Johannes Hartmann, Restaurant Manager, Little Social

The Staff Canteen

Johannes Hartmann is the Restaurant Manager of the three AA Rosette Restaurant, Little Social which is part of Michelin starred chef, Jason Atherton's group of restaurants.

Johannes Hartmann was introduced to the hospitality industry through his love of wine. A passion which led him to hold the position of Sommelier at the Hotel Kronenschlösschen in the Rheingau, at the two Michelin-starred Jacobs Restaurant in Hamburg and later at Maze in London, where he first met Jason Atherton. By 2012 Johannes had developed an even stronger desire to gain a 360 degree view of the international restaurant industry and spent a year working as a chef before becoming bar manager at Gamsei in Munich. To complete his unique and fascinating ‘training plan’, Johannes has been working alongside head chef Cary Docherty since 2014 as restaurant manager at one of Jason Atherton’s Social Restaurants, Little Social.

Speaking to Johannes we found out what it’s like working for Jason Atherton, being a chef in the middle of nowhere and why Cary Docherty is like London weather, ‘mostly sunny but you better Cary an umbrella’.

Enchanted Fizz   

Talk us through your role at Little Social?

My job is about rolling up your sleeves and being involved: in every aspect of the restaurant. Taking pride in everything, from the organisation to the service. Organisation, as everyone in this industry knows, is very important; from pouring water for guests to looking after the staff and ensuring Cary has the FOH support he needs so we are working as a team. That basically sums it up, it’s a very hands on job and I help with every aspect in the running of the restaurant.

Did you always know you wanted to work in the hospitality industry?

My godmother owned a restaurant so I would always find myself helping out in her kitchen on my holidays. I don’t think my family really wanted me to end up in the hospitality industry (Johannes’ father is a lawyer and his mother is a teacher) and I never really thought I would either but at some point I just decided that school was too boring so I left to work at hotel "die Halde" near Freiburg. It felt really natural to me and that’s when I decided that’s what I really want to do.

I spent three and a half years at Hotel Management school but found I had a real fascination for wine so I decided to go ahead with a sommelier course and got a job in Germany working as a sommelier for several years.

So what is about wine that you find fascinating?

Wine is my biggest passion, it began at an early age when we had a big wine cellar at home. I was eager to try different wines and I remember my first visit to a vineyard after I had just turned 16. I was fascinated by the wine making process, the hard working wine makers and the flavours. Even now just the smell of certain wines take me straight back to childhood days in the cellar or long days working in the vineyards-I love the way that aromas conjure up memories that you thought were long gone. I quickly made the decision to become a sommelier and have never regretted it.

Johannes Hartman from the three AA Rosette Restaurant, Little Social

What did you learn from your time at Château Haut-Bailly?

In Bordeaux the vineyards were larger than I had visited previously around 100 hectares and with 100 people working in the vineyard. It’s a real team effort to produce one bottle of wine. If you’re in the restaurant and you’re pouring a bottle of Bordeaux you don’t really appreciate all the hard work that goes into it and I found that really fascinating. I had worked in smaller vineyards in Germany that were about 20 hectare but it was Château Haut-Bailly that really gave me a deeper appreciation and respect for wine and wine makers.

You first met Jason Atherton back in 2008 when you were at Maze, how did this position come about?

I worked in Hamburg and at the time my head sommelier sent me off to London where I landed at Maze. After two and a half years I had the opportunity to reopen Petrus as part of Gordon Ramsay Holdings and being a restaurant heavily focused on wine, I didn’t take much persuading!

In this industry it is important not to burn bridges and I always kept in contact with the Maze team. After I spent a year creating, mixing and foraging ingredients for cocktails as a bar manager in Munich I came back to London and I got in touch with Michael West who asked me ‘when can you start?’

In 2012 you fulfilled your ambition of becoming a chef, where were you a chef and what made you return to FOH?

