Better business: the White Horse hotel

06 March 2014
Better business: the White Horse hotel

WHITE HORSE HOTEL, BRANCASTER STAITHE, NORTH NORFOLKGood Hotel Guide 2014 Cesar Award winner

FACTS AND STATS
Owner The Nye family
Average weekly occupancy rate 89%
Average covers per week 1,000
Average cost of two-course meal £19
Staff 45
Room rate per night £130

This tranquil hotel inn located in the heart of the countryside draws visitors year round and can boast of having its suppliers quite literally on its doorstep, says Aaron Morby.

Background
The White Horse is a village hotel inn located in a designated area of outstanding beauty on the marshland coastline of North Norfolk at Brancaster Staithe.

It has been run by the Nye family since 1996. During this time, entrepreneur Cliff Nye and son James have steadily developed the 1930s local pub into a thriving hotel, bar and popular restaurant.

The White Horse has been extensively modernised and now boasts 15 en suite rooms, many with stunning views to Scolt Head Island and the sea beyond, and serves a wide selection of local seafood for guests.

Target audience
Business is strongly seasonal and counts on families visiting the coast for a day or week in high season. Off-season, ‘grey pound' guests, along with a steady stream of golfers, sailors and bird watchers, keep things busy.

James Nye, the 37-year-old managing director, describes the region as a goldmine of a hospitality location with good local suppliers and beautiful countryside.

The White Horse also offers eight dog-friendly rooms. "We find our welcoming approach has opened the door to many more people who see their dog as part of the family," he explains.

With a two-hour driving catchment covering the Midlands, Leicestershire and Essex, in the winter months the restaurant attracts people looking for a seafood dining experience.

The business has not forgotten its roots. Its scrubbed pine furnished open-plan pub is popular with the locals, and serves a wide selection of bar food until 9pm.

Management
Nye runs a team of 30 staff, which he admits is a big overhead for his strongly seasonal trade. "It gives staff the opportunity to settle in our area and fits with our belief in having a strong core team. We may take a bit of a hit in the winter, but in the summer, when things are frantically busy, we are not under such pressure to find good people. From the big picture perspective, this makes much more sense than fighting for every penny, every day."

Nye maintains that in such a competitive hospitality region, the quality of the White Horse's team sets its apart from the rest.
He also believes that being positive at all times is crucial to the success of the business. "It goes a long way in the summer when it
is hectic, and helps to motivate people in the winter when things are slower."

Performance The White Horse counts on turning over £40,000 a week on average, rising to more than £65,000 in the summer. Food accounts for around half the takings, with drink bringing in 30% more.

The balance comes from the seven modern en suite rooms within the inn. A further eight rooms at ground floor level were later additions that were architecturally designed with grass and sedum roofing to blend in with the marshland beyond. These offer easy access to the Norfolk coastal path and are popular with walkers.

Food
The White Horse's conservatory restaurant and large raised deck terrace are big assets. Head chef Avrum Frankel and his team of seven have also turned it into a great place to eat local seafood and produce. Depending on the season, mussels, Cromer crab, lobster, Brancaster oysters, shrimp, sea bass, mackerel and sea trout can be found on the menu. Asparagus is grown in beds across the road and samphire is gathered from the salt marsh.

The food is cooked simply with skill and culinary flair, which has helped the restaurant win two AA rosettes for the past four years. Its roomy restaurant has 100 covers with 50 more on the terrace. During the summer, the busy kitchen will serve around 200 for lunch and 100 for dinner.

A separate purpose-built kitchen was added four years ago and is housed in the outdoor garden. This serves breakfast from 9am until 11am and, on a busy day, can cater for as many as 70 people.

Nye says: "The satellite kitchen really transformed things and allows us to feed a high volume of people between 3pm and 6pm, which has really boosted trade. We have seen real growth in catering for people when they want to eat. Since doing this three years ago trade has risen by 25%."

Suppliers
As well as panoramic views across the marsh, diners can watch local fishermen deliver to the door or study Nye's favourite suppliers while they work.

"Our local mussel men, Cyril and Ben, grow and harvest mussels literally at the bottom of our garden. They are great to have and really bring home how fresh our food is."

At the end of the day, diners gather on the terrace, which was once voted one of the eight best places in the UK to watch a sunset, and has helped to put the White Horse firmly on the map as a retreat to relax, eat local seafood and get away from it all.


JAMES NYE'S REVELATIONS
Favourite hotel The Talbot Inn, Mells, Somerset
Favourite restaurant Social Eating House, London
Favourite book The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters
If you weren't a hotel owner, what would you have been? An architect
Who do you most admire in the industry? Nick Jones, Soho House
Describe your business in five words Real, fun, happy, foodie people


SPOTLIGHT ON ANGLIAN COUNTRY INNS

Cliff Nye, chairman of Anglian Country Inns, started out with a local pub, the Lobster, 17 years ago, after selling his aerospace factory.

Now the renamed White Horse is the flagship of his family-run hospitality business, which includes two other pubs, a microbrewery and a restaurant in Hitchin.

Nye bought the Fox at Willain 10 years ago to create an award-winning pub and fine-dining restaurant, located in a picturesque village near Letchworth in north Hertfordshire.

The Nye family also took the leasehold of the Jolly Sailors, a small 18th-century free house village pub close to the White Horse. They concentrated on returning it to its former glory and reinstated the micro-brewery. They produce real ale from the local Maris Otter barley, grown at Wells-next-the-Sea, and sell the ale at the businesses.

Just over two years ago, Cliff opened Hermitage Road Bar and Restaurant with a theatre-style kitchen in Hitchin, which went down a storm with the locals. Now he has set his sights on a similar brasserie, Water Lane, on Bishop's Stortford high street.

Anglian Country Inns turns over around £6.5m a year and employs between 150 and 200 staff in the region.

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