Interview: Giovanna Grossi, (August 2019)

Posted on: August 12th, 2019 by Simon Carter

[ Above: Giovanna at The Landmark Hotel. She loves this hotel for many reasons. Giovanna went there for Champagne on her first date with husband-to-be Mario and they stayed there together on their last trip to London before he passed away 20 years later. She has also worked closely with the hotel for many years and feels it’s come on such a journey. Beautiful hotel and amazing team.]

Giovanna’s father came over from Italy in 1962 for six months to learn English and work in hotels, but he met her mother, who was from Cheshire, and didn’t go back. When she was about six, a couple who her dad had once worked for and who owned a restaurant in Southport, were selling their business, and offered her parents first refusal. The young Giovanna absolutely fell in love with the whole environment and would find any excuse to be in the restaurant doing one form of little job or another, so much so that her dad could see her enjoyment and during the summer holidays he would take her every week to the wholesale market in Liverpool at 4am and in the old school way, he would personally choose all his fish, fruit and veg – being a part of that was a real adventure for a young girl.

[Above: Giovanna with her dad. She’s a real family person and family mean the world to her. Giovanna’s father has been the biggest inspiration on her career and he is her absolute rock. She chose this picture because it was taken in the garden of her late grandparents home in Italy where her Dad grew up and where she spent summers as a teenager]

One day a new property came on the market and her father was able to realise his ambition of being the proprietor of his dream Italian restaurant.  From around 1978 the new restaurant became a prime venue, for acts and customers of Southport Theatre but also the Liverpool FC players of the day, there was a real buzz about the place.  Meantime Giovanna passed her 11 Plus and the exam and interview for Merchant Taylor’s School in Crosby. However, she was unhappy and failed to settle but was fortunate to be able to transfer to the grammar school, when someone moved from the area and liberated a place.  The school was within walking distance from home, situated between Royal Birkdale and Hillside Golf Clubs and a scene of far happier times.  Taking a year out before going to Manchester University, where she studied accountancy, led to Giovanna spending a year working in the business and it was during this time that she realized that her career future post-university, would be in hospitality.

In 1993, Giovanna had some challenges with a London based supplier and a manager travelled up to Southport from London to resolve the problems.  This man turned out to be the love of her life, Mario, and they clicked from day one.  Over the following years he spent his weekends working in the restaurant so they could spend time together to the point where he became fully integrated into the business and customers really loved him, too. 

[Above: Giovanna loves this particular picture of her and Mario because they were both really happy and it was taken during a wine trip to Sardinia. Mario spent his life working with wine and food importation/sales and it’s how they met, so it seems quite a poignant photo.]

Giovanna had always wanted to be a journalist when she was younger and as she loved the restaurant trade, writing for the Good Food Guide had always been a dream.  As it happened, in early 1999, she saw an advert in Caterer for an AA Hotel and Restaurant Inspector.  With numerous applicants for only three positions, Giovanna didn’t anticipate success.  She had two interviews and for the second borrowed a laptop to type a presentation.  Sitting behind her to be interviewed directly after her, was someone who would become a dear friend, Paul Hackett, who is still at the AA today.  Despite some anxiety throughout the application process, they both found themselves employed on the AA Hotel and Restaurant inspection team.

From 1999 to 2003 Giovanna effectively worked seven days a week as she split her time between fulfilling her hours and responsibilities at the AA, while also covering the important shifts at her parents’ restaurant.  This proved exceptionally hard work but gave Giovanna the best of both worlds.  Giovanna was fortunate to cover a number of different patches in her first few years, the North West, the Lake District (during the challenging foot and mouth crisis), Central & East England, and then ultimately Giovanna found herself responsible for central London, which brought with it the biggest section of the AA Restaurant Guide to manage.  This enabled the building of a network of chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers in the capital but the schedule and workload were quite punishing, travelling from her home in Manchester every week. 

[Above: Jason Atherton, Clare Smyth, Marcus and Jane Wareing. Giovanna loves this picture for a number of reasons. It’s some of the old Ramsay guard that are now all super successful in their own right and have produced their own protégés. It was September 2016 and her last AA Awards working full time for the business. It was a very emotional evening for Giovanna as the AA arranged a surprise presentation for her and she had to make an unprepared speech in front of 1000 industry friends and peers.]

Around January 2006, Giovanna was promoted to a role of Key Account Executive and was responsible for liaising with approximately fifteen major Hotel Groups and whilst this more corporate role took her out of her comfort zone, she had the opportunity to forge some great relationships with some major figures of the hospitality industry.  The London and South East Area Manager role became available some 9 months later, and her experience of London and desire to manage a team again, led her to apply for the position. She loved the role and strived hard to support and develop her team. Towards the end of 2007, the opportunity arose to apply for the position of Group Area Manager, a revised version of the old Chief Hotel & Restaurant Inspector role – it involved overseeing the inspection team and also brought responsibilities for sitting on awards panels, including a panel with the national tourist boards with responsibility to update shared quality standards for hotel and B&B inspections.  Giovanna was successful in her candidacy and over the next nine years was to make the role her own.

