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Into The Fire: Jane Dowler

David Blake talks AWOL chefs, colossal wine orders and salsa dancers called Manuel with the co-owner of Evuna and The Yoga Lounge.

Written by . Published on June 19th 2013.


Into The Fire: Jane Dowler
 

RESTAURANT owner, sommelier, Liverpudlian and pliable yoga fanatic, Jane Dowler is co-owner of Deansgate's Spanish restaurant Evuna, The Yoga Lounge and the upcoming Evuna Two in the Northern Quarter. She also knows a thing or two about wine - just don't ask her to shift 21,000 bottles of the stuff.

Hello, who are you?

I’m Jane Dowler, co-owner of Evuna One with my Mum, Evuna Two which is to open soon in Northern Quarter and also co-owner of The Yoga Lounge.

How did you get to where you are now?

My background is in marketing. I graduated in business studies with a masters in marketing and went to work for Sony Playstation and then a company called Amaze, so I was in brand management for around ten years.

My mum then met a man called Manuel Evuna and decided to invest in his idea, which was this place. She asked me in 2003 whether I’d come and help her run it, so I left a high-flying position at Amaze as an Account Director to come here. It was a huge learning curve, obviously I had a business degree so knew roughly how to run the business but I knew absolutely nothing about how to run a restaurant.

EvunaEvuna

Who’s this Manuel?

Ooo a bit of gossip, not sure my mum will be too happy about me telling you. My mum’s an avid salsa dancer, she’s actually in Cuba at the minute as part of her scheme to dance her way around the world. Manuel was a salsa teacher. She met him, he had an idea and she had some money to invest. They actually became a couple. But he left in 2004.

Juicy. He left the year after you’d opened?

Well we opened in November 2003 and he was gone by September 2004. To be honest, their relationship fell apart pretty quickly but by then it was already called Evuna, I’d done all the marketing and we’d trademarked it, so it just stuck.

Did she not want to change the name? Because… you know

Well I liked the name, she liked the name, and we’d done all the branding. This was all his idea as well, he was great. Although I think he’d imagined it to be more of a shop-come-restaurant, like a Spanish vinoteca. The idea that you could come into a wine shop but also have a quick bite to eat,just wasn’t that concept over in the UK at the time.

Horace loved his vinotecaHorace loved his vinoteca

So we opened on day one with half shop, half restaurant – but it turned out people were queuing out of the door just to get into the restaurant. People saw us mainly as a restaurant, so we changed it, put more tables in. It’s still a nice idea though, 80 per cent of our wine list is exclusive to us in the UK, so the idea that you could come in and try the wines in a boutique winery and then take a bottle home, a bottle that you can’t get anywhere else – it’s a good concept. So now we have around 80 per cent restaurant sales and 20 per cent shop.

How was the transition from high-flying marketeer to restaurant owner?

I just had to throw myself into it really, get in and start serving customers. The Friday night that we opened, we were completely full and I was running the floor with no training to speak of – just had to get in there.

Like I say it was a huge learning curve, at Uni I’d worked in bars and restaurants so had a rough idea about the order of service and how important it is to be well-stocked and keep the ball rolling, but it was really hands-on from the get go to be honest, there was nothing I didn’t do in the beginning. If somebody was drunk and sick in the toilets I’d be in there. I did everything – I even had to jump in the kitchen at one point.

The dreaded misplaced chef?

Well we opened in the November and in the December our first head chef went AWOL, he’d basically gone off on a huge bender and just didn’t come in. We’d had Ian Simpson Architects book the whole restaurant out and we had no head chef. So I had to jump in the kitchen with two Spanish chefs, who were great cooks but couldn’t manage the whole process. I was in there throwing tickets about. It was a nightmare but we got through it. Luckily we’ve got a head chef from Brazil now and she’s fantastic.

I don't think i can make it into work tomorrow... or ever againI don't think i can make it into work tomorrow... or ever again

Did you have to be trained in the ways of wine?

I did. I went to Spain for a month before we opened which was great. I stayed in, what was our house winery, but think it’s been bought by Germans now and they’ve stopped making wine. So I stayed with them for a month during harvest time, seeing how they picked the grapes, how they crushed them, put the yeast in them, the whole process of making wine really. They took me to wine museums in Madrid, loads of different restaurants with the best Spanish wines, just loads of wine tasting – it was great. Beforehand I only really knew my grapes, my knowledge was very basic, but they showed me everything in Spain – After that it was just self-study, I read books and developed a real passion for it. Before that I pretty much just drank New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I just love running a business. It’s the commercial side for me, the costings, the stock and pricing. That’s what I’m best at. I also enjoy the whole concept direction of Evuna, putting the menus and wine lists together.

