Abode Hotels was launched in 2005. Two years on, food and beverage director and two-Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines and managing director Nick Halliday gave Kerstin Kühn an update on how the group is developing
The seeds of Abode Hotels were planted in 2003, when chef Michael Caines teamed up with greetings card millionaire Andrew Brownsword to realise his long-frustrated dream of buying the Royal Clarence hotel in Exeter, where he had been food and beverage director since 1999.
The idea was to raise the bedrooms to the same standard as the Michael Caines restaurant at the property. The result was the launch of the first Abode hotel, in September 2005.
Abode aims to rival niche boutique operators such as Hotel Du Vin and Malmaison with affordable, homely, luxury accommodation coupled with a mix of Caines's restaurant concepts.
The group set out with a plan to open 15 hotels within the next 10 to 15 years and the first phase of this strategy was swiftly put into action: within three months of opening in Exeter, Abode had taken on a second property, in Glasgow. A third hotel, in Canterbury, followed a year later (in September 2006) and will be joined by a fourth hotel, in Manchester, next year.
Abode has in fact been running the Rossetti hotel in Manchester since April 2006, but the property will be closed next month for a full rebrand and refurbishment, with a view to reopening as Abode Manchester in the spring.
Managing director Nick Halliday explained: "Like all our hotels, it will be tailored to the local market and will offer all of our room concepts, including the ‘comfortable', ‘desirable', ‘enviable' and ‘fabulous' rooms, as well as the Oscar concierge/butler service and the Michael Caines dining concepts."
These concepts comprise the fine-dining Michael Caines Restaurants and Champagne Bars, the informal MC Café Bars, the Michael Caines Tavern, the Vibe Bars and the gourmet take-away MC Boutiques.
Caines, food and beverage director at Abode, continues to work as head chef at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant at Gidleigh Park country house hotel in Chagford, Devon, and was recently named the AA's Chef of the Year.
So it's not surprising to hear that he has Michelin-star aspirations for the Abode restaurants, but he emphasised that overall aim is to keep things simple.
"Fine dining doesn't have to be about white tablecloths and dining in a stuffy environment. Great quality food should be available to everyone," Caines said.
"The aim of the Michael Caines restaurants is to avoid pretentiousness and we want to adapt them to the cities they are in and offer guests exactly what they feel comfortable with."
A case in point is a fifth Abode hotel in Chester that is being built at the moment with a view to open in spring 2009. It is the company's first new-build property and will comprise an 83-bedroom hotel set over five floors of a mixed-use development on the site of the city's old police headquarters.
Caines said that the aim was for the hotel to become an integral part of the community and that it would be tailored to meet customers' exact needs.
According to Halliday, building a property from scratch has proved easier than acquiring and refurbishing existing hotels, particularly as finding the right type of property can be a challenge.
"There seems to be a lot of demand for the kind of properties that we are after and it can be difficult to find the right type of hotel at the right price," he said. "But we are forging ahead, our expansion plans are on track and we're not desperate for development as we don't want to rush anything."
Two more deals?
Halliday said that Abode was currently awaiting planning permission on two further properties that will take its portfolio to seven hotels but declined to reveal more details. "An announcement is likely to be made early next year," was all he could say.
A hotel in London is a definite target for Abode but the right kind of property had to come along for the group to make the move into the capital, Halliday added. "Taking over an existing small hotel company to boost our expansion could also be on the cards," he revealed.
This relatively cautious approach neatly highlights what Abode is all about: quality rather than quantity. Halliday and Caines wouldn't have it any other way.
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Nick Halliday (left) and Michael Caines are looking to expand the Abode chain, but they're putting quality ahead of quantity
Exeter, opened September 2005 with 53 bedrooms
Glasgow, opened December 2005 with 60 bedrooms
Canterbury, opened September 2006 with 72 bedrooms
Manchester, opening April 2007 with 61 bedrooms
Chester, opening spring 2009 with 83 bedrooms