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The Caterer

The lap of luxury

30 June 2005
The lap of luxury

There are now just six weeks to go before the Club Hotel & Spa in St Helier, Jersey, opens its doors, and despite a nasty dose of flu, owner Lawrence Huggler is upbeat about the launch.

"It's extremely nerve-racking, but it's also hugely exciting," says the 28-year-old former racing driver. "The bedrooms and bathrooms are pretty much finished now, and it's very encouraging when you see all the details falling into place. There are still some niggling problems to sort, but that's to be expected on a project like this."

The project is a four-storey, 1970s building, just off one of St Helier's main shopping streets, which Huggler has spent the last two years transforming from a midmarket 54-bedroom hotel into an upmarket boutique property with 38 bedrooms and eight suites, as well a luxury spa.

o complete the Club Hotel & Spa's offer, Jersey's only Michelin-starred restaurant, Bohemia, which Huggler opened in April 2003, is on the ground floor of the hotel.

"At the moment, Jersey has a very poor offer in terms of decent spas and contemporary hotels," Huggler explains. "I'm aiming to change that. I'm confident the Club will attract a new lifestyle market to the island." He envisages an even split between corporate guests, made up mainly by those connected to Jersey's finance sector, and a well-heeled leisure market. With St Helier served by two direct flights from Paris and Dinard in France, and St Malo just one hour away by ferry, he also hopes to attract a sizeable number of French tourists too.

Unlike most new businesses, finances have been relatively straightforward. The freehold to the site was already owned by the Huggler Group, the St Helier-based family printing and property business, which also owns the nearby three-star Apollo hotel, so there were no irksome negotiations to handle.

Instead, the focus has been on redevelopment of the existing site. Huggler estimates the total cost to be 7m, funded wholly by the Huggler Group. In year two, turnover is predicted to be more than 3m, with Huggler looking to achieve a gross operating profit of between 750,000 and 850,000.

In the meantime, no expense has been spared on the Club Hotel & Spa. As well as gutting the building and redesigning the interior to create roomier guest bedrooms, three suites and more spacious public areas, two meeting rooms have been added, as well as the spa, complete with four treatment rooms and a salt cabin, steam room and salt-water pool.

The finish is high-spec, too. Bedrooms, which start at 195 a night going up to 375 for a master suite, feature smart leather and dark walnut fittings, and each is equipped with widescreen TV, Wi-Fi access and DVD and CD players. Every bit of furniture is bespoke and has been meticulously planned, from the chaise longues - which Huggler had specially lowered by just 3cm to make them more comfortable - through to the minibars.

A glass-roofed restaurant, the Orangery, with its own kitchen, will add to Bohemia's F&B offer.

The going hasn't been entirely smooth, though. Asbestos had to be removed from the downstairs boiler room, costing Huggler an unexpected 10,000 for replacement pipework. And being island-based created other unforeseen overheads. "To just get the beds for the hotel shipped from the mainland to Jersey cost 4,000," Huggler says. "And getting hold of labour is tricky here. In the UK, if you need a plumber it's no problem, but in Jersey, everyone's stretched. That can mean paying expensive overtime."

Nevertheless, key staff at the hotel are now in place. General manager Tim Phillips came on board at the beginning of the year, following six years at the boutique-style Emerson Inn & Spa in New York, and his partner Dawn Chinchen, also ex-Emerson Inn, is the spa manager. Bohemia's head chef Shaun Rankin will oversee the food at the Orangery too, but plans to add to his brigade.

The opening date, pushed back a couple of weeks, is now set for 15 August. Following some technical glitches with the online booking system, designed to integrate directly with front of house, the first bookings are in for the end of that month.

"The plan now is to ask a load of friends and family to stay the night for free, and get them to test everything," says Huggler.

Adopted business

Caterer has "adopted" four hospitality businesses, which will be visited in rotation every four weeks. They are: the Cube & Star, Hoxton Square, London; the Club Hotel & Spa, St Helier, Jersey; the Red Lion, Stoke; ane the Mason's Arms in north Devon

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