And least?

I don’t particularly enjoy managing the staff, they can play at your heartstrings like "Oh, I need to go back to Spain for this or that" and I’m a bit of a softy, I’m not very good at it. I rely on my restaurant managers for that. Ewa’s been with me for eight years, she’s Polish and great at it.

What’s been the craziest moment of your career?

When Manuel ordered eighteen months’ worth of wine just a month after we’d opened and it all turned up on a truck outside. There were 30 pallets, 720 bottles on each pallet, I can’t even think what that is – about 21,000 bottles of wine. All on a huge truck parked outside on Deansgate.

I opened up the door and said "Manuel, what is that?" and he just said, "It’s our wine order". So I asked him how we were going to sell all of that wine just one month into opening and with only fifteen tables and he said, "Your sales and marketing, that’s your job." I just said, "Mum, this man is crazy."

Luckily he’d bought it from one supplier in Madrid so we had to go over and bargain with them. Tell them that we’d only just opened, this is how many bottles of wine we’re going to be able to sell a month and this is how long all this wine is going to take us to sell – luckily there was no contract in place so we said that they could either take all the wine back or we could pay them in instalments. So we ended up putting it all in storage and paid for it monthly, it worked out ok in the end, but when it all turned up outside, that was most stressful.

Manuel, you ordered how many bottles of wine?Manuel, you ordered how many f**king bottles of wine?

Ever wanted to pack it all in?

No. Not for one second. I suppose it’s like having a baby to some extent, it’s a really family orientated business and we’ve always been really lucky with the staff. I had a baby about a year ago, up until about six months before the baby I was really hands on here. Obviously I went off on maternity leave so we had to change things a bit. But when I came back everything was running just the same without me, so that was a relief.

So what do you do with your time off?

Well having a baby that's only one year old, she is my time off now. Apart from Sophia it’s yoga, we’ve recently opened The Yoga Lounge upstairs so I do that nearly every day, teaching the classes. So it’s pretty much just child and yoga. Yoga keeps me sane – I’d go as far as to say hot yoga has been life changing for me.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?

Running the yoga studio, which is what I’ve done anyway. We’re in week ten of opening now, it goes from above here all the way down to the Hilton. 5000 sqcft we’ve got.

5000 sq ft on Deansgate. Must have cost a few bob.

(laughs) Yeah just a bit, a few hundred thousand. We’re renting it but the fit out was a hundred thousand alone. I met my business partner Nisha at a retreat two years ago, she already had a yoga business in St Helens and teaches some big teams, Man City, Bolton, Wigan Warriors. She travelled a lot and wanted to have a settled spot in the city centre, I knew there was a place upstairs and I’d always wanted to open a yoga studio. Also I didn’t really want to do it on my own because obviously I had the restaurant as well, so we had a look at the space together and thought lets go for it. It took us a year to get planning, in the mean time I got pregnant and had Sophia.

The Yoga Lounge on DeansgateThe Yoga Lounge on Deansgate

Can you do pregnant yoga?

You can do pregnancy yoga actually, but I wouldn’t do a deep twist – You know, because that’s where the baby lives.

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

Evuna. Oh, actually, no, I should say Sophia really shouldn’t I? – poor little thing, definitely Sophia. But professionally, without a doubt this place. To open a restaurant with next to no experience and still be here ten years later, especially after going through a recession. I’m very proud of that.

Did you take a hit?

Yeah definitely, in 2008 our turnover dropped by 20% - we just had to streamline the business. Move staff hours around, be strict with stock control, that kind of thing – we only ever have a month's worth of stock at any time now.

So you no longer have 21,000 bottles of wine in the back?

No. But we are shifting around 1,600 bottles of wine a month now.

Who inspires you?

My dad. Actually my mum as well. Both of them. They’re both quite business orientated, my mum’s more of a risk taker, as I told you with this place. My dad’s more steady, I’d say I’m mostly down the middle.

So Evuna two, tell us about it.

