Heaven and Hell: North Norfolk hospitality queen Janie Thompson

Janie Thompson

Janie Thompson - Credit: Submitted

Janie is a dynamic woman who co-founded the Thornham Deli with her two ‘brilliant’ business partners

Her career in the hospitality world has taken her from owning the Lighthouse Cafe to becoming a director at The Hoste, and developing holiday lets along the North Norfolk Coast. In the mix of her ever-changing, varied working life, she’s a very happy ‘accidental interior stylist’ too.

Here she talks to Gina Long

What’s the impact of Covid-19 and how have you adapted? 
I can remember cashing up on that Friday back in March, 2020, listening to Boris announcing that all restaurants would be closed at 6pm that evening. I was in total shock! 

But I had to literally think on my feet, I was determined not to close completely so with a handful of our team, we managed to continue to do takeaway drinks and food, we brought in more essentials so that locals did not have to use the supermarket and we drastically adapted our offering to the 

We introduced Delia, our Deli guru who would take orders, do deliveries, facetime clients so they could shop our lifestyle store, we had a packing department for our online orders …. So much changed and we learnt so much from those changes. 

Janie Thompson hard at work

Janie Thompson hard at work - Credit: Submitted

Then when the doors opened in July of that year, it was stupidly busy and so difficult to trade and serve everyone whilst keeping to the Government guidelines on social distancing. I think the hardest thing was to please everyone – our customers had a wide spectrum of views on these guidelines so inevitably we didn’t please everyone. 

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Most businesses in Norfolk have been able to take advantage of the huge influx of staycationers so in that respect we are lucky thankfully.

What is your connection to East Anglia?
I live in Hunstanton with my youngest son Archie, with my eldest son close by in Heacham. 
My family moved here from Warwickshire when I was 14 years of age – my parents moved back temporarily but then returned to Norfolk to be with me and my boys.

What is your East Anglian Heaven i.e. what do you love most about East Anglia? 
Walking on the empty beaches in the winter months is a real pleasure – the wind blows all the cobwebs away and there is no-one in sight – it is really invigorating.

Janie and family enjoying the Norfolk countryside

Janie and family enjoying the Norfolk countryside - Credit: Submitted

What is your East Anglian Hell i.e. what you hate most about living here? 
The coast road during the summer months! It is a nightmare trying to get anywhere – if it is not holidaymakers dawdling along, it is inconsiderately parked cars causing obstruction – this summer it has literally brought some villages to a standstill.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
We are extremely lucky in East Anglia to have so many stately homes and I think Houghton and Holkham Halls are particularly impressive. I like the way that both Halls have been thoughtfully commercialised – exhibitions, shows, festivals – yet still in keeping with the ambiance of these grand and stately buildings.

What’s the best thing in East Anglia every year?
Having known and worked with John Cushing for a number of years, I think the annual Thursford Spectacular is one of the iconic events to be produced in East Anglia each Christmas. 

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The work which goes into producing each spectacular is immense and John and his boys have worked tirelessly to improve each show and bring something new to our part of the world. 

For me it is the start of Christmas and one always leaves feeling lifted and truly in the Christmas spirit.

Janie enjoying some family time

Janie enjoying some family time - Credit: Submitted

What is your favourite restaurant?
Locally I enjoy Socius – I do not like large helpings and I would rather have a taster of lots of different things on the menu – Socius does this excellently and every morsel of food is just delicious! Service is excellent and Natalie is the perfect hostess.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?
Anything deli – I eat, sleep and drink this place – it is all consuming and I have learnt so much about so many different things during my time here – even how the grease trap works!!

What is always in your fridge? 
Champagne and skimmed milk! I am rarely at home and hardly eat at home but my morning Nespresso and tipple when I return home after work are a must!

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
Work hard, play hard and above all, BE KIND.

What’s your favourite film?
I absolutely love a good film! But one I seem to watch annually is The Holiday – always with my family over the Christmas break. They all lived happily ever after and I like that!

What was your first job?
My first job was as an usherette at the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton – I hated it!

Janie hard at work at The Thornham Deli

Janie hard at work at The Thornham Deli - Credit: Submitted

What is your most treasured possession?
My adorable four year old cockapoo, Margaux! My friends bought her and my youngest son presented her to me so that I wouldn’t be lonely when he went to boarding school. Simply the best surprise present ever. She sits in my office with me and follows me around the deli – she is the Deli Dog.

Who do you admire most? 
Anyone who manages the work/family balance! I don’t seem to have managed that at all well – as my two children will affirm.

What is your biggest indulgence? 
Shoes! I just can’t help myself! And when I buy them I have to wear them straight away!

What do you like about yourself most?
My relationship with my family and friends – I treasure the closeness I have with them all – I feel very blessed.

What’s your worst character trait?
I am a massive control freak – I am fiercely independent and want to do everything myself. My spreadsheet addiction is legendary! I need to learn to chill out and let other people take the helm.

Where is your favourite holiday destination? 
Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa – my friends and co-owners of the Deli both have homes there and it is simply heaven on earth. 
My ultimate destination being Ukhuni Lodge on Phinda Game Reserve – it always amazes me how quickly three hours can pass just driving around the stunning countryside looking for animals – it is simply magical.

Best day of your life?
It has to be the days both my boys were born – the love you feel when you hold your child for the first time is overwhelming. I have to say, since then though, they have given me some of the worse days of my life too!!

What’s your favourite breakfast?
Definitely homemade granola, Greek yoghurt and berries. Even when I am staying in a hotel and there is so much more on offer, I stick to the same regime.

What’s your favourite tipple?
Champagne! Sadly I do not handle my drink too well and when I overindulge I tend to turn into an acrobat – headstands being my speciality! Once I ended up with concussion and an ensuing brain scan so decided to calm things down!

What’s your hidden talent?
I can do Strictly!!! When I was 12 I was the Scottish Ballroom Champion and came 12th in the Ballroom and Latin World Championships at the Royal Albert Hall. I have never forgotten how to dance and my fondest memory is dancing a quickstep with my father atthe Tower Ballroom in Blackpool at the Conservative Conference.

What don’t our readers know about you?
I was crowned the winner of Ch4’s Four in a Bed. 

What’s your earliest memory?
I can remember being admitted to hospital for a Lumber Puncture and screaming so much they had to delay it for a day! My fear of needles lived with me until I gave birth the first time!

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I suffer terribly from motion sickness – I am a useless car passenger – hence I drive most of the time. I cannot travel on a boat or an aeroplane without taking Dramamine (now only available in the US). Simulators are a massive no no and a cruise is out of the question! 

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
There are so many and all too awful to print – that’s another story which sadly didn’t end happily ever after!

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?
My roots are here – and by that I mean my home, my family, my friends, my business – I suppose I could up sticks and move anywhere but I am not that adventurous and I really enjoy living here – the fact that people come here on holiday just shows how special it is – and I live here – how privileged am i?

What do you want to tell our readers about most?
In my position at the Deli, it is not just about running a business to make a profit, it is about taking care of our staff – our family – because without them all, there would be no Deli. 

During the course of the pandemic I have seen strong people crumble, have a moment or even just question themselves and what they are doing with their life.

The other side of my desk is sometimes like a counselling couch and all my staff know that I am always there to listen and to help. 

Having suffered in the past, I can recognise the symptoms of mental health so my message to your readers is to be conscious of how you are feeling and always talk to others about your problems.

Mental health is classless – it randomly chooses its victims – it is not a sign of weakness to admit you have a problem. Please talk to someone about it.

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