possible. Its pivot has seen JÖRO instead offer supplements on its menus, meaning that guests have the choice of splurging a little on luxury ingredients.

The kitchen rotates its sections every couple of months, regularly runs food, and sets tables if necessary. For instance, JÖRO’s head chef, Alex Bruno, has recently completed his Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 training in wine. “Out front, our aim is to train each member on every role, including delivering our drinks pairings,” says Oliver.

“I’m always asking myself, ‘Where are our weaknesses as a team?’ and addressing those is at the forefront of my priorities,” says Oliver. JÖRO has also introduced a staff benefits programme, monthly staff news and sustainability competition, all seeking to promote comradery, internal culture and team retention, which help bring the team closer together.

Ripping the rulebook up

“Our food has no rules,” Oliver says, on what makes JÖRO stand out from others. Heavily influenced by what Luke and the team enjoy eating, it's a constantly evolving menu. The team strives to create an environment where it, as industry professionals, would enjoy coming to eat.

Relaxed but informed service with a soundtrack to match the team’s personalities are on the menu too. Jungle, house, rap, jazz, indie, drum and bass are on the playlist. “Almost anything goes!” Oliver says.

Goals and success measurements at JÖRO are not based on quantitative metrics. “We’ve never sat down and said ‘how can we achieve this accolade’,” Oliver says. “For us, our team being happy, our guests being happy, and our restaurant being busy says a lot more than any other measurable KPI,” Oliver adds.

Currently, JÖRO’s best-selling dish is its Carabineros prawn supplement. The sweet prawns are gently warmed above the BBQ before finishing with their head juices and smoked butter. “We cover them in a silky, chicken garum sauce—aka Chicken Crack because it’s so moreish!—and fresh sorrel,” adds Oliver.

“On the drinks menu, it’s definitely our own label wine, ‘FUCK 2020’,” Oliver shares. It was aptly named because the team released it at the back end of 2020, and it simply made a lot of sense, summing up the year for the restaurant’s team and a sentiment many of its customers shared. “We do a white and a red, both of which are smash-able enough to enjoy on the sofa at home but equally can stand up to the bold flavours at JÖRO,” Oliver adds.

JÖRO will be moving to a new site in 2024, and Stacey and Luke have big plans for how the company will evolve in multiple locations. “We’re always looking forward, and there’s plenty to challenge us and get excited about in the near future!” Oliver teases.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th December 2023

“The vision has always been to create an inclusive restaurant”