Robin Sheppard is managing director of Bespoke Hotels, which is launching the New Ellington Hotel in Leeds next month. He has been a restaurateur and retailer in his career, and general manager of the Bath Spa Hotel and Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds.
I set up Bespoke ten years ago because I believed there’d be a backlash against brands. I hate the homogenisation we’ve seen on the high street. Bespoke is about delivering the scaffolding required to run a hotel group but in a low-key way. That’s why you won’t ever see our name on hotels that we run.
The Ellington was a laudable concept but the timing, with the recession, was sad. We’ve freshened up the hotel interior and will relaunch with a lively, funky and cheaper restaurant than what was there before, as we aim for it to be a repeat, not treat, destination for diners in Leeds.
I started my career as a graduate with British Transport Hotels. I was living in with 15 girls at Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel for three months before I was sent to the Old Course Hotel at St Andrews. As you’d imagine I wasn’t too keen on leaving.
In 1988 I launched a mineral water called Ty Nant, and you see it on US shows like Frazier and Damages in a deep blue bottle.
I was part of the team that launched Aqua in Bristol. We opened it as a 150-cover brasserie but having been working in cosseted Bath it was a bit of a shock to be in a ‘real’ city. I think we were too focused in the first year on details and the food, which wasn’t right for the local market.
At Christmas in 2004 I was suddenly struck down by a rare genetic condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and was in intensive care for seven months. I was left paralysed and although I slowly made a recovery doing the most banal of things such as brushing my teeth became a huge personal triumph. I wrote a book called A Solitary Confinement about my experiences to raise awareness.
One of our hotels hosted its first team building day in two years recently, but I think things will improve once people know how bad the ‘medicine’ the government is about to give us is.
I think it’ll be March or so of next year before the hotel industry can start to feel good about itself.
The art of the hotelier is to anticipate what your guest want and make them feel great. I learnt that from Douglas Barrington at Historic House Hotels.
We’ve tried to reinvent the hotel bedroom at our Bermondsey Square Hotel by cutting the corner off each room, and getting rid of the entrance corridor to make the best use of space. Each room has a shower pod but no bath and the bed, large work desk and TV are set at an angle (as the room isn’t a box shape) making a small space feel much bigger.
We’re going to keep with running luxury hotels of 60 to 80 bedrooms as it’s fertile ground for us because the major players are only interested in properties larger than this and a hotel with fewer rooms doesn’t need us.