Simon Rhatigan and Simon Kershaw plan to cover every possible guest request, from muddy dog walks to bike rides on the Scarborough coastline and cosy cinema trips at quirky boutique hotel Bike & Boot. Fiona Sims takes it for a spin
A seaside holiday isn't complete without pulling a silly face in a peep board. The folk at Bike & Boot realise that, so they've installed one in the hotel reception. They also know that your dog will probably get messy on the beach (or moor), that your bike might need adjusting, your surfboard will need storing, and that a free bit of cake will put a smile on everyone's face. Scarborough's latest hotel opening takes the boutique hotel to a new fun level.
The offering ranges from a dog grooming salon and bike tinkering and storage area (known collectively as Wadobi – walk, dog, beach), to a cinema where you can knock back the booze and nibble on the popcorn that is supplied in all bedrooms, and a restaurant that serves pizza and pasta all day. Then there are the smart, colourful rooms – the cheapest of which is £60 per night and offers the same amenities and finish as the poshest room, at £200. A leisure hotel for the 21st century, declares the website. It's certainly that. And if all goes well, there will be a few more of them around the country.
Bike & Boot is the brainchild of seasoned hotelier Simon Rhatigan and hospitality stalwart Simon Kershaw. The 65-bedroom hotel has been four years in the making, finally launching on 20 July, slap bang in the middle of a pandemic. So, how's it all going? "We've been delighted by the response – not just because it's a brand that people have never heard of, but because of Covid," say the founding directors, speaking two weeks after opening the doors.
The first wave of guests was mostly from Manchester, London and Leeds, in that order, in keeping with the business model, which does not foresee much inbound tourism, even though they've had interest from the Netherlands and Denmark. Their focus is the home leisure break. "We're getting a real mixture. Quite a lot of families, plus some who just want to get away for a couple of days to get some sea air. And we've had lots of dogs – last Friday was a cross between the Tour de France and Crufts," jokes Kershaw.
And no, Lycra and hiking gear are not the official dress code, as the name might hint. "We needed a name that people would remember, that they would instantly recognise. And we needed a brand name that was auto suggestive. With Bike & Boot you think of being outside, being healthy, of leisure pastimes. We were worried at first that people might not get it, but we're delighted they do," continues Kershaw.
So, what is Bike & Boot, exactly? The pair began the project thinking that they would open a mid-market boutique hotel by the sea because, they reasoned, the British seaside is lacking this sort of thing – Cornwall and the south coast excluding.
"Then we thought, why restrict ourselves to just seaside towns? Why not do something in the countryside as well? Yes, there are lots of lovely boutique and country house hotels, but we felt there was a gap in the market for something less formal, that really fitted our lifestyles now – somewhere you can kick back and relax, and yes, if you want to bring your bike, then you can clean it, store it and get it repaired if needed, and if you want to bring your dog, we have somewhere you can wash it and dry it too," explains Kershaw.
There are lots of lovely boutique and country house hotels, but we felt there was a gap in the market for something less formal
Next step was finding the money. "This was the biggest hurdle. We put more energy into putting the finance package together than any part of this," reveals Rhatigan. They didn't want to go down the venture capital route, so they approached Tier 2 banks. "Unlike Tier 1 banks, Tier 2 banks have got the appetite for development, and we needed to find one with an appetite for this sector, who had an understanding of what we were trying to develop. We found that in London bank OakNorth. Once we got the other investors on board, we had the magic formula," smiles Kershaw.
Location, location, location
Then they had to find the right property in the right location. "We decided to focus on Scarborough, because what's happening here is what happened in Brighton five years ago. Take the Sands development: a luxury, five-star self-catering apartment operation letting units at £2,000 per week. People scoffed at first, but now you can't get in there. And look at the Scarborough Open Air Theatre – it's attracting mainline acts these days," says Rhatigan.
Scarborough bills itself as the original seaside resort, with visitors having flocked here for 400 years. In addition to the picturesque ruined castle perched on a rocky promontory that divides the town's two large sandy beaches, there are amusement arcades and a miniature railway, ice-cream parlours and a Victorian promenade. "Scarborough attracts 1.4 million visitors per year, so if we can have a good share of that, then we will be doing OK," adds Rhatigan.
Bike & Boot was formerly known as the Mount. The hotel had been in the same family since 1948, until they decided to sell to Rhatigan and Kershaw. The pair bought it for an undisclosed sum off an asking price of £2m, after failing to buy another Scarborough property. "We kept looking across at the Mount and thinking it would be perfect, so we jumped on it as soon as became available," says Kershaw.
It cost £2.5m to refurbish the Grade II-listed property, which occupies the Georgian terrace along Cliff Bridge Terrace, overlooking the iconic Spa Bridge and South Bay beyond. The 50 bedrooms became 65, split into nine Boot rooms, 15 small rooms (four with sea view), 23 medium rooms (12 with sea view), 12 attic mini-suites (eight with sea view) and six suites (four with sea view).
So, what's their favourite part of the hotel? "The Film Club," they reply in unison. Inspired by the cinema at Cornish hotel Tresanton, it's located on the lower-ground floor and operates on a first-come, first-served basis, with 18 original cinema seats and three screenings per day. "It doesn't take up a lot of room, but you've no idea how popular it is," says Rhatigan.
This is closely followed by the 40-seat, resident-only Retreat lounge, divided between two rooms, at the front and rear of the property, where you can find complimentary cake at 4pm, complimentary hot drinks and flavoured water, plus an honesty bar for those who want something stronger. "It's like staying in a friend's house in the country," explains Kershaw.
It's like staying in a friend's house in the country
Interiors are by Malton-based Rachel McLane, who has worked with Rhatigan previously. The goal? To retain as much of the original architecture as possible. Rather than hiding the faded grandeur of the original building, McLane has worked with it, giving it a new lease of life.
