Service with a smile 21 February 2020 Tom Kemble of the Pass at South Lodge cooks up a pumpkin masterclass and shares why it’s important for chefs to meet their customers
In this week's issue...Service with a smile Tom Kemble of the Pass at South Lodge cooks up a pumpkin masterclass and shares why it’s important for chefs to meet their customers
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Julie Camm – My Life in Hospitality

Julie Camm – My Life in Hospitality

Julie Camm is the owner of Alveston House hotel, near Bristol.

Julie Camm's plans to become a PE teacher were scuppered when she took a part-time job at Alveston House hotel in Thornbury, near Bristol. After a summer spent potwashing and working as a chambermaid she left for college, only to return to the hotel seven weeks later.

"I loved the work and the people. When I went to college I missed the variety of the hotel, where two days were never the same," she explains.

In an effort to ensure her decision was responsible, Camm's father told her that she must work at the hotel for at least the three years she would have spent in further education. Some 32 years later she's still there, but as the owner.

When she first became a full-time employee, Camm diligently plugged away and quickly became familiar with every aspect of the hotel, assuming the role of "general dogsbody". She says: "I was doing 90 hours a week for 60p an hour, and I loved it from day one."

However, when Michael Bland bought Alveston House in 1980 Camm found herself a mentor. "He gave me a huge amount of training," she explains. "He was such a perfectionist and I owe a huge amount to him."

They worked together for 18 years before Bland decided it was time to move on, and Camm found herself at a crossroads. "I realised that either I had to buy the hotel or find another job," she says. "But I couldn't see a life for myself outside the hotel and I didn't see it as going to work."

With support from Bland and her mother, she arranged a management buyout. Having never before needed to borrow money, Camm managed to persuade the bank that the business had significant potential and secured a loan large enough to complete the purchase in 1998.

HIGHS… Camm received a massive boost to her confidence as she quickly achieved success as a hotel owner. "I was hugely lucky in that my second year was a bumper year. All areas of the business were strong," she explains. "But things tend to go in cycles. I think to do it now would be a very different story."

The hotel has gone on to receive wide recognition with its restaurant, Carriages, having been awarded an AA rosette and given a quality score of 80%. More recently, Alveston House was named Best Small Hotel of the Year in the Bristol Hospitality Awards, which means the team will automatically represent Bristol in the South West Tourism Excellence Awards later this year.

Despite the time and effort that goes into successfully running a hotel, Camm has developed a strong team that allows her time to pursue her other passion: carriage driving. In 2003 she represented Team GB in Austria and in 2007 took the gold medal.

"My team and I train so hard, and it was a fantastic feeling to see it all come together," she says. "I see no difference between the ponies and work. It all comes down to attention to detail and planning."

LOWS… Just before buying the hotel Camm suffered a crisis of confidence and was daunted by the big step she was taking. When she took independent advice she was told by four different accountants that she was buying at the top of the market and warned that any plans to expand would be difficult to implement. However, the fifth accountant went through a lot of "what if" scenarios with Camm and found the purchase to be a sound investment.

When the hotel was broken into one Christmas morning, Camm took it personally. She says: "It was like they'd broken into my home."

Family Five ponies, one dog
Age 49
Favourite holiday Ischel, Austria
Drives Toyota Avensis and 18-tonne Iveco lorry
Motto Have a strong vision and work towards it

RECESSION-BUSTING TIP

Keep focused - don't drop standards or prices. Instead, add value and quality for your existing customers rather than spend huge amounts on marketing.

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