Ginger Catering Celebrates Milestones With A Name Change And Plans For Growth

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Twenty years in business is a win in anyone’s book.

But it seems even more of an achievement when the business is hospitality, and its two-decade reign coincides with both the global financial crisis and a global pandemic.

Janet Jeffs and her executive team at Ginger Catering celebrate their 20e anniversary year, not to mention their ten-year stewardship of the National Arboretum, with a name change to The Ginger Group. They are turning their attention to the outside world and are looking to expand their excellent reputation for producing the city’s best food by diversifying their operations in Canberra and the region.

It seems Janet, whose passion for the industry has not waned in more than four decades – since she started as a baby-faced pot washer in Adelaide before completing an internship with Cheong Liew and then joining forces with Australian culinary royalty Maggie Beer to bring the Barossa Pheasant Farm to life.

Janett Jeffs and Maggie Beer.

Since Ginger’s first-ever night of operation at the Arboretum, catering for an opening of 300 guests – which took place despite them not receiving the keys to the kitchen until the day of the event – Janet said the space “fired the imagination” not only from residents of Canberra, but from all the interstate and overseas visitors who made it part of their pilgrimage to the nation’s capital.

And it certainly has embedded itself in her heart with early morning sunrises and late afternoon sunsets punctuating her day and forcing her to focus on the unique beauty of the landscape rather than getting excited or getting ready. at an event.

Catering for special events, weddings, corporate events and formals had made the space an integral part of important life moments for many Canberrans.

And Janet says there’s nothing more delightful than someone enjoying their formal against the tree-lined vistas before settling on it as a wedding venue, because they simply couldn’t find a nicer place to be.

Which brings us back to longevity.

Since arriving in Canberra in 1995 to be told repeatedly that “the best food in Canberra was in Sydney”, Janet has tried to push the boundaries.

The Ginger Group philosophy is “good, clean, fair food”.

Opening Juniperberry in the Red Hill stores with a $2,000 overdraft — just to make it one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the city and earn a chef’s hat from Terry Durack of the Sydney Morning Herald — is testament to Janet’s courageous character.

She went on to set up Ginger Catering in the Old Parliament House before being invited by the ACT government to take on the Arboretum contract.

Her mantra of “good, clean, honest food” has seen her promote countless local growers, and her embrace of localization took place long before it became a thing.

She has also been a pioneering female chef.

“The point is that kitchens have always been and still are a male-dominated space. They are very difficult places to work. I think being a chef is definitely not for the faint of heart, because you are under constant pressure. You’re under pressure because customers want their food and they want it now. There is no, ‘I’m only going to be there for 10 minutes’. It’s like ‘no, they need it now’, and you really have to perform every day.’

In recent years, Janet has taken on a little more personal time as she delegates to her executive team and is currently knee-deep in an art/history study she loves. (“Who knows, one day I’ll set up a gallery bar, that would be fun.”)

That executive team includes her right-hand man Lissa Keogh, who joined the Ginger Group in 2009 and has been managing director for the last eight years. Janet looks forward to the company flexing its muscles on food in the coming years and taking on more than just the Arboretum.

Janet and Ginger Group’s Chef Issy. Image by Keepsakephoto by the Keeffes.

To do this, they recruited Marketing and Special Projects Manager Kara O’Brien and Chef Ismail Toorawa (Issy), who is from Mauritius and has worked in the industry for 20 years, at the National Gallery of Australia and at Patissez where he helped conceptualize the FreakShake.

Janet commends Lissa, Issy and Kara for their trust and camaraderie over the years that have delivered more than their fair share of challenges. And while COVID has undoubtedly tested its survival skills, Janet says the GFC stands out even more.

“Almost overnight, every contract we had for the following year was canceled.”

At the same time, the Old Parliament House was being renovated, which had seriously interrupted the flow of wedding bookings.

“It was harder than COVID in a way – there was no JobKeeper and there was no support.”

It led to Lissa and Janet having some very late nights with the accountant, trying to manage the workforce without getting laid off, and wondering how they could keep the company afloat. Miraculously, they managed to avoid major job losses and Janet sold her precious wine collection to help.

“Ah yes, all my bottles of Grange, I had to sell them,” she says with a genuinely pained look.

Still, it’s the kind of sacrifice those who work with her would expect, as Janet has shown a lifelong commitment to attracting, retaining and guiding her team. This is reflected in the company’s employee retention rate of around 80 percent – ​​almost unheard of in an industry notorious for churn.

And as Ginger Group is looking to expand next year and beyond, Janet will continue this role as a figurehead – she is ready for the new challenge.

Ultimately, she says, “to work in the hospitality industry, you have to be hospitable. I think you have to be very generous in spirit and love people.”

“We want to grow and move forward,” Lissa says, “but we never want to change the essence of this business or Janet’s stamp on it because it’s been such a big part of Canberra for 20 years. And in the hospitality industry, that’s a really huge performance.”

You can follow Ginger Group on Instagram @thegingergroup.cbr

Main image is of Lissa Keogh, Janet Jeffs and Ismail Toorawa by Keepsakephoto by the Keeffes.

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