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The Caterer

Toby Ashworth – My Life in Hospitality

22 January 2010 by
Toby Ashworth – My Life in Hospitality

Toby Ashworth is the managing director and proprietor of the Nare hotel in Cornwall.

Toby Ashworth comes from a long line of Cornish hotelkeepers. Five generations have followed the family career path after his great-great uncle, Graham Farmer, "put Newquay on the map" 100 years ago.

To tread in his family's footsteps would have seemed like the natural next step, but instead Ashworth joined the Royal Navy as an engineer. However, eight years and a degree later, he decided his long-term military career prospects looked rather slim and plumped for a life as a civilian.

At 25 he decided to take a temporary job with Welcome Computers, a hotel booking and billing software firm based in Northampton.

"I was only supposed to be helping out for two months, but I ended up staying for two years," recalls Ashworth.

"My job was to visit up to three hotels a week around the UK to ensure smooth installation of what was often their first computer system."

It was during a hotel stay in Pontefract that Ashworth had what he describes as his "road to Damascus" moment. He opened his bedroom window, expecting a view of the nearby racecourse, but instead was presented with a less savoury aspect: a coal tip.

"I realised then that views matter, and no view could match that of my grandmother's," he says, referring to Nare Hotel on Carne Beach on the south coast of Cornwall, which his grandmother, Bettye Gray, had run since 1989.

"I had also learned to appreciate the difference between a corporate hotel and one that is privately managed," he adds.

"As soon as I walked through the front door I could tell whether there was someone on the premises who cared; whether the owner was present."

So Ashworth left Northampton and returned to Cornwall. After two years working as assistant manager at his uncle's Headland Hotel in Newquay, he moved to the Nare, where he worked alongside Gray, and they began the long process of formalising a business succession plan.

"I was assistant to Daphne Burt. Daphne was general manager and she had been my grandmother's ‘right hand woman' for 50 years, but on Millennium night she retired, at which point I took over from Bettye as managing director and appointed a new general manager," he explains.

The next milestone in Ashworth's career proved a lot more awkward to finalise: the family buyout.

"It is a challenging issue for any family," he admits.

"It takes time and patience. One cannot be as ruthless as one would be in a commercial buyout."

However, perseverance and patience eventually paid off, and on 1 December 2004 the deal was completed.

HIGHS… After nearly four years of negotiations, a deal for the Nare was finally signed last thing at night. Ashworth drove Gray home with the realisation that he now had a very large loan to complete. Exhausted, he turned to his grandmother and said: "All I need now is an AA inspection!"

Little did he know, there was an AA inspector staying at the Nare that very evening.

"It certainly added a little spice to it all," he laughs.

"But even though my eye was off the ball that night, the team did a fantastic job and improved our score with one of our best inspections."

LOWS… When Ashworth left the Navy in 1992, he decided to take a skiing trip while he considered his next career move but wound up with more time to think than he had originally bargained for.

"I broke my knee and ended up at home with no next move in place," he recalls.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Ashworth enrolled on a distance-learning accounts course, which would prove invaluable in his future career as a hotelkeeper.

Family Married, with two daughters
Age 42
Favourite holiday Stade, Switzerland - anywhere there's deep powder; Wengen
Drives Landrover Discovery and my wife's Audi A3 if I can get my hands on it
Motto Life's too short to drink poor wine

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