A Family Business

THE Jersey Pottery is as synonymous with the Island as potatoes, Gerald Durrell and the indigenous breed of cow. As the family business takes a new direction director Dominic Jones shares his passion for local produce with Paula Thelwell.

As the Island’s tourist industry has changed from the ‘bucket and spade’ image of the post-war family holiday boom, to appeal to the discerning short-break market, the Jersey Pottery has also moved with the times.

The business that began life as a pottery in the picturesque village of Gorey in 1946 is moving on to the next phase of a transformation from premier tourist attraction to a restaurant and catering group and producer of high-quality lifestyle pottery sold in 700 outlets worldwide.

Today the business group comprises the Oyster Box, Crab Shack and three other restaurants, four cafes, outside and contract catering (including provision in nine Island schools as part of a government-led healthy eating initiative) a shop, the worldwide pottery business and the latest venture, Banjo, a restaurant, bar, meeting room and bedroom venue, in a former Victorian gentlemen’s club in the heart of St Helier.

Underpinning this success story are strong family values and a passion for the Island Clive and Jessie Jones made their home 80 years ago. They acquired the pottery in 1954, and were later joined by their son, Colin and daughter, Carol Garton. Today Colin’s sons, Dominic, Robert, Jonathan, Matthew work side-by-side – but no longer from the famous site in Gorey Village which has been sold for residential development and the money reinvested in the business.

It was a tough decision to make for obviously sentimental reasons. No doubt, visitors returning in the future will be disappointed to find it gone, but the Jersey Pottery is still very much a big part, and a keen supporter, of Island life and the fresh local produce that takes some beating when at its seasonal best.  The business is also a major employer with more than 200 staff and an active sponsor of the Genuine Jersey Products Association.

Dominic is a lawyer by profession who enjoyed a successful career in finance in London, Paris and Jersey - but he’s never been happier since he came home to work alongside his brothers, and to enjoy the traditional ages-old Island pursuit of low water fishing and boating. Who needs Paris’ boulevards or the Inns of Court when you could be fishing off the Karamé and the Minquiers tidal reef is a short boat ride away?

When it comes to sourcing food for the restaurant and catering group, the emphasis is on local producers and suppliers depending, of course, on the fresh supplies available in the Island according to the seasons.

He explained the family’s philosophy: ‘Our focus is on local food which we think is very important and that is not just because that approach is right but because we know it tastes better.’

Sourcing local and seasonal produce may be a new and fashionable experience for the British but it has been engrained in the national psyche of the Italian, Spanish and French – to name a few – for ever.

The Jones brothers believe it is their culinary mission to educate their customers about the merits of local produce and low food miles.

‘What we try to do through our restaurants is promote the growth of the interest in local food as it achieves several things. Firstly it diversifies the economy; secondly it keeps the countryside looking nice which has benefits for the locals and tourism and lastly – but most importantly – I think that it makes people want to come to Jersey to experience the local provenance which is very important now in the tourism industry. They don’t want to eat imported food; they want to taste the best the Island has to offer and where better to eat local fish or shellfish than in a restaurant overlooking a beach,’ he enthused.

Geography and climate dictate that Jersey can never be self-sufficient in food but Dominic regrets that in spite of the cornucopia of fresh local produce, the Island still imports a huge amount of food. Life would be far easier, he added, if the Jersey Pottery simply bought whatever everybody else does - but why take the easy option when quality, taste, freshness, seasonality and provenance are at stake?

Such a purist approach creates problems in those months when local food is not in abundance. That is when the chefs are encouraged to use their ingenuity to create dishes from lesser known species of fish, cuts of meat and seasonal produce.

Dominic cited the example of their partnership with Vicky Huelin from Rozel Manor Farm who was raising pigs for the Jersey Pottery, which would be featured in the Jersey Food Festival at their Castle Green event.

‘And we’ll be using nearly every part of them!’ he said.

Small-scale production has a reputation for not coming cheap, but neither does importing food from all over the world in terms of local economic viability and the environment.

‘It has to be about putting a price that makes it viable for the fisherman or grower to make a living. It is about valuing something because you know the difference between a local fish or produce and something that is imported as people are increasingly finding that it does make a difference,’ he said.

When the Jersey Pottery has to source from outside the Island, the family applies the same attention to detail. The 700 litres of olive oil imported each year comes from a family estate in Tuscany; the two families are friends and Dominic attends the harvest every year.

‘We find it adds something to our fish,’ he said. ‘But we also use Jersey butter and cream so it is all about a mixture and taking care with our ingredients,’ he explained.

Jersey has been at the forefront of the food revolution that has swept the British Isles over the last 30 years, with the Jersey Pottery playing a key part in transforming the Island’s culinary reputation.

‘Jersey has gone from being a destination which had great produce but where the cuisine was not the best, to an Island where the restaurants are as good as the best in the UK,’ said Dominic.

And that is thanks in no small part to a family buying a pottery nearly 70 years ago.