[Above: Everyone knows Giovanna and family are huge LFC fans. She was fortunate enough to meet Steven on a number of occasions during his career at Liverpool, as he lived in Southport and then Formby and was also a partner in a restaurant business with a very old friend of hers. This picture was taken at an AA Awards that Steven kindly attended, when he was captain for both club and country.]

Giovanna was responsible for ensuring that all restaurants nominated for three, four and five Rosettes and hotels nominated for AA Red Stars, had the relevant confirmation inspections and that the nominations for all the AA Hotel, Restaurant and B&B Awards were written up for the AA Hospitality Panel to discuss at their meetings twice a year. Giovanna soon found herself sitting on a number of judging and awards panels on top of managing four regional managers and helping build training and the early consulting programmes that The AA were developing.  

[Above: Adam Reid, Mark Birchall, Niall Keating. AA Awards 2017. Three chefs whose careers Giovanna has watched go from strength to strength]

In Spring 2012, Giovanna broke her leg and had to take an enforced absence from work. This coincided with a dramatic decline in her partner, Mario’s, health.  He had crippling arthritis sadly followed by a nasty accident in early 2013. Giovanna found strength from within she didn’t realise she had, looking after Mario while juggling battles with hospitals, work schedules, care schedules.  Sadly, the love of her life passed away on 3rd August 2013.

For the next few years Giovanna threw herself into her work, partly as a coping mechanism, feeling the emotional strain, she had moved out of the apartment they had shared for sixteen years and had relocated down south, while also fighting an unwanted, long, hard legal battle over the estate.  In January 2016 her long-time manager Simon Numphud left the business for pastures new. After settling the legal battle finally in February that year, Giovanna felt it was the right time to take some time for herself and to spend more time with family and friends, do some travelling and pursue her passion for training and mentoring hotel and restaurant teams; she made the tough decision in May 2016 to move on from The AA. 

[Above: Clare Smyth and Claude Bosi; both achieved 5 AA Rosettes at The AA Awards 2018. Two restaurants Giovanna absolutely loves and two chefs she’s very fond of and who are at the top of their game]

After handing in her notice, there was an attempt to make her reconsider and finally a half-way house in the form of a part time Special Projects and Ambassadorial role was agreed.  The objective was to champion The AA, based around a working arrangement of four to five days a month.  This proved a happy relationship for the next two years and covered the void until Simon Numphud returned to the business in a new permanent role and Giovanna’s own training business Giovanna Grossi Hospitality was by then taking off and was taking up more of her time.

Giovanna happily agreed to retain a voluntary role on the AA Hospitality Awards Panel and indeed her reach in the industry was reflected in the number of bodies, panels and committees she has contributed to and indeed continues to support.  These include The Golden Keys Concierge, The Cateys judging panels including Menu of the Year and Chef of the Year panel, The Hotel Catey Spa Professional panel as well as Hotelier of the Year, sitting on the Hospitality Action fund raising and marketing committee and judging Boutique Hotelier Awards.

[Above: Liam and Ellis Barrie. Giovanna has been a judge on the Acorn Awards for a number of years now. It’s one of the most rewarding competitions she judges. It highlights future talent in the industry. Both Ellis and Liam are Acorn Award winners and what a talent they are and what great success they’re achieving. Giovanna is super proud of them.]

Back in September 2012, Maureen Mills had invited Giovanna out to lunch with Amanda Afiya of The Caterer at The Corinthia, and whilst they knew each other, and their paths had crossed a number of times, it was to be her and Amanda’s first outing together and the rest is history…  Their friendship blossomed over the following years and so when Amanda was approached by Jo Barnes and Nicky Hancock of Sauce Communications to potentially launch a Mystery Guest business, it seemed a natural next step to involve Giovanna to take the idea further.

[Above: Giovanna and Amanda Afiya are very much a team. Giovanna says Amanda’s kind, funny, intelligent and beautiful inside and out; She can’t imagine her life without Amanda in it. She loves that neither takes themselves too seriously and that now people tend to invite them as a pair to things.]

Giovanna brought to the table extensive experience and knowledge of hotel and restaurant inspecting from a professional guide perspective, as well as a proven developer and provider of training and consulting programmes to the hospitality industry.  She could not only play a significant role in aiding the development of a state-of-the-art technology platform for the bespoke report writing by mystery inspectors but also contribute to the solutions provided thereafter.  This remains an early but exciting entrepreneurial adventure and one that suits Giovanna well.  After a career of consistent success and achievement, Giovanna has established herself as a much loved, admired and respected industry figure – the coming together of Jo, Nicky, Amanda and Giovanna is surely one to watch and an opportunity certain to deliver success to their clients while continuing to garner a high profile in the industry.  Best of luck to her and long may the future be bright…