Heaven and Hell: John and Lou Jackaman
- Credit: Contributed
Dynamic couple John and Lou Jackaman are the owners of the Infusions Group of companies in Bury St Edmunds, which includes food service company Infusions, the worldwide e-commerce business Infusions4Chefs, their renowned restaurant ICE and the ICE Cook School. Gina Long speaks to them.
John explains: “Lou and I met when we were 18. I was a chef and she was a waitress. I told her shortly afterwards we would have five children, she gave me that look!
"Lou has always been the smart one while I have been the muscle (in the right way!), two halves of a circle. We worked all over East Anglia, the Channel Islands and London. We settled back in Suffolk to raise our beautiful family (five children).
"We started Infusions in 2002 with a re-mortgage on our home, a small warehouse, a borrowed van and an idea. And so the Infusions Group was born.
"Nearly 20 years later we have grown the business into a wholesaler and international website that supplies every Michelin starred restaurant in the UK as well as members of the public and restaurants all over the world.
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"In 2014 we opened our ICE Cook School offering cookery classes and exclusive dining experiences, then in 2019 we opened our restaurant ICE.
"In 2020 the Cook School and restaurant suffered a devastating fire, but have since been rebuilt.”
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What’s the impact of COVID-19 and how are you adapting?
John: I imagine the impact of COVID on Infusions, Lou and I has been much the same as many people. It started with post-apocalyptic feelings and over time has migrated into learning to live with it. As I always say, we’ve had it worse than some and better than others. Infusions has shown exceptional recovery since hospitality has been able to begin to return. This is a testimony to the remarkable people we are lucky enough to work with and their can do attitude. 2020 was an awful year for sure, but I think will be remembered as a year we were given time to reflect, appreciate and recalibrate.
Lou: The past 18 months have been extremely difficult but we are fortunate to have an amazing team around us who have flexed and adapted with every curveball that has been thrown at us.
The initial lockdown coincided with a terrible fire in one of our warehouses.
For a few months we were rather lost with the whole business forced to close overnight but we have made it through the other side, stronger than ever.
Last June we managed to find a 1964 airstream complete with wood fired pizza oven (who we lovingly called “Bessie”) to keep our chefs out of mischief while the rest of the site was off limits.
The rebuild is now finally complete, Covid delayed things massively but we now have the keys back to all buildings and its great to finally have customers back in ICE.
I spend most of my time in my “happy place” behind the bar making coffees and cocktails.
The wholesale side of the business has started to go from strength to strength so fingers crossed most of our customers have successfully navigated Covid too, it’s certainly been a challenging year for the hospitality industry but the business grants and furlough have been a lifeline to us all.
What is your connection to East Anglia?
John: I was born in Newmarket, started life in Haverhill and moved to Bury St Edmunds when I was 3. It’s where I’ve lived my whole life except for 5 years working and living on Herm Island in the Channel Islands and London.
Lou: I was born in Bury St Edmunds and lived locally until I went to college when I’d just turned 18.
After college, John and I worked in the Channel Islands for a summer season followed by several years in central London, returning to live in Bury when our eldest child was three months old.
What is your East Anglian Heaven?
John: The best thing about East Anglia is the history. Every corner is steeped in stories, many forgotten or soon will be.
Hotels in Felixstowe where foreign dignitaries used to meet and stay to Hardwick Park in Bury St Edmunds that used to be a WWII prisoner of war camp.
Every town, city or village has stories to tell.
Lou: The slower pace of life.
What is your East Anglian Hell?
John: I don’t hate anything about living in East Anglia.
There are things I wish we could change as there would be anywhere I imagine but who could hate their home.
Lou: The slower pace of life. It’s my heaven and my hell!
After living in central London for several years it was amazing to move back to a slower paced life to raise our family.
However, I miss the hustle and bustle of city life, maybe that’s the reason I tend to juggle so many things in my day to day life.
I love to go back to London as a visitor, but much prefer East Anglia as a place to live.
What is always in your fridge?
John: Soya “milk”. Like many chefs I drink way too much coffee. I wanted to reduce my calorie intake so I started using soya “milk” instead of cow’s milk.
I can’t drink coffee any other way now.
Lou: Cheese. I stopped eating meat when I was around 13, so started to eat a lot of cheese as a source of protein as in those days there were not many meat alternatives available.
What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
Lou: The Bury charity market/light switch on at Christmas – we have always gone to these as a family since our children were young and although the market isn’t the size it used to be it still signifies the start of Christmas in our house.