Design highlights include clocks made of brightly coloured bicycle bells and flip flops; bespoke lighting created from old bicycle wheels and crates, and a feature light in the hotel reception made from several pairs of boots. McLane also designed and commissioned wallpaper based on activity maps of the area and recreated original postcards of Scarborough from its heyday as a fashionable spa resort.
The sense of fun is palpable at Bike & Boot and extends to the tone of website, which is doing a good job of attracting custom. "We've got a marketing consultant, but we took control of it. We didn't want brochure-speak, so it's our tone of voice. We want people to walk in and laugh – hence the seaside cut-out," explains Kershaw.
Rhatigan adds: "There are plenty of other hotels that offer ceremony very well, but there are not enough that do what we do. Bike & Boot is a more of a ‘what-the-heck' purchase than something you might book six months in advance."
A wealth of experience
The pair drew from their vast experience in the hospitality industry to bring all of these elements together. "What we are good at is spotting an opportunity and making something of it. We noted what people have being doing right in the industry and brought it all together here," reveals Kershaw.
Rhatigan and Kershaw announced their intention to create a small group of boutique hotels back in 2016 when they launched Helmsley Hospitality. Rhatigan, who until then was managing director of Devonshire Hotels & Restaurants, achieved widespread acclaim as owner of the Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, where he won the Independent Hotel of the Year Catey Award in 2011. The Feversham Arms was sold soon after Rhatigan's divorce from his wife Jill.
Kershaw is a former chairman of the northern region at the British Hospitality Association, and headed up the hospitality team at Carlton Towers, the events and wedding venue owned by Lord and Lady Fitzalan Howard in Carlton, North Yorkshire.
The pair met when Kershaw worked for Yorkshire-based wine merchant House of Townend, supplying wine to the Feversham Arms. They got on so well that they decided to work together when Rhatigan left the Feversham Arms. "We had a clear vision about where we wanted to be and where the industry was at," nods Kershaw.
"It's about applying common sense," continues Rhatigan. "Take dogs, for example. A lot of hotels now allow dogs. Most are better behaved than the children, but they often come back from walks dirty. Do guests want that in their rooms? And people are always asking if there's somewhere safe to store their bicycles, so we thought, let's give them that, too. It's not rocket science. It's based on observation and listening to what people want."
It's not rocket science. It's based on observation and listening to what people want
Fine dining is not high on guests' list of asks, not at Bike & Boot, nor in Scarborough in general – if you want a posh plate of food, you head inland to the plethora of gastropubs and country house hotels. Cue Bareca, (‘ba' – bar, ‘re' – restaurant, ‘ca' – café), an intentionally mid-market bar/café/restaurant experience with 80 covers, where pizza is currently the biggest seller.
"Bareca is somewhere you can come straight off the beach and feed the kids pizza and not feel like you've been skinned. But it's also where you can come for a proper dinner. We've been brought up to constantly watch the demographic. Now you've got to be accessible to everybody for all sorts of different occasions," says Rhatigan.
Head chef is Andy Skinner, who has a branded pub and restaurant background. "We deliberately wanted that. It's more experience-led than food-led at Bareca," he announces.
The menu is keenly priced, with starters such as crispy whitebait with lemon, horseradish and smoked paprika (£4.75), mains such as chargrilled pork chop with Granny Smith apple and roast potatoes (£12.50), pizzas from £8.50, and puds, such as lemon mousse pots with crushed biscuits (£5).
It's no surprise that they are attracting diners staying in other Scarborough hotels, in addition to plenty of locals, not to mention custom from local businesses, which range from chip manufacturer McCain to GCHQ.
The pandemic has affected Bareca more than anywhere else in the hotel, the pair report, with strict procedures surrounding the handling of food, plates, glasses, et al. Not that they've gone full hazmat. In fact, staff aren't wearing masks (their choice – PPE is available for anyone who wants it), and there are no screens, nor are they taping off any areas. The only place out of bounds is the counter in front of the open kitchen.
Breakfast is rather regimented, as guests are called to the buffet in twos after sanitising their hands, before helping themselves from the covered dishes. "People are taking it all in their stride and generally people are behaving," reports Rhatigan.
Other measures include auto check-in, an abundance of hand sanitiser throughout the hotel and more time allowed for cleaning each room. Guests also have the choice not to have their room serviced – though most do, Rhatigan reports. "The main thing we are trying to do is keep up social distancing and hand hygiene. These are the two key things.
"Masks and visors are of questionable value and not in the style of hospitality. If guests come to a hotel, then they've chosen to go to a shared environment. In short, we're doing whatever is possible and practical, but without destroying the very thing they came here to do, – which is to enjoy themselves."
In fact, Kershaw and Rhatigan believe there are positives to take from this pandemic. Says Rhatigan: "Great innovation has come out of this – look at how restaurants have embraced takeaways. When crises come along, I think it just accelerates the changes in the market anyway. In five years, I think we'll look back and think this was a good thing for the industry."
For Bike & Boot, the plan is that all future expansion will be via leasehold properties. "What we hope is that people will see the crystallised product, and say, yes, this will fit my property. The criteria is that it has to be somewhere where people go to spend leisure time, somewhere to recharge their batteries."
Where will they be in five years? Says Kershaw: "Who knows? I could come out with a grand line and say we want 200 of these, but we've got to get this one up and operating first. Then we'll look at different sites – though there's nothing we've got our eye on yet. If we could get to three or four units, then we would be happy with that."
Bike & Boot
Opened 20 July
Room rates From £59 per night for a Boot Room
Owner Simon Rhatigan and Simon Kershaw
Design Rachel McLane
Cliff Bridge Terrace, Scarborough YO11 2HA
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