Our people are what make our restaurants so much more than just places to enjoy great food and drink.
Meet our new General Manager at Piccolino, Stockton Heath, our Event Sales Manager at Opera Grill, Chester, and our very own ‘Tom Cruise’ Bar Manager at Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant Manchester.
Gin and marathons do not generally mix but Sara Boothby is passionate about both of them – when she’s not organising once in a lifetime events for guests that is.
The Huddersfield lass, 27, is running two half-marathons this year, following a marathon last year where she helped raise funds for Manchester Children’s Hospital, a cause close to her heart.
She said: “The hospital does so much fantastic work and I just wanted to give something back.”
When not running marathons, or walking her ‘mental’ dogs – a black Labrador and a Springer Spaniel, Sara loves collecting gins.
She said: “I have a huge collection, I must have 30 gins at home – I just love the way they can taste so different, with different fruity notes for example.
“They can also really change depending on the tonics you put with them.
“I am looking now at brewing my own gin as well.”
The fitness fan has worked for Individual restaurants for two and a half years, starting as a waitress at Restaurant Bar & Grill in Manchester and working her way up to Events Manager at Piccolino in Bramhall and then Didsbury.
Beginning her career in restaurants at the tender age of 15, she says she jumped at the chance to work for Individual Restaurants and especially loves working at Opera Grill, housed in what was originally a Methodist church back in 1829.
She said: “I was thrilled when the company asked me to work for them and the Opera Grill building is one of those where I wish the walls could talk!”
Organising parties for guests is something Sara loves, and she says she loves showing people around the Pepper Street restaurant’s impressive events space on the upper level.
She said: “We get all sorts of requests – one woman asked for the room to be done out for Studio 54 for her 50th birthday.
“We never say no when it comes to what kind of do someone wants – as long as we can physically do it, we will.
“I love it when I organise an event and people thank me for making their day really special.”
She added: “This building is just different to others in Chester.
“It’s such a fantastic space – not one person I’ve shown round hasn’t said ‘Wow!’ ”
She added: “For parties of more than 20 people there aren’t that many suitable venues.
“We can seat up to 120 people upstairs in the Gallery Restaurant and Private Dining Room and another 40 in the upstairs music bar so we are bridging that gap.
“You don’t have to just book a hotel or the race course anymore– you can have your event here.”
Regular events at the restaurant currently include the Sing Out Gospel Choir every Sunday and covers band The Collective on Fridays.
Federico Spina reckons he can give Hollywood actor Tom Cruise a run for his money in the cocktail making stakes.
Indeed it was the film Cocktail, that inspired him to get involved in the industry and has seen him go on to work in a host of top hotels and swish bars across the world.
Places he has worked in include the five-star Westin Hotel in Milan, bars on Miami’s famous Lincoln Road in South Beach and Tsunami restaurant and the Sky Lounge Bar at the Doubletree Hilton in London.
He said: “I broke a lot of windows and doors at home practising playing with bottles and glasses but I got pretty good at it!
“I still worried I’d spill some when I first started though, especially when I was pouring expensive drinks.
“I think the most expensive drinks I’ve ever served were two doubles of the cognac Tom Cruise drinks in Cocktail – Louis X111 Remy Martin, at £90 a glass.”
Nowadays though, armed with a Masters degree in Food and Beverage Management, his role is less about shaking things up and more about keeping things running smoothly.
The 28-year-old, who has a tattoo of a martini glass on his forearm, began his restaurant and bar career in a beach bar in his native Sicily, 11 years ago, before his work took him abroad.
And he believes every place has its own drinking style.
He said: “In Sicily it’s hot and people drink long drinks but the mixology is not so sophisticated.
“In Miami they drink a lot of flavoured Mojitos and in Milan, where it’s cooler, Aperitivo time is really popular – there are these huge buffets where people meet after work to eat and drink.
“In London, people drink a lot of Espresso and Porn Star Martinis and in Manchester I don’t know people’s favourite drinks yet but a lot seem to like an Aperol Spritz and the sparkling cocktails we serve.”
As for his own drink preferences, he sticks to non-alcoholic options when working.
He said: “I don’t drink very much anyway, only on special occasions, but when I do I love a Classic Daiquiri.
“There are only three ingredients in it – rum, lime and sugar, but it’s not easy to make a really good one.”
It was not just mixing drinks that the affable Italian had to learn though – when he arrived in England aged 24 he admits his English left something to be desired but persevered and now says he can talk to anyone.
He said: “I used to be really shy but being a barman helped me a lot to overcome that.
“People who work in bars are like doctors – we are there to listen.
“I have seen everything and you hear so many stories but at the end of the shift you forget it all.”
When he is not working, the water polo and kickboxing fan is to be found either at the gym or cooking up a mean Spaghetti Carbonara at home.
He said: “I don’t often go out to restaurants or bars but the nice thing is, when you’re working in a bar on a Saturday night or whenever, you’re part of the party already.”
The new General manager of Piccolino in Stockton Heath, who once hand delivered a Sunday roast to a sick customer in hospital, says he wants his restaurant to be a family affair.
Daniele Atzori, 47, says he loves getting to know his guests and providing them with a slice of la bella vita.
He said: “We do everything we can to make our customers happy. We never say no – that’s our company culture.
“I once telephoned a regular customer of mine when I worked at Piccolino in Clitheroe as I hadn’t seen her and her family for a while.
“When I found the reason she hadn’t been was because her mum was in hospital, I went to the kitchen and ordered three chicken roast dinners which I then delivered to the family at her mum’s bedside.
“They couldn’t believe it, they were so pleased.”
He added: “I consider my guests my family. We want the local Piccolino to be everybody’s restaurant – their second home. It’s vital we make our guests feel comfortable.
“It’s important to engage with them on the subjects they’re interested in too, the TV soaps they watch for example.”
As for his own favourite TV series, it’s Fawlty Towers.
He said: “I loved the character Manuel, but my waiters are definitely not like that!”
Hailing from Sardinia – ‘the Caribbean of the Mediterranean, but without sharks’, Daniele first came to England in 1996, aged 25, with the plan to learn English and then go to live in Australia.
But, happily for his fans, he decided to stay in England, first running restaurant ‘Angelo’s’ in Birmingham with his brother, Stefano, and then moving to Piccolino in Clitheroe, where he stayed for seven years before bringing his talents to Stockton Heath.
He said: “I work 14 hours a day sometimes but I love the job because of the social aspect, it’s so rewarding.
“I’ll go into a shop and people say ‘Hi Dan, how are you doing?’
“I love that feeling, that contact with people.”
When he’s not working, the bubbly Italian likes nothing more than a game of tennis and is a line judge for the Lawn Tennis Association.
He also loves getting involved with the local community and has already treated children at the local primary school to a talk about his role.
When it comes to his restaurant team, he is a firm believer in leading by example and has experienced first-hand a taste of all of the different roles from working in the kitchen to serving.
He said: “How can you tell a waiter what to do if you haven’t done it yourself?
“I am a leader not a boss. Bosses are a burden to a business.”
Managing his restaurant and being surrounded by delicious food all day, it begs the question – what is Daniele’s favourite dish?
“Definitely my Mum’s lasagne – I dream of it!” he said.
“Our Piccolino lasagne is pretty special too.”