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At a time when most operators are sitting back and enjoying the fruits of a lengthy career, Ken McCulloch is as busy as ever. In fact, last summer, it was announced that Dakota – the second major portfolio of hotels he has founded – is set to expand rapidly across the UK.
McCulloch has made an indelible mark on the British hotel scene, initially with the launch in 1986 of One Devonshire Gardens (now owned by Hotel du Vin) in his home city of Glasgow and then through the creation of Malmaison and Dakota. Each hotel along the way has been visionary for its time, creating a legion of enthusiastic fans.
Born in 1948, McCulloch spent his formative years immersed in the highly regarded training programme of the long-gone British Transport Hotels group. He dabbled in the Glasgow restaurant scene, founding La Bonne Auberge, Charlie Parker’s and the Granary, and transforming the Buttery and Rogano establishments, before taking his first step into hotel ownership with One Devonshire Gardens.
At a time when the competition was bland and architects had more sway than designers, the look of One Devonshire Gardens – created by McCulloch and Amanda Rosa, who was later to become his wife – blew everyone away. The hotel’s flamboyant and luxurious decor was distinct and exciting, helping it to become established on the global stage as a bolthole for the rich and famous, who were attracted by its discreet address and individuality. The creation of the hotel, at which the late Andrew Fairlie was head chef, resulted in McCulloch being named Hotelier of the Year in 1993.
McCulloch opened the first Malmaison hotel in 1994 in a former church building, also in Glasgow, having bought the Malmaison name for £100. While aiming for the same standards as One Devonshire Gardens, Malmaison operated at a lower price point. There was little money for design, resulting in what for the time was an innovative decorative scheme with stair carpet created from offcuts. “You have to be bold when you have no money,” McCulloch told The Caterer. “Subtlety is more expensive.”
In 1998, Malmaison, which by then had grown to five hotels, was sold to US company Patriot Group. Two years later, now living in Monaco, McCulloch created the Columbus hotel in the principality, with funding from former F1 racing driver David Coulthard and American investor Peter Morris. Coulthard also invested in the first Dakota hotel in Nottingham in 2004. Columbus and the Nottingham Dakota were sold in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
McCulloch got involved in launching the Aviator hotel for TAG Aviation at Farnborough airport and Brooklands hotel in Weybridge, Surrey, before hitting his stride again with the expansion of the Dakota chain, in partnership with Evans Property Group, from 2006. Dakota hotels in Edinburgh and Eurocentral, Glasgow were followed by a deluxe version of the brand in response to the enhanced expectations of guests in Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester.
McCulloch’s attention to detail is legendary in ensuring the aesthetics in every hotel are just right, and that service is great – which he achieves simply by “employing nice people”.
For his enduring contribution to creating exciting and inspirational hotels, and for provided a learning ground for a whole legion of operators, McCulloch is a true hospitality legend who is an outstanding recipient of this year’s Special Award.
The editorial team of The Caterer, with nominations from all the Cateys’ judging panels