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The Caterer

Better business – Elvey Farm, Kent

07 June 2011
Better business – Elvey Farm, Kent

When former journalist Jeff Moody was facing redundancy, he and his business partner Simon Peek discussed the idea of running a B&B.They bought Elvey Farm in Pluckley, Kent, and have turned it into a relaxed guesthouse.

When former journalist Jeff Moody was facing redundancy, he and his business partner Simon Peek discussed the idea of running a B&B.They bought Elvey Farm in Pluckley, Kent, and have turned it into a relaxed guesthouse

NEED TO KNOW Jeff Moody and his business partner Simon Peek bought the medieval Elvey Farm after Moody's job was threatened by a wave of redundancies at publishing company Meridian, where he was working as a journalist. He asked Peek what he should do if his name was announced the next day and they discussed the idea of running a B&B in the country.

The next day he didn't lose his job, but the idea had been planted, and within half an hour they were searching for possible properties on the internet. Elvey Farm was the first to show on the list, on the market for £1.5m. Although neither Moody nor Peek had any savings, they sold their flats in London, applied for a mortgage and bought Elvey Farm at the start of 2007 for £1.4m.

HOW DOES IT STAND OUT?

The unique, romantic setting is what makes the hotel stand out in Moody's opinion. "It's set in 75 acres of farmland with beautiful views and the buildings are so lovely. It has a very romantic feel," he says.

"There's a big old rose that climbs over the stable blocks and looks beautiful in the summer. It's lovely for country walks and pub lunches, horse riding and all those kind of things. I think we're quite unique because we're not as formal as a hotel; we're technically classed as a guesthouse. It feels very much like a family-run business."

Elvey Farm
Elvey Farm

WHO IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?

A lot of people stay on their wedding nights or come down to propose to their partners or enjoy a romantic weekend away. The Darling Buds of May was filmed in the same area so the hotel attracts guests who have watched the series and want to get a slice of the idyllic lifestyle. Elvey Farm is also close to the channel tunnel and Dover, so some people stop off on their way to the continent.

FUTURE GROWTH There are big plans for the future of Elvey Farm, as Moody explains: "We're converting an old disused Tudor granary at the moment, and we're halfway through creating two more suites, one of which will be the honeymoon suite. We also have a massive barn that will eventually be our wedding venue, housing a larger restaurant and our offices as well.

"There's a remarakable and very well-preserved medieval house that was built in 1406 and has never been converted so we want to create another five high-end rooms. Eventually we should have 16 rooms, a large wedding venue, a larger restaurant and some conference and meeting rooms as well. We're hoping to start converting the main house in September, then the wedding venue a year after that."

FAVOURITE SUPPLIER Moody's favourite supplier is Biddenden Vineyard in Kent. "We're very pernickety that everything has to be locally sourced and in season, and we reflect that with our wine list," he explains.

"When we first came here people were quite sniffy, saying they don't drink Kentish wines, but after you persuade people to try them they love them. It feels good to be growing the grapes on the doorstep about five miles away from here and they're a family-run business that we've become friendly with," he says.

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE The best piece of business advice that Moody can offer is to look after cashflow. "That was the thing that I didn't really appreciate until we started. I'm very proud to say I haven't bounced a single cheque in five years but I've come very close.

"At the beginning it's an absolute nightmare. There are times of the year when you look at profit and loss and you say gosh, we've made a nice amount of money this month but you ask where it is because it's all tied up in other areas," he says.

Spotlight on the staff
Peek and Moody work hard to create a family atmosphere for their staff, paying above the odds to encourage them to stay. They listen to their problems, are very friendly with them, and everyone works as a team. As a result very few people leave.

"We're like a mad, dysfunctional family," Moody explains. "There's the housekeeper who is everyone's surrogate mum, and the ‘young son' who was a kitchen porter and has been promoted to second chef. We put him through training and helped him get his qualifications.

"The other day Simon and I said: ‘right, we'll probably stay another seven years and then it will be time to move on', and all of our staff said ‘OK, we'll stay here the same amount of time'. I thought that was lovely. It's almost unheard of these days and it really touched me.

"It's such a hard job at the best of times - the hours are long and it can be quite thankless - so it's really important to both me and Simon that the staff enjoy what they're doing and there is a nice atmosphere at work."

jeff moody's revelations
Favourite hotel The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand
Favourite restaurant Hibiscus
What book has inspired you? Inn Keeping With Mr Fawlty by Andy Hageman
Motto I'll do it after I've had a coffee
If you weren't a hotelier, what would you have been? A reporter
Which hotelier do you most admire? Nick Jones, Babbington House
Describe your business in five words Friendly, relaxed, welcoming, unique, evolving

FACTS AND STATS
Owners/GMS
Jeff Moody and Simon Peek
Average weekly occupancy 75%
Head chef Tony Lemaitre
Standard double room £110 (Honeymoon suite £275)
Staff 8 full time, 12 part time
Rooms 9 (11 when the Granary opens)

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