Maintaining tradition

Maintaining tradition

The decision to purchase Joe Allen’s, one of the original American-themed restaurants in Covent Garden, was not one that restaurateurs Tim Healy and Lawrence Hartley took lightly. Having been patrons themselves over the years, they understood the spirit and success of the restaurant lay with its loyal guests and the maintenance of tradition.

Since Joe Allen opened in 1977, its ethos has always remained the same; it is an American brasserie serving the patrons and actors of the West End. It also served its place as a training ground in front of house or kitchen work for hospitality industry greats such as Jeremy King (Corbin & King), Russell Norman (Polpo Group) and Rowley Leigh (Le Café Anglais) who have all previously worked at Joe Allen.

The restaurant’s heritage and link to entertainment is clear upon walking in the door – the walls are lined with pictures of American actors, actresses and posters of much loved musicals. One of the frames contains a picture linking back to one of the current owners as David Healy, Tim Healy’s father, was an American actor who made it on to the wall of fame.

“My family and I were regulars at Joe Allen’s. I remember coming here with my father after his shows and seeing other cast members enjoy the atmosphere. Later on I opened my own restaurant, A Cena, in Twickenham but I always had the desire for a project in Central London.”
While working on the project in Twickenham, Tim met Lawrence who was opening a French restaurant in the same area. Lawrence has been involved in the industry for years, having studied at Westminster Catering College and then worked at The Ivy and Café Rouge during its rollout phase. Tim and Lawrence built a friendship on their passion for the industry and their mutual desire to eventually have a project in Central London. The sale of Joe Allen happened at the right time.

Photo: Lawrence Hartley and Tim Healy

Lawrence explained, “Richard Polo, the previous owner, expressed that his sole wish was that the restaurant maintain its position as an independent industry stalwart and a piece of Theatreland history. Like Tim, I had also come here as a child and have since brought my own children. We wanted to be able to introduce Joe’s to the next generations and when the opportunity was made available, Tim and I jumped on the chance.”

After the deal was completed smoothly, the real challenges began. Despite Tim and Lawrence’s reassurance to the guests on their intentions of preserving traditions within the restaurant, loyal patrons were apprehensive of any changes made during the first few months. The duo were adamant on proving their intentions so they got to know the regulars. They visited Joe Allen every day to make themselves accessible to patrons that had any questions and slowly began to be recognized as part of the Joe Allen family.

Tim and Lawrence also made the decision to take on all existing staff members after buying the restaurant. After all, the staff are a part of the restaurant’s 36 year old history including general manager Cathy Winn and pianist Jimmy Hardwick, who between them have over 50 years service. To celebrate their links to the theatre community, treats are still sent to theatre crews after their opening night – such as the rich brownies sent over to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cast after their successful first night.

When asked about how the restaurant is going to move forward in the world of popups and fast moving trends, the restaurateurs have found a balanced approach that they are happy keeping.

“For now, the menu has been refined while still keeping with the classic American offer and there have been subtle tweaks to the décor to play more on the relaxed environment. We have also interacted more with the food festival scene participating in Burger Bash and setting up a Joe Allen van at Summer Pride this year. The most important element has been keeping the essence of this true American Theatre Brasserie that has made it such a special place for nearly forty years.”

Nestled in Covent Garden amongst its constantly changing neighbours, Joe Allen still maintains its traditions for its patrons after nearly forty years.

For more information please contact Nicole Thompson on 020 7025 1862 or nicole.thompson@epmagazine.co.uk

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