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Snow scenes and show schemes

The Ronsons have achieved one major objective – to get the majority of bedrooms refurbished by 19 February, the date of Caterer’s open day.

Response to the classified advert run in Caterer at the beginning of the month has been excellent. Portfolio’s Lesley Reynolds has shortlisted 12 candidates for first interviews next month.

Paula Ronson has been largely out of action following an operation and the kitchen was one chef down for over six weeks.

And then there was the snow…

Winter officially hit Wales in February. But amid all the weather warnings and the “6ft drifts in places” forecasts, the Nant Ddu found a little consolation and some much-needed revenue for the month.

It came in the form of a brigade of six Sky News journalists. “They were after a ‘snow’ story,” said Jill Ronson, “and for some reason were particularly keen to film stranded cows.” She had to explain that the Brecon Beacons were a bit thin on cows – but that sheep wouldn’t be a problem. Whether they got the footage they wanted is unconfirmed “but they did take six rooms at full rack rate, and they all ate in the bar”, said Jill.

A second unexpected bonus was the 12 room nights booked to BT engineers who were repairing broken lines near the hotel. This revenue was welcome, because the snow was causing business to slow. Hotel residents that braved the elements were looked after by a skeleton staff, some of whom slept over, while others were bussed in by Raymond, the hotel’s handyman, using Daniel’s four-wheel drive.

But when it came to sourcing some new equipment for the hotel at Hotelympia, Daniel, Jill and chef John McAneney were not going to be put off by the weather. They had two major purchasing decisions to make, and they hoped to see exactly want they wanted.

Having decided to change the hotel’s restaurant into a bistro, the family’s first stop was the interiors section of the show to look at new tables and chairs. Andrew Shipley, the hotel’s interior design consultant, had already done much of the legwork, and had narrowed the Ronson’s choice down to three potential companies.

He met Daniel and his father on one of the stands, and took them through the possibilities. A “distressed” look was favoured over two or three other styles. After some debate, the team plumped for a range of chairs from Country Seat, together with 16 tables.

The initial purchasing decision wasn’t hard – the price, style and quality were right – but delivery before the projected re-opening of the restaurant as a bistro (Mothering Sunday, 17 March) wasn’t feasible.

A compromise was reached – Country Seat agreed to loan a set of furniture to the hotel until the Ronsons’s order was made up by the end of March.

Item number two was a new chargrill, which had to get McAneney’s seal of approval. Falcon’s new top-of-the-range model fitted the bill. “I was impressed by the fact that it kept the chef cool when it was demonstrated to us,” said McAneney. “Also, it seemed to be maintenance-free and easy to keep clean.”

Delivery on the new grill is imminent, and John will have his work cut out demonstrating it to his team of kitchen staff – which is now complete.

The newest recruit to the team (as of 17 Feburary) is John Derby. Tall and pony-tailed, John contacted the Nant Ddu on the off-chance of a job at the end of January.

His girlfriend had moved back to Merthyr Tydfil to be near her parents, and he was looking to move from Leicester to somewhere nearby.

“We were lucky to find him,” said Jill. “As well as the fact that he came from an operation similar to ours, he fitted our criterion… we knew that he would fit in well with everyone here.”

Derby had already trained as a commis and had been promoted to sous chef by his last employer – the Whipper-In, a three-star, AA-rosetted establishment at Oakham, Leicester.

The Ronsons are especially pleased because, apart from a much-needed extra body in the kitchen, his presence will free McAneney to concentrate on planning and training. This is particularly pertinent with the restaurant changes.

“Now our only problem is two Johns in the kitchen – we immediately get a double response when we call the name,” said Jill.

Open day

Thirty-five hoteliers, restaurateurs, catering managers and would-be owners came from across the country to the hotel’s open day.

In the hot seat were the Ronson family, Lesley Reynolds from Portfolio International and Andrew Shipley from ADI Interior Design.

Daniel opened the event by explaining how the family had got into the business, then handed over to Lesley who spoke about the benefits even a small business can gain from letting a trained outsider help in the recruiting process.

Despite time constraints (lunch was fast becoming tea as the visitors’ questions challenged the tight schedule), Andrew Shipley gave a speech on designing to a budget, which went down particularly well.

Before he spoke he was able to show visitors “design in action” with the recently finished bedrooms and corridors in the hotel.

To an impressed gathering, he then used an array of props to demonstrate how cheap paint techniques could make a significant difference to a room. But his main message was that using an interior designer wasn’t automatically the expensive option generally assumed.

“In fact,” he said, “my fee is often more than covered by the money that I save the client by getting bulk orders and taking charge of all aspects of the design process.”

And this statement did not have to be taken at face value by the audience as Daniel was more than happy to agree. He had calculated that he had saved a substantial amount of money by employing Andrew – and, furthermore, had avoided problems generally associated with dealing with builders.

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