Hambleton Hall hotel and restaurant: Tim Hart

A former city banker who had a change of heart in business

When Tim Hart realised there was life beyond City banking he quit his joba and set up a hotel. Startups.co.uk looks at how he got his business started.

When the time comes to move on its often hard to make a clean break. But after ten years of working as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers, Tim Hart realised that was exactly what he needed.

“I woke up one morning and became aware that I wanted to do something else”, claims Hart.

So, in 1980, armed with some of his own capital, a loan from the bank and ten years’ worth of experience and resourcefulness from his days in the City, Hart purchased Hambleton Hall hotel and restaurant in Rutland, it’s grounds and gardens. He then set about creating a luxury hotel with a high quality restaurant that guests and diners would soon flock to.

Right first time

On setting up the venture Hart says: “I was able to speak the financial language, so that helped, but I still had to believe in the product and concentrate on getting it right first time. The eighties was a great period in which to do this and at the time were only about four or five pioneers, so hardly anyone else was doing the same thing.”

So Hart had the concept but it still had to be realised, especially as it was such an ambitious project. However he knew there was scope for Hambleton Hall, especially at the higher end of the market.

“I knew it was a very stylish and comfortable house but also realised that I didn’t have to make it look like a hotel – I could combine the two elements. For example, before we opened we had some issues such as would we be able to deliver an appropriate standard in all departments?

“Great concepts are two a penny but in the hotel and restaurant business it is the people that make the difference and they are a key factor in raising standards.”

This industry has a reputation for high turnover of staff and one of Hart’s main priorities when opening Hambleton was to have the right people in all the right places. This, as he puts it, is “what makes it happen”. He adds: “If you can produce an environment where staff can express themselves and flourish then the rest will come along naturally.”

Choosing the right staff has always been something Hart has valued. His current general manager worked at the Savoy and his head chef has worked with some of the most respected chefs in the world including Raymond Blanc and Anton Mosimann. So it’s not surprising that the hotel and restaurant have picked up several awards such as Egon Ronay’s hotel of the year plus one Michelin star.

Core values

Twenty-two years on, Hart realises that some things have changed but that the core values remain with staff being one of the most vital ingredients. He says: “These days there a lot more young people who want to work in the hotel and/or restaurant business. This is down to there being many more role models, such as Marco Pierre-White, than in the past. It’s comparable to the fascination with Manchester United – it’s now hip and trendy to go and play for them.”

However, Hart didn’t just stop at being a successful hotelier and restaurateur. In 1997, following encouragement by his Nottingham based regulars that visited and stayed at Hambleton Hall, he opened a restaurant in the heart of Nottingham called Hart’s.

Described in the Good Food Guide as a ‘bright and cheerful space with vivid geometric paintings, a lovely city view, comfortable chairs and serious professionalism’, Hart had translated his experience from Hambleton to a city-based location with ease. But why did he make the move?

“It is all very well starting a business but, as the old phrase goes, you have to enjoy what you do. I enjoy great meals, indulging in my enthusiasm for wine as well as tree planting and this is a good starting point for someone who wants to run a hotel or restaurant. It’s all very well, for example, for a policeman to want to open a pub because he’s been going there as a regular for many years but it’s different once you get behind the bar. In other words you have to be more than prepared for what you’re taking on.”

Passion for business

Hart is passionate about his industry and his own businesses but along with the landmark highs such as awards and praise from his colleagues and peers come certain lows. Hart says: “Losing good people that we have seen go through all the stages within Hambleton and Hart’s is sad, they are the capital that count, but when good people move on I am happy for them. In this industry you have to realise that staff are coming through in one way or another and learning not to fight their decision but rather to encourage them is vitally important.”

However, the low points can more than outweighed by a large dose of success, something Hart hasn’t been short of since Hambleton and Hart’s first opened. This has led to major developments both in his personal and commercial life.

“I have had a terrific amount of success up to now and with it, seen more of my family than I ever have done, been allowed to have a day to day influence on my projects, as well as plan for the future.”

Hart’s future seems assured, particularly with a new hotel having been built, right next to Hart’s restaurant in Nottingham. The location is ideal, something every hotel, shop or restaurant should bear in mind and will allow around 2000 potential customers from the surrounding area to choose to dine at Hart’s as well as having the choice of staying in a modern hotel.

Top tips – Tim Hart gives his tips of the trade

  • Most people who start a business on their own spend two much time dreaming up their own ideas and looking to closely at their own plans. What they should be doing instead is looking at existing companies and how they have faired or succeeded. In other words, as the saying goes, you don’t have to invent the wheel if it’s already there?
  • When you reach the stage of opening your business try and find similar businesses with whom you can network, bounce ideas of each other and share worries or concerns. For example, I went up to Leeds to talk to an independent restaurateur and he kindly gave me the right advice. They are perhaps the competition but they are also sometimes open to ideas, suggestions and can assist you in your needs
  • Associations and organisations are also a valuable asset to tap into when you first begin. Relais-chateau have been great for us in the hotel/restaurant sector
  • If you think you will be hitting a rough patch in the coming months warning your bank well in advance is one of the best things that you can do. If you have a cash squeeze in the next three months then you have a better chance of walking away if your bank knows. The bank manager will then think of you as a careful planner and not someone who does things at the last minute
  • London is not the be all and end all – I was brought up there but my whole strategy was not to spend all my time in the car and the train

Great concepts are two a penny but in the hotel and restaurant business it is the people that make the difference.

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