It is one of the great oddities of the catering industry that everyone working in it knows that he can do the job of every other person better than he, or she, does it.
The Kitchen Porter, despite having sweated away for years cleaning greasy pots and pans, and mopping floors with filthy water, knows that the Chef’s job is nothing more than a confidence trick, and that he could do it just as well, if only the stupid Manager would give him a break.
Each waiter knows that the only reason “his” customers attend regularly is because of his superlative service, and certainly not because of the indifferent food coming from the kitchen, even less because of the useless Manager, who is paid fortunes for no good reason at all.
For this same reason every person in the industry dreams of one day opening his own bar or restaurant or hotel, where his latent genius and accumulated expertise can be converted into currency of the realm.
So it was with me. Having been in turn a barman, an assistant manager, then a manager, my time had come. I must find my own City Wine Bar and launch forth into the creative and lucrative world of the self employed.
Wine bar premises came up occasionally on the market as parts of new developments, but all landlords appeared to want something called a “covenant,” something that involved a track record of paying a commercial rent. It was a true Catch 22.
And seemingly insoluble – until I spoke to a family friend.
“You should speak to Little Joe,” she opined. “He has lots of contacts.”
A phone call later and I was off up the Northern Line to an office above a building society in suburban North London.
I was greeted by a diminutive, dapper Asian man.
“City Wine Bar? How about Finsbury Square?”
“Sounds perfect,” I replied.
“I phone my friend. One moment.”
He spoke rapidly to someone in a language I did not understand, some kind of Indian dialect.
“£60,000, sound good?”
It did indeed. Too good to be true.
The location was right, the price was right, but the lease contained a nasty break clause which rendered the whole venture meaningless.
Back to the drawing board…
Next problem was the bank manager. He seemed loathe to back me, even with my home as collateral. Little Joe had a solution. I went to visit a bank in Perivale, assured that the manager would be sympathetic.
I followed this advice, but left feeling uneasy: this feeling was compounded three days later when I received a terse letter informing me that the bank would be unable to help me, and invoicing me £120.00 + vat for their services.
I was losing enthusiasm for Little Joe.
The following year I found a new bank manager, and I finally found a wine bar.
With no help from my financial guru.
In a few short months I was the proud owner, and found myself in a maelstrom of organisation. Employing staff. Cleaning and redecorating. Setting up contracts with suppliers. Working out cash flow projections. Just being there from early morning until late at night. Coping with the euphoria and the anxiety and trying to keep the show on the road as Christmas approached.
Then I realised that my Financial Adviser, Little Joe, who I needed more than ever to cope with the new challenges I was facing, appeared ever more difficult to contact, and ever less helpful when I did.
As weeks turned into months with no input, the penny dropped. I had set up no proper accounts, was not yet even registered for VAT and was heading for a pretty unpleasant showdown with the Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue and my Bank Manager.
I needed a real accountant – and fast.
The new man was appointed, and Little Joe was history. Or so I thought.
About one year later I came home late one night, too wound up to sleep, and began to browse through a broadsheet newspaper, folded in two.
A name sprang out of the print; Mr Joseph M, accountant, of B***, North London.
My curiosity on overdrive, I unfolded the newspaper and gasped. The headline was “Brink’s-Mat Gold Bullion laundered into Docklands Property Portfolio.”
So Little Joe had been busy after all.
Registering an obscure wine bar for VAT clearly did not cut it compared to investing £26 million.
But to be fair, he certainly had contacts.