Karen Chats to Jennie McAlpine
by Karen Shaw
Family, Food… with a Baby and a Business
Avid Coronation Street viewers have seen Fiz played by Jennie McAlpine blossom over her 14 years on the cobbles. Her first appearance on the Street came as a rather troubled 16-year-old fostered by the Croppers and in the years to follow this lass has been ‘through the mill.’ We’ve seen her give birth three months prematurely, have endless arguments with her mother Cilla and marry a serial killer. I’m pleased to learn when I catch up with her that her life in the soap holds no resemblance to that of her off screen life; things couldn’t be more different.
Not only does she continue to work on Corrie but she also manages to run a successful restaurant and tea shop, Annies, based in Manchester. And if that wasn’t enough, she recently gave birth to her first child Albert and is now acting, serving and nappy-changing – not at the same time, I hasten to add!
I feel like I know her already, not from the fact that I am an avid viewer of Coronation Street, but we have more in common than I could ever imagine. Like me, Jennie has a partner called Chris, runs a family business, loves Lancashire hot-pot and has crazy red hair.
Jennie is a natural redhead, and has been taunted for the colour of her locks. “I’m ginger and proud,” she laughs. “And unique!”
It’s difficult to say if little Albert will inherit his mum’s fiery locks. “It’s hard to tell at the moment. He hasn’t got much hair! But people are very much hoping he is, many folk have mentioned that they would like him to join me in Coronation Street and be Fizz’s son.”
Natural redheads are rare, and one of the most famous ones who happen to have a striking resemblance to Jennie is ‘little orphan Annie’, but if that’s where you think the restaurant’s name is derived from …you’d be wrong.
“Annie’s name comes from our location; we’re just off St Ann’s Square in Manchester. The name attracts a lot of attention. For many it conjures up the feeling of warmth, comfort and friendliness.
“There was an ‘Annie’ who could be said to have started our story. She was Annie Mosley from neighbouring Ancoats who married the Baron Sir John Bland in the late 17th century to become Lady Ann Bland.
“She built St Ann’s Church in Acresfield but left enough space for its traditional markets to continue to be held. The market in what is now St Ann’s Square, was known locally as Annie’s Market.
“We wanted a name that would reflect our ambition to create somewhere that felt like visiting your favourite aunty, a place you would be guaranteed a warm welcome and good old fashioned tasty food.”
As the saying goes: ‘The kitchen is the heart of the home’, and it’s clear to see that Jennie agrees wholeheartedly with this sentiment.
Forget ‘poncey’ food with an overpriced morsel on a big white plate, Annies is like visiting your favourite auntie’s house; it offers diners a real sense of well-being and cheer. Like Jennie, its food has a sincere honesty about it.
“It’s good, old fashioned, tasty grub,” she adds. “Customers bring teddy bears in for Albert. They do feel part of our family, which is great. We’re not a chain, we’re not a corporate organisation, we’re a genuine family business. People are surprised to find that in a city. We wanted to open a family business that was always our aim.”
Jennie claims that her partner Chris Farr is the ‘brains of the outfit’ and chuckles as she describes herself as being ‘the beauty’. She readily admits that her partner Chris is a calming influence on her which helps considering she has a fiery temper, but then she is a redhead.
She goes on to say: “My dad and Chris’s parents are a big part of it and since the arrival of Albert, the family’s grown. We’re thrilled that as well as being a family business Annies attracts a lot of families too; it’s a place that attracts people from all generations, from the oldest to the youngest!
“I love working in the hospitality business, I love meeting the customers and making them smile. Before I made it into Coronation Street I was a waitress, but to be honest, I was a useless waitress. I regularly used to drop food on to people’s laps, but I also followed it up with a smile!”
“Annies is a place that we can go to celebrate. For Albert we had a baby party, and instead of gifts for Albert (which he’s been spoilt with), we asked that people donate to the neo-natal unit at St Mary’s.”
When Jennie’s not feeding Albert or treading the cobbles, she can be found working alongside her partner Chris at Annies. For most folk, this would be a complete nightmare, but not for Jennie.
“We get on well, and didn’t do it on a whim. We’ve been together a while and we felt ready for it. We knew what we were taking on running a restaurant. We complement each other well.
Jennie with partner Chris “When I was pregnant I spent a lot of time at Annie’s and our customers have seen my bump continue to grow. When he was born they were dying to meet him and since his birth Albert has been inundated with teddy bears!”
It’s at this point I ask if she’s ever considered holding a teddy bear’s picnic at Annies. She squeals: “What a great idea, think I’ll try that out!”
Her favourite dish on the menu is the good old traditional Lancashire hot-pot, “There’s not much room for improvement with that dish. It’s such a popular dish, so there’s no need to put a modern type twist on it.”
When I ask her if Annie’s hot-pot is better than Betty’s hot pot, she pauses. “Ermmm, the answer to that is no. However, it comes a very, very, close second! I wouldn’t dare say ours is better. Betty’s hot pot has a secret ingredient.”
Another hugely popular dish is good old fish and chips, with fish from Fleetwood.
It’s clear that Jennie is a real believer in keeping things local; so much so that the strawberries contained in their home made jam are grown by the couple in Lancashire.
“Being a small business, means that we can respond quicker to what our customers want,” says Jennie. “So many folk asked us if they could buy our jams and chutneys, so we ended up bottling them and sell them in the restaurant and on-line. Coronation Street has a big Canadian following; so many a time when they come on a pilgrimage to the cobbles of Corrie, they will also come for tea at Annies!”
Apart from her family, food and Corrie, Jennie adores the world of comedy, so much so that in 1997 when she was 13 she performed stand-up at The Comedy Store in London and came second in the Young Comedian of the Year.
“My dad is a very funny man and so was his father before him.”
From the age of two Jennie was taught how to tell a joke and deliver a punchline. “I would tell jokes when I didn’t have a clue what they meant. It’s all about the rhythm.”
So when I asked if she’d ever considered an evening of ‘Comedy and Crumpets’, the last thing I expected was a job offer!
Who are you?” she asks and “What are you doing Monday to Friday?”
Looks like I could have another job on the go here. I can’t imagine anything better than working with Jennie promoting her Manchester restaurant, I’d obviously need to sample everything on the menu… on second thoughts I’d probably end up the size of a house, so it’s probably better I stay put at Loop HQ and continue with my diet!
“Would you mind if I steal that idea?” asks Jennie. “Steal away!” I answer.
Jennie already has plans to host an event at Annies. “The restaurant is very theatrical, and lends would lend itself well to a comedy/cabaret evening in aid of the charity Moodswings. Justin Moorhouse will be there and I’ll drag a few friends from Corrie who can hold a tune, that’s definitely in the pipeline.”
An avid fan of Coronation Street, I immediately ask if I can attend.
“Of course, come down,” laughs Jennie, “but if you see a poster for a night of ‘Comedy and Crumpets’, please don’t charge me for the idea!”
As long as I get a free crumpet, Jennie!”