• Challenges of 2015, ambitions for 2016, business expansion, Chester’s new theatre and our fantastic team! Ben ‘has a think’…

    For no clear reason whatsoever, I felt inclined to write a couple of lines about how we’re doing at the end of 2015. Maybe it’s a bit of Christmas-New-Year introspection, maybe it’s because I gave up twitter (ish) and am missing its egotistical back rub, or maybe it’s because next year will be our tenth year of business and I’m just feeling proud of a great bunch of people doing some good things and needed somewhere to say so!

    Whatever the reason, and for whatever good it’ll do, the gist of the next couple of paragraphs is this: 2015 has been a great year, but if things go according to plan, 2016 will be even better.

    The restaurant, Joseph Benjamin – or JB’s to his friends – keeps evolving. We don’t take business for granted, we change things – small things mostly, but sometimes large – all the time. By a wonderful twist of luck, we also seem to get busier and busier.

    With the imminent arrival on Northgate Street of a world-class theatre and cultural centre (due autumn 2016) there’s also now an exciting element of the unknown. We’re enjoying shouting about Chester’s improving cultural status as well as devising ways to develop our business to complement the theatre and capitalise on what should be a great boost for the city. Pre-theatre dining? Post-theatre? Opening more nights of the week? Cultural collaborations? Who can say?! All that’s certain at this stage is that there is a swell of positivity around Northgate Street and the future looks bright.

    Porta, our tapas bar next door has been storming away. With its chilled atmosphere, good music, a no-bookings policy and simple, all-home-made, non-swanky ‘proper’ tapas, the people of Chester seem to have taken it to their hearts. Gracias a dios! Manager Vicki and her team have really got in to a swing and it’s so brilliant to see it so busy.

    Porta in-fact celebrated its third birthday last month and it has been an absolute joy to watch it grow. So much so that we’re trying for another [enough of the weird baby-making metaphor, we’re brothers]. We’ve spent quite a bit of 2015 working on plans to expand Porta to another town in the Northwest. In early November we were painfully close to signing on a great site on the edge of Manchester’s Northern Quarter – it really was our kind of place – but after a couple of miserable weeks stuck in the legal weeds, that particular plan finally fell through. Extremely disappointing to say the least, but we now have a few new irons in the fire and are looking forward to hammering those as hard as we can. We’re open-minded as to location – Manchester was on the very periphery – but if you’ve been to Porta, you’ll know what it is we love so much about that building. That’s the ‘thing’ we’re after; hopefully 2016 will be its year. If you know the perfect spot, do let me know!

    So, at team JB-Porta, it’s all hands on deck. Unfurl the mainsail! Joe’s squad of chefs – led by the inimitable Dom – goes from strength to strength and we’re immensely proud of its various awards (in particular, retaining our Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ for the fourth consecutive year). With a little pain and tumult along the way, the kitchen has ended 2015 with greater harmony, quality and creativity than ever. Front-of-house – with a view to strengthening the squad – Richard and I have had an exciting time. Emily has been promoted to Assistant Manager (replacing India, who’s sailing down the canal to join the lovely team at Artichoke Bistro), and we have an excellent new Supervisor starting in the New Year.

    So, a positive end to a positive, ambitious year and great potential ahead. I like the sound of that! Thanks to everyone for your support. We look forward to seeing you at Joseph Benjamin, Porta and wherever else we might be!

    Wishing you all a merry Christmas and very happy New Year.

    Ben

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