Operator buoyed by positive reopening but says extending season for all is crucial
AFTER returning to his native Scotland to oversee the revamp of The Machrie on the Isle of Islay, hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray switched his focus to establishing a new hospitality business in his homeland.
A year on from laying the foundations of The Wee Hotel Company with the acquisition of The Pierhouse Hotel in Port Appin followed by The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye, however, and Scotland’s hospitality industry was in a very different place as every bar, restaurant and hotel was forced to close for the coronavirus lockdown, which was to last almost four months.
For Gordon, who was behind luxury hotels such as One Aldwych in London’s Covent Garden and The Merchant House in Bahrain, his industry experience paid dividends.
“We were just getting in to our stride when this all happened,” he said.
“Save the business and the team – that was my first priority. To call the teams together and say ‘we’re going to close tomorrow’ – there are fewer things harder than that. Thankfully there was the furlough scheme.
“And I think being a small company makes it easier to adapt; I think that has helped us through all of this.
“I’m not saying we’re not a bit battered and worn; I’ve woken at 4.30am asking myself if things will be alright. But I’m feeling optimistic now.”
Much of that optimism stems from having the core 63-strong team back, and from the positive response so far at both The Pierhouse and The Three Chimneys, which reopened on July 24 and July 30 respectively.
At The Pierhouse, which sits on the shores of Loch Linnhe overlooking the Isle of Lismore, the restaurant is down to 34 covers – from 60 – while the outdoor area can accommodate a further 30, all with two-metre social distancing.
Gordon said the restaurant, which majors in fresh seafood, has been busy throughout the day for coffees and lunches since reopening; and there have been strong bookings and walk-ins for the two dinner services being offered. The 12 guest rooms have also seen high occupancy and strong forward bookings.
It’s a similar situation at The Three Chimneys on Skye.
There the restaurant capacity has dropped from 34 to 16 with two-metre social distancing; and the lunch and two dinner services were fully booked for August – as were the six suites – with a similar picture well into October.
“I’m very encouraged by forward bookings,” said Gordon.
“Both The Pierhouse and The Three Chimneys are doing really well so far.
“And in the restaurants people are spending more – average spend is up.
“With our culinary teams we’ve agreed there will be absolutely no sacrifice on quality.
“At The Three Chimneys there are maybe two or three dishes off the menu to make things easier for the kitchen but the menu is the same calibre. At The Pierhouse we’ve done the same.
“If people are coming out I think it’s more important than ever that we give them a fabulous meal and a great experience.
“It’s going well so far and I hope that continues.
“I’m really hoping that we can extend the season for everyone. That’s so important.”