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Looking ahead: Jonathan Kleeman, Restaurant Story

Published:  24 August, 2022

With the first half of 2022 already history, Harpers asked key trade figures to highlight the current challenges, ongoing trends and opportunities.

We continue our series with insights from Jonathan Kleeman, head sommelier & wine buyer, Restaurant Story.

How ‘back to normal’ are you as a business?

We are not only back but pushing harder than ever, with a planned second floor being built at Story next year. We are also opening a wine bar in Covent Garden late this year and our new hotel project, Dovetail, in Q1 next year. It’s a great time for the whole team. We’re continuing to take on new challenges and expanding to bring in new talent.

How, if at all, have drinking habits changed post-lockdown?

I have not seen a massive change. There’s a lot of talk about no and low, and while we still do a good amount of zero abv parings, there is no shortage of drinkers out there. The range of what people are looking for is always getting bigger, and the expectations from customer to customer are vastly different.

How has the first half of 2022 been when compared to the same period in pre-pandemic 2019?

It’s been one of the strangest six months I have ever seen. There’s no shortage of customers and demand, but alongside that is the constant challenge of getting hold of stock. We’re also having to deal with the new costs and challenges with importing. Plus, trying to find staff is the biggest challenge the industry now faces. It’s easier to catch a rare Pokémon – and they are fictional animals.

What were the highs and lows for your own business in the first six months of 2022?

Retaining our 2 Michelin Stars has been a major boost for the team and shows their hard work has been rewarded. Seeing our customers come back with such excitement and the amount of appreciation they have shown to the team has been amazing. The lows are seeing all the people leaving the industry and the country they have lived in. It’s a common problem across the trade.

What, currently, are the biggest challenges for the trade in general?

The supply chain at the moment is a nightmare. Getting hold of simple lines and products can be extremely difficult. Price increases are constant and sometimes at extreme levels. There is little confidence in any improvements over the next few years.

Staffing is the true challenge, however. Hospitality has always heavily relied on European staff and with that supply now cut off – and no current way to fill those positions – more business will close and the level of service in the UK will only suffer more and more. Not to mention the talent drain we are seeing with so many top-quality staff leaving the UK.

What are your priorities and predictions business-wise for the second half of 2022?

Building the team to help both them and the company grow with two new openings coming in the next six to eight months. We have a lot of development going on and want to build our staff up to take on new roles and opportunities. We also want to level up our beverage offer at our core site after our second-floor build. I think this Christmas will be very telling in terms of what the next few years will bring for hospitality.

What will the focus be on with regard to your portfolio and why?

After a recent visit to Serbia and Croatia, I will be looking to build a lot of our Old World section of the list. There are a lot of amazing, untapped wines in these areas that offer high quality with great stories. They also fit into the more gastronomic tastes that we see among customers in London.

For you, what are the most significant emerging trends in the wine & spirits worlds?

The ‘new’ Old World wines are going more mainstream all over the wine world. With the massive increase in prices and lack of supply of the bigger name Champagnes, a big influx of new grower Champagnes are coming to the UK market.

Tequila seems to be the new big thing in spirits. Sorry rum lovers. Your time will come. From talking to other people in the industry, tequila cocktails are commonly the highest sellers and high-end tequilas and mezcals are now a common backbar staple. I no longer hear the same negative comments when people see tequila in the drink descriptions.

What innovations in the drinks world do you believe will have the most impact going forward?

I have an article coming out in Rolling Stone’s Culture Council on blockchain technology in the wine and hospitality world. I think we will see this becoming commonplace in both the supply chain and customer-facing parts of the industry over the next five years. It’s already happening with Penfold wines going into the Chinese market.

Lastly, if you could make one change in legislation/red tape/tax tomorrow, what would you choose?

You are going to see a theme, here. But it’s reducing all the red tape around bringing in workers from overseas – something we are going through at the moment and is so limiting, very long and slow.

Quick-fire questions:

France, Spain or Italy?


USA, OZ or South Africa?

South Africa.

Cocktails or slow sipping spirit?

Sipping spirts.

English fizz or Champagne?

England all the way.

Go-to drink to watch with the tennis / football / rugby?

I am sure you meant the UFC, and whisky or tequila as it's normally 3am.