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When Jonathan Slater announced that he was stepping down as managing director of the five-AA-star, 80-bedroom Chester Grosvenor hotel in March 2015 after more than 30 years in the role, it was widely assumed that retirement beckoned. He had, after all, turned 60 the previous year and had enjoyed a successful career overseeing one of the North West’s most iconic hotels for a considerable time. Surely it was time for a rest?
But no, Slater has since gone on to head up Oddfellows, a boutique hotel business which in 2015 had one 18-bedroom property in Chester. A second, the 22-bedroom Oddfellows in the Park, has since opened in Cheadle, Greater Manchester, and there are more on the horizon.
Slater began his career at Centre Hotels with the late hotel industry pioneer Henry Edwards, before moving to Lonrho in 1977 and working for its Metropole Hotels group in Birmingham and Brighton. He arrived at the Chester Grosvenor in 1983 – initially as a 28-year-old hotel manager – before being promoted to managing director 18 months later.
During his tenure, he oversaw the transformation of the hotel from a four-AA-star rating to a five-red-AA-star, with two substantial refurbishments, including a £15m renovation in 1987 that involved a four and a half month closure.
Thereafter, the hotel – owned by the Duke of Westminster – received continual investment to ensure that it would never have to close again.
Slater always put the success of the Chester Grosvenor down to his team, many who were long-serving. In 2013 he told The Caterer: “Millions of pounds can be spent on creating a wonderful-looking building, but it is bullshit to say it will make an iconic hotel. It won’t – only the people can do that.”
While always focused on improving the Chester Grosvenor, Slater also played an active role in the wider hospitality and tourism industries – both locally and further field. He contributed for many years to the promotion of both the city of Chester and the county of Cheshire as a board member of their respective marketing organisations, for which he was recognised with an honorary business degree from the University of Chester in 2017.
Meanwhile, on the global stage, he was a founder-director of the marketing consortium of Small Hotels of the World and sat on the board for 21 years, including nine as chairman.
Accolades came thick and fast, including those for Manager of the Year at the 2002 Cateys and Outstanding Achievement at the Chester Food and Drink Festival in 2010.
A Master Innholder for 15 years, Slater is now as busy as ever in growing the Oddfellows portfolio. The design of each hotel is idiosyncratic and whimsical and inspired by the building in which it sits – Slater has no intention of creating a cookie-cutter brand. For example, the Chester hotel was once the meeting place HOtel of a society of misfits, consisting of artists and writers who called themselves the Independent Order of Oddfellows, while the Cheadle hotel is located in a Gothic Revival-style building.
Chris Gamm, editor of The Caterer, said: “Having ensured that the Chester Grosvenor was at the top of its game for many years, Slater is now successfully using his expertise and extensive experience in creating a very different hotel proposition.
“Jonathan should also be applauded for having played an ongoing role in promoting the location where he lives and works as well as driving forward the expansion of Small Hotels of the World. We are now looking forward to seeing how the latest, exciting chapter in the career of this exceptional hotelier plays out.”