Jane’s moves next door

Jane Wright has switched careers. She used to run Jane’s on the Common. Now she’s in the catering business.

By Sarah Mackey

Seventeen days after locking the doors of Jane’s on the Common for the last time, Jane Wright was back working full time.

She’s gone from being a restaurateur to being a caterer.

Wright adjusts her electric blue glasses and finishes typing up an email before turning back to her executive chef, Paolo Colbertaldo.  They’re discussing an upcoming catering job. Even with the closure of her restaurant, Wright has refused to slow down.

“I feel like I’m back having a new-born baby again that just needs total attention and undivided care.”

Two years ago, Wright purchased a property on Gottingen Street that has since become the home of her catering and event venue, as well as a second take-away store called Jane’s Next Door. The kiosk stores sell ready-made sandwiches, Wright’s famous coffee, and a selection of frozen entrées and desserts.

Although the Jane’s brand will remain prominent in the Halifax culinary landscape, a lot of people still miss the restaurant.

Jane’s on the Common sourced from 22 local vendors during business operations. Those vendors will take a business hit. While it was open, Jane’s was ordering 1,320 free-range eggs a week from several farms in the Halifax area.

“Definitely our purchasing is going to be cut dramatically, but we are trying to build the catering business. With my undivided attention on that now, I’m hoping we will be able to build that back up.”

Ten years of Jane

Anytime a customer wrote her a note on a receipt or a napkin, Wright would save it in a file folder. She’s hoping to combine those with her experiences in the restaurant to create a book of recipes.

“I was hoping to get a bit of a cookbook done, maybe a decade of stories and recipes from a neighbourhood restaurant.”

Wright’s office is a testament to her passion for literature. The former librarian has an entire wall of books ranging from preserve recipes to a collection of Emily Dickinson’s love poems.

She says one of the hardest things about owning the restaurant was dealing with unsatisfied customers.

Learning that you can’t satisfy every customer was difficult for Wright. Her personal investment in the restaurant meant that any negative review hurt deeply.

“I actually had to go to counseling for a while, especially when all the online, anonymous (comments) started.”

Although the anonymity of the Internet limits her access to the customer, Wright still tries to respond to each grievance personally.

Now that Jane’s on the Common is closed, Wright says it’s the personal interaction with the customers she’s going to miss the most.

“Whenever I was feeling stressed or wondering why I do this, I just had to come back and work a service.”

When Wright made the announcement in September that she was closing Jane’s, her inbox was flooded with notes detailing how her restaurant had become a part of many Haligonians’ lives.

“I’ve never felt so affirmed with anything I’ve ever done than when I announced I was closing.”

With tears in her eyes, Wright reads a particularly moving letter from a man named Brian Powers. He details how his new family grew together at the tables of Jane’s on the Common.

“We love the Saturday brunch,” writes Powers, “and your outstanding staff has made us feel like family even when we’ve piled in with more than a dozen or so friends, with kids and scarves and hats and vegans.”

From restaurant owner to mentor

On top of the responsibilities of her catering business, Wright is constantly asked to help mentor up-and-coming restaurateurs.

Most recently, Wright was asked to speak about customer service at a new restaurant in Dartmouth.  She’s also been asked to join a panel of experts as a part of The Fork Project. Katelyn Allen-Romkey, a Mount Allison graduate, formed the business in 2011 as a restaurant communications firm. Along with her panel of experts, Allen-Romkey helps new restaurant owners with everything from marketing to menu creation. Wright was brought aboard to offer advice with business plans, staff training and customer service advice.

Among the new restaurant owners seeking advice is Wright’s daughter, Jenna Moores.

Her new restaurant is being built in the same Gottingen Street building out of which Wright runs her catering business. Cardboard still covers the windows, and the smell of sawdust permeates all the way into Wright’s office.

Wright is reluctant to reveal anything about the new restaurant, although she’s clear that this is not a continuation of Jane’s on the Common.

“I know it takes your heart and soul to run a business, and I just didn’t want her (Moores) to have any baggage from mine.”

Moores has not released any information about the menu.

Moores was in Grade 10 when Wright opened Jane’s on the Common. She worked in her mother’s restaurant every weekend for several years before she moved to Montreal for university.  She holds two degrees, one of which is in business.

“She’ll be 26 in a few weeks,” says Wright, “and I feel like she is starting out with way more experience then I ever had. She understands hospitality, and she’s got the gene. I’m really excited for her.”

A new culinary frontier

Wright laughs when people suggest that closing her restaurant means she’s retiring.

“Catering is a much different business from the restaurant business.”

Not only is Wright concerned about the quality of the cuisine, now her staff has to contend with the complications of transporting vast amounts of food.

“With catering, it feels like its ten minutes away from a train wreck. You just never know!”