Well it’s almost there. I reckon we’ll be open in about three to four weeks. It’s an old bank located on the corner of Thomas Street and Tib Street, we’re in the middle of the refurb now. It’s all very exciting, I’m a little apprehensive but it’s about getting the right staff in there, fingers crossed. We’ve got an amazing head chef starting there who’s been working in fine dining in London, and we’ve got a couple of other chefs starting who probably don’t want me to say where they’re coming from at the moment. Mainly because I don’t think they’ve left those jobs yet.

Evuna Two - mid refurbEvuna Two - mid refurb

Is it going to be the same concept as Evuna one?

It is but we’ve made a few little tweaks. We’ve put in some higher seating and the bar’s going to be bigger. It’s just a bit more of a tapas bar. The bar’s been designed for around 16 people to be able to sit around and eat, we've also got some long sharing tables – it’s all a bit more informal, more tapas. It’s a younger vibe around the Northern Quarter so we’ve tried to reflect that in the style of eating.

There’s a lot going on in NQ, what are you bringing that’s different?

Well in Spain they called it Para Picar – which means ‘to pick’. There’s no real tapas place to speak of in the Northern Quarter so we’re hoping to bring something different, more relaxed, picky foods. We haven’t done any main courses yet, although they may come up as specials – so it’s just a big tapas menu and paellas at the moment. Then again Evuna was meant to be mostly a wine shop and now it’s turned out to be a full-blown restaurant, so we’ll just have to see. You need to be able to adapt.

Apart from your own restaurant, where’s your favourite place to eat in the city?

San Carlo and Cicchetti. These days I go out so little that I just kind of stick to what I know, because I know I’ll enjoy it. I also like Australasia, I’ve eaten there a few times, and Alchemist actually – I just think Spinningfields has got a great buzz.

The Alchemist SpinningfieldsThe Alchemist Spinningfields

What if you could own any other concept in the city?

Anything by Tim Bacon (Living Ventures) because they’re all brilliant. The Alchemist probably, they’ve nailed the market. I obviously really like food, but I’m not a massive food snob. Alchemist’s food is simple, does what it says on the tin but it’s good food and well priced. Plus the cocktails are amazing, really different. The location is right, the atmosphere is brilliant, I’d take the Alchemist.

Would you ever branch out of Manchester?

We actually looked at an Evuna in Liverpool. We almost went next door to San Carlo on Castle Street in Liverpool but we couldn’t get the deal sorted with the landlord. Liverpool’s not out of the question, if Evuna Two goes well then yes, we will be branching out. I wouldn’t do another in the centre but I’d go out into the suburbs, Didsbury, Chorlton, Hale, somewhere like that – It all depends whether the bank will give us more money.

Follow David Blake on twitter.

Follow Evuna on twitter.

Evuna, 277 Deansgate, M3 4EW. 0161 819 2752

The Yoga Lounge, Office A, 1 The Great Northern, 253 Deansgate Mews, M3 4EN. 0161 834 6283

Our Into the Fire series looks at Manchester's food and drink venue owners, our Out of the Frying Pan series looks at Manchester's chefs.

Here's the last Into the Fire and here's the last Out of the Frying Pan.

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Poster BoyJune 20th 2013.

Celebrate another Manchester Independent !

MaggieJune 20th 2013.

I've eaten there and it's good!

ThornersJune 21st 2013.

I'd love to love Evuna, but inconsistent in my opinion so have stopped going...

1 Response: Reply To This...
jrsteeveJune 21st 2013.

Same for me. The patatas bravas I had a couple of years ago was just boiled new potatoes with a little sauce on top. Also asked for some Sangria and told we couldn't as it took too long to make, or something along those lines. Hopefully it's improved since then.

IanJune 21st 2013.

don't think i've ever read a very good review

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephJune 22nd 2013.

I agree. Hoping that the NQ place is more of a proper tapas bar which does drinks with food rather than a restaurant style place.

AnonymousJuly 18th 2013.

She worked in advertising? Really? We walked past the other day and thought it was a cheap take-away! She must have stakes in a signage company judging by the amount of stuff she has in the windows! Another blot on the NQ landscape!

Axel LariatJuly 18th 2013.

Went to Evuna on Deansgate for a birthday (about 14 people) approx. 6 years ago and it was absolutely shocking. Cold food, no care taken over presentation and obviously poor quality ingredients. Won't be going again, maybe it's improved but why take the risk when there are better alternatives in the city who have never let me down?

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