I was in the Blackforest, which is literally in the middle of nowhere, there’s no phone reception or internet, or anything like that. The chef patron would have to hunt for food so I got to go along with him and learn more about the origin of meat and game. I also gained my hunting licence whilst I was out there too, it was such a precious time for me, I have many beautiful memories.

To be honest I’m not a bad chef (just don’t ask Jason to be the judge of that) and that year of experience really helped me understand the larder and the pastry section as well as a chef’s frustration- if you’ve spent the morning washing and dressing a salad and someone gets something wrong it can be infuriating because there’s a lot of hard work involved and one simple mistake can cause a lot of trouble.

That’s why I wanted to get a 360 degree view of the entire industry because I’m excited by all areas of hospitality, not just front of house service. So when I heard a friend of mine from Melbourne was opening a bar in Munich it was like a dream to me because after working as a chef it just felt like the next step, so I ended up working as a bartender for a year.

What has been the biggest challenges you faced in your role?

Every day is a challenge and so is leading a team of 20 FOH but I really love it.

Who inspires you in your career and why?

Le Petit Aperitif

I don’t think I could name anyone in particular; there have been many people that have influenced me so far in my career. This industry is so unique and that’s what makes it so special, from the producers, suppliers, wine makers, sommeliers, bartenders and chefs, there are a large number of links that go into making a great guest experience. It’s people’s work ethic that really inspires me, to see team members learn and develop from a commis to a sous chef through hard work. In hospitality your background and where you have come from doesn’t matter, it’s about the work you put in every single day.

What is Cary Docherty like to work with?

I want to say he’s like London weather ‘mostly sunny but you better Cary an umbrella with you’! He’s a chef and he’s from the ‘old school’ trained from working at London’s Royal Hospital Road, he’s a perfectionist and that’s what makes him so talented.

As a Jason Atherton restaurant do you think this sometimes overshadows the FOH? 

No, I don’t think so. The regulars come in for the service and the food and I think the FOH are an integral part of that so I don’t feel like we are undermined at all. Cary plays a crucial role in the business at Little Social and takes on the same hands-on approach as Jason. Jason knows what’s going on in all of his restaurants, it’s incredible.

How do you work on wine pairing? How involved are Cary and Jason?

I have a head sommelier, we taste the food together and talk about certain wines and the new ones we’ll add to the list. Then we do tastings to find the best match and talk about it during our briefings so everyone is made aware of what’s going on. Wine pairing is very important to me and to Cary and Jason.

Roasted Cornish line caught cod 

With a vast selection of cocktails on the drinks menu as well as wine, what do you prefer and why?

I love the classics, wine and cocktails but I couldn’t chose between the two. When I go out and find the wine isn’t that great I usually drink a beer or I’ll stick to classic cocktails. 

How often do you change the drinks menu?

The wines by the glass are definitely dependant on the menu but other than that it’s always changing. As the seasons change for the menu so does the bar. We might serve something with cherry during the winter months but then we try to lighten it up a little for spring and summer, we might make them less boozier for example. Recommending different wines can sometimes depend on the weather and on the occasion as well.

What is the best advice you could give someone looking to begin a career in the hospitality industry?

Eye contact is very important because you need to focus so you don’t miss anything. Being present at the table and engaging with the guest during the time you are at their table is key. Even though your mind will be running through the next hundred steps you need to do during service your eyes are focused and the guest feels special.

It’s just such a great profession and I think when I’m interviewing I want to see people who see it as a profession rather than just a job. If your goal in life is something different then I’m not really interested because I want someone who is going to be committed.

And what about complaints, are they difficult to deal with?

It’s not really an issue for me, complaints come but I have a zero complaints policy for myself. If a complaint comes back then we did something wrong, perhaps we’re not reading the customer right.

What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself staying at Little Social?

I’m really happy at Little Social at the moment and don’t see myself moving on right now. It’s a really sociable company to work for and right now we’re really moving things forward, so it’s an exciting time.




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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th September 2016

Johannes Hartmann, Restaurant Manager, Little Social