Is the end in sight for the sorry tale of von Essen?

For what seems like an eternity, the story of Andrew Davis & von Essen hotels  has been rumbling on. Whether it’s a character assassination in the case of the Daily Mail or more sturdy reporting in the case of The Times on June 16th by Dominic Walsh . The closing date for sealed bids was over 10 days ago and the catering industry is rife with rumour & speculation as to the future of von Essen. Ranging from the group being broken up and each hotel going its separate way, to large hotel chains buying the bulk of the group, leaving the less desirable properties to smaller operators.

This week I have learned that there may yet be a twist in the tale. The hierarchy of the now defunct von Essen company have had a little soiree to possibly discuss bringing the company out of administration. Believed to be present was the Ferrari driving former Finance director Stephanie Gibbs along with other trusted lieutenants. Mr Davis is believed to be looking to rescue his stricken empire with the help of Lady Hamlyn, the former owner of the only non UK von Essen property Château de Bagnols.

Lady Hamlyn is the widow of publishing magnate Paul Hamlyn, she caused a stir in 2007 with her Teletubbies style home in the Chilterns. After the £17million sale of the French Château in Beaujolais, Lady Hamlyn has apparently stayed in touch with Mr Davis who has been selling off personal assets left, right & centre. The £29million house just off Sloane Square has gone along with his Rolls Royces, although some may speculate that these were leased anyway.

With the rumour mill showing no signs of slowing there is a tidal wave of tip bits to pick from. This is my round up of the key players.

Andrew Brownsword: Owner of Gidleigh Park, Bath Priory & SydneyHouse hotels. He is believed to be interested in purchasing all the Relais & Châteaux properties with the exception of Sharrow Bay. This would mean the expansion of his hotel group from 2 to 7 to include such properties as The Royal Crescent, Buckland Manor, Ynyshir Hall, Amberly Castle & Lower Slaughter Manor.

Sir Peter Rigby: Owner of The Eden Hotel Collection. He is believed to be interested in The Greenway, Lower Slaughter Manor, Buckland Manor & The Royal Crescent. Although at the time of concluding this post was believed to have pulled out due to some of the properties being on a flood plain.

Akkeron: Set up by former Citi banker James Brent. Akkeron has been purchasing small hotel groups at a surprising rate. Believed to be interested in the mo;re 3 star market hotels.

Accor Were rumoured to be interested in the entire group minus The Royal Crescent, Cliveden & a few others. Yet to hear if they have put a firm bid in.

Roman Abramovich: Early reports suggested that the Russian billionaire was interested in the purchase of Buckland Manor for a private residence, although these rumours have since waned.

Other names that have come up repeatedly are Peter de Savary, the Mittal Steel dynasty, Turkey’s Sabanci family & the Qatari ruling family. But as of yet, again nothing has been confirmed.

Out of all the interest & press speculation concerning the collapse of von Essen it is easy to forget that they are living breathing hotels. Often run by passionate people who care about what they do. So when the Michelin starred chef of Ynyshir Hall in Wales resigned his position to move to London as I tweeted on 25th July

Roussillon restaurant in Pimlico to get Michelin starred chef Shane Hughes from Ynyshir Hall as new head chef

Where does this leave the value of the property? Sure as an exercise in buying bricks & mortar, yes I could see that it would have very little impact. But you’re not. You’re buying a business and despite what naysayers say about Michelin stars, they do affect business. Yet how could you put an intrinsic value on what a chef has spent 4 years achieving?

Another property that was in a difficult position was Congham Hall. Part of the contract with the builders ‘Chalcroft’ was that it had the right to

Take possession of the building under refurbishment.

Whilst they were owed £682,000. Some kind of agreement has obviously been reached as work has recommenced & Christies rushed out a schedule of work for Congham Hall on 15th July, less than a week before the sealed bid deadline.

Most of the attention for any one single hotel seems to have come the way of The Royal Crescent in Bath, which may surprise many with Cliveden believed to be the jewel in the crown. With a turnover in excess of £4 million (including £1 million on food sales) The Royal Crescent constantly crops up in conversations with sources as the most sought after property. But with an asking price of £22.5 million it will only be those with deep pockets which will be able to afford it.

Ernst & Young, the administrators for the stricken company have expressed concerns that some of the capital expenditure may have been used for Mr Davis’s other properties which trade under the von Essen group name rather than paying creditors such as HMRC. Two hotels in the von Essen collection to my knowledge have had visits from the VAT man. One hotel was requested to pay £34,000 whilst another hotel nearby was ordered to pay £17,000. These were VAT payments due for September 2010.

With time ebbing away for Mr Davis and two of his four hotels now in administration (Hunstrete House 3rd May & Hotel Verta yesterday 26th July), you would have to say that he would need to do something remarkable to live up to the motto attached to the von Essen crest, which he seems adamant on trying to keep.

Ex Cineribus Phoenix Oritur or loosely translated The Phoenix Rises From The Ashes.

3 Responses to “Is the end in sight for the sorry tale of von Essen?”
  1. Ynyshir Hall is certainly not just a pile of bricks and mortar. We are a beautiful Relais & Chateaux hotel in an idyllic location. Chefs do come and go, but some places have an intrinsic magic. You must also know a Michelin Star has to be earned every year.
    I purchased Ynyshir 23 years ago, and we acheived our first star in 2002 with Les Rennie. After Les left, Adam Simmonds took over and he also gained a star, as well as 4 AA Rosettes and Grade 8 in the Good Food Guide. Shane followed and achieved a star in 2010. I wish him well with his return to London. But Ynyshir will carry on giving young talent a platform to attain great things as long as I am still at the helm.

    • Dear Mrs Reen,
      Thank you for your comment concerning Ynyshir Hall in this post. If you read the post & not just cherry picked what you wanted, then you would have seen that what I was pointing out was that the staff are an intrinsic part of any business. Whilst there is no doubt that a Michelin star clearly has a positive impact on any restaurant good enough to achieve it, the award itself actually carries no monetary value.

      As an Estate Agent it would be hard to see how people would be expected to pay more for something that may not be there in October.

      Whilst you bring up the Michelin star history of the property you manage for Von Essen, it has held a star for 5 of the 23 years which you have been involved with it & it had a star when I staged with you. So I’m very aware of your passion for Ynyshir, but at the end of the day it is a business with a building which is bricks & mortar.

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  1. […] with Von Essen properties are Sir Peter Rigby’s purchase of The Greenway in Cheltenham and Mr Andrew Brownsword’s acquisition of  four Relais & Chateaux properties & possibly Washbourne Court. However it seems that not all of the stricken […]

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