Our younger children love to take part in the various raffles and tombolas and come home with bags of goodies they don’t really need, but all for excellent causes.
What’s your simple philosophy of life?
John: If you are lucky enough to do well in life don’t build higher walls, build a longer table.
Lou: Follow your gut instinct; don’t dwell on your mistakes, you can’t change what has already happened but you can always learn from it; think outside the box, juggle life and face what is in front of you.
If someone tells me no I usually find a way forward!
What is your favourite restaurant?
Lou: My favourite of all time has to be El Cellar de Can Roca in Gerona where we went for my 40th birthday.
What’s your favourite film?
John: Godfather II for pure genius and Yesterday for outstanding music and being set in Suffolk.
Lou: I enjoy Quentin Tarantino films especially Pulp Fiction and my favourite family film has to be the original Toy Story.
What was your first job?
John: Paper round when I was 14, then a kitchen porter at the then Butterfly Hotel in Bury St Edmunds.
I had the pleasure of cooking for the then owner Mr Ward a few years ago at ICE.
He always treated me with total respect as a kitchen porter, a true gentleman. It was nice to be able to say thank you.
Lou: Part time waitress at Coney Weston Hall followed by various jobs in the hospitality industry.
I would recommend all young people work in hospitality at some point, it teaches you some great life skills.
What is your most treasured possession?
Lou: My five children and my husband, they all mean the world to me.
Who do you admire most?
John: Without wanting to sound clichéd those that work in the emergency services are remarkable selfless people and deserve more than just our admiration.
Lou: My children - they amaze me every day and I love to watch them grow and develop, they are generous, compassionate, energetic, creative, communicative (and often stubborn) mini versions of John and I with their own sense of direction.
What is your biggest indulgence?
John: Tattoos, it’s an addiction.
Lou: My tattoo collection and live music concerts.
I have a lot of tattoos all done by some amazing artists.
Not to everyone’s taste but I love them.
Live music is the thing I have missed the most over the past 18 months.
I have a rather eclectic taste in music but particularly enjoy live rock and metal concerts.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
John: Spain. We do a lot of business in Spain, have made good friends there and love the food, people and culture.
The awesome swimming pools and weather don’t hurt either.
Lou: I love travelling abroad and we’ve had some amazing holidays but if I had to choose one destination I think it would have to be Spain.
What’s your earliest memory?
Lou: Baking with my nan, I remember her little kitchen full of cakes, pastries and what we called squashed flies – left over pastry scraps rolled together with sugar and raisins.
Best day of your life?
John: Every day. I survived cancer, every day I have is one I never thought I would have and it is a gift.
Lou: I can’t pick one but it would have to be the birth of each of our children and our wedding day.
What’s your favourite breakfast?
John: ICE full English breakfast is, if I say so myself, a work of art.
Lou: I don’t tend to eat much breakfast, usually a smoothie and a coffee.
My favourite has right now got to be a short iced latte with coconut milk, we make an amazing one in ICE.
What’s your favourite tipple?
John: Moscow Mule made with Ciroc vanilla vodka by Lou. She’s a cocktail wizard.
Lou: I do like a nice vodka either made into a cocktail or with fresh OJ.
We have an amazing Crystal Head vodka which is great with a splash of freshy squeezed orange juice.
Tell us something people don’t know about you?
John: I would like to start my own podcast, write a book and write a song.
Lou: I cannot sing - I would love to learn how to but have no idea where to start!
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
John: “We have removed two highly aggressive tumours” A bit like Covid - although it was devastating, it was also an opportunity to reflect, appreciate and recalibrate.
Lou: You can do so much better! Fortunately, I never listened to this or my amazing life would have taken a totally different direction.
What's your hidden talent?
Lou: Juggling life! I often juggle far too much but wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?
John: One thing that people from Suffolk have in common, we are all passionate about being from Suffolk.
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
John: Infusions is not just a business, it’s more than that - it’s a family, and we’re definitely not a conventional one!
All of our team are passionate about everything we do, deeply professional and committed to throwing away bureaucracy.
Our customers are at the heart of it all and we have built great relationships with them over the years.
Three guiding principles drive us at and have since that very first day - great products, great prices and great customer service and our people are carefully selected to ensure they buy into and reflect that philosophy.
We’re really proud of what we have built and hope to welcome you sometime. For more information go to: www.infusionsgroup.com
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