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Better Business – Moat House, Staffordshire

11 April 2014
Better Business – Moat House, Staffordshire

Featuring one of Staffordshire's best-known restaurants, Moat House has 41 bedrooms and a conference business catering for up to 200 people. Aaron Morby reports

Moat House, Acton Trussell, Staffordshire
Why?
Two AA rosettes

Need to know

Moat House is located in the picturesque village of Acton Trussell in Staffordshire. The 14th century farmhouse has been owned by the Lewis family since the 1950s - and the eldest son of the owners, Chris Lewis, has been running the business since 1988, after the family decided to convert the building into a
pub and restaurant.

Since then the business has thrived and now boasts one of Staffordshire's best known standalone restaurants (the Orangery), a 41-bed hotel, and a conference business catering for up to 200.

The Moat House makes use of its period looks and setting to do a roaring trade in weddings and is bursting at the seams, with 150 functions a year. It is now the flagship of the Lewis Partnership, an independent business with three other hospitality businesses dotted around the county.

Visitors
Moat House, located between Manchester and Birmingham, targets customers of all ages. "We get a big mix of customers," says Lewis."The restaurant has grown as a standalone destination in its own right and will be busy even when the hotel is quiet. The Orangery has a reputation for serving some of the finest food in the county and is a place for celebration meals and fine-dining experiences."

After a difficult few years the corporate conference business is showing signs of picking up again and wedding functions are approaching full capacity. On top of that more customers are starting to return on a regular basis.

Planned growth
The days of just running a £15,000-a-week turnover pub and restaurant are now distant. Lewis says it was not easy back then. "Like many other managers I was working a sevenday week, putting in 15-hour days to get the business moving. There was no quality of life.

"So we decided on a major step change to expand into rooms, banqueting and conferencing."

It took one year to get planning for the £1.5m expansion of the Grade II-listed farmhouse building, which is founded on a moated ancient monument site.

Since clearing that hurdle it has been a case of steady phased investment over several years, adding more rooms and conferencing suites.

"We built a hotel management structure with no hotel experience. It was a challenge, but by headhunting some key people in the region we put in place an experienced team at the top," explains Lewis.

Moat House now boasts 41 well-appointed rooms offering a stylish mix of nine suites, many with period four-poster beds, alongside modern styled rooms catering for conference guests using any of its nine dedicated facilities.

The Moat House team has doubled in size to 45 staff and Lewis cites the commitment of his staff as the chief reason for his success.

"I'm a firm believer in putting the aces in their places. We have a very well organised team, many who have been with us through the whole journey."

"From this solid base, we are continually testing the guest experience and keeping our competition close."

Food
The award-winning, 100-seat Orangery restaurant has held two AA rosettes for 15 years. Group executive chef Matt Davies runs a team of 15 chefs, working from the main kitchen, a pastry section and banqueting kitchen. One of the chefs is squeezed in near the pass with a fryer and charcoal grill

FACTS AND STATS

Owners Lewis family
Average spend on two-course meals - £25 (no wine)
Head chef Matt Davies
Average weekly occupancy 73%
Covers a day 130

Spotlight on Recognising local talent

for the brasserie's pub food menu. "Some chefs visit us and can't believe we can do what we do. It's all a case of getting the structure, discipline and team right. Then anything is possible," says Davies.

In the Orangery, which has its sights set on a Michelin star, they deliver around 50 covers a day for lunch, 80-plus for dinner, and manage to squeeze in a classic afternoon tea service for around 30 guests.

The restaurant tries to source as much of the menu as it can within a 15-mile radius, including Staffordshire beef, dry aged for 28 days on the bone.

Davies is proud of his menu. He says: "Our Executive chef Matt Davies says he is passionate about putting the region's chefs on the map and bringing on new talent.
Two years ago he set up the Staffordshire Chefs Forum, which now sees around 40 chefs regularly meet at a selected restaurant to discuss issues like training and suppliers.

"It's all done in any spare time we get and gives us a chance to network, share ideas and tips," he says.

Davies is also keen to see young talent brought through in the county. To this end the Lewis Partnership and Stafford College have set up a student foundation to help train budding chefs.

Davies started out at Solihull technical college on a City and Guilds course and got his break when he won a prize for a three-month stage at the Savoy in London, under Anton Edelmann.

From there he found himself at the Plough & Harrow in the Midlands with Andreas Antona. This makes him a firm believer in mentoring and giving youngsters the chance to fulfil their dreams. The foundation has echoes of this. Each year two first-year students are sponsored to work alongside Moat House chefs one day a week. The initiative has even attracted funding from the Savoy Trust to help pay for uniforms and travel.

"We are trying to drive up standards in hospitality by providing new entrants with the best possible education and training," explains Davies.

He is also involved in helping to develop gastronomic talent within the county, judging the Staffordshire Master Chef and Young Chef of Tomorrow to spotlight the county's very best chefs.

Chris Lewis's Revelations

Favourite hotel Hotel Le Samoyède, Morzine, France
Favourite restaurant Purnell's, Birmingham
Favourite pub The George at Alstonefield
Book that inspired Profit Planning for Hospitality & Tourism, by Peter Harris
Motto Aces in their places
If you weren't a hotelier what would you have been? Food buyer
Who do you most admire? People who have worked with me for a long time
Describe your business in five words Yes culture, customer comes first

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