One of the island’s classically Bermudian hotel properties has been accepted into the prestigious Relais & Châteaux membership.
The owners and staff of Rosedon Hotel, and its restaurant Huckleberry, celebrated their new-found status at a plaque unveiling ceremony yesterday.
The historic property on Pitts Bay Road was originally the home of E.J. Thompson when it was completed in 1906 — and named after his son, Robert Rosedon Thompson.
It was purchased by Commander Geoffrey Kitson and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1952 and turned into a small hotel.
Founded in France some 65 years ago, the Relais & Châteaux organisation represents 560 hotel properties, and an additional 100 restaurants that are not attached to hotels, in some 60 countries worldwide. Its membership is widely considered a select group.
The Relais & Châteaux designation comes three years after brother and sister co-owners, Scott Kitson and Lee Petty, first envisioned it as a goal when they launched a strategic plan to rebrand both the hotel and restaurant and put both on the luxurious boutique hotel map. The plan picked up pace just over a year ago when a veteran of the Bermuda hotel market, Nagma Walker, joined Rosedon as general manager. Food and beverage manager Rob Bruni also played an important role.
“Nagma was an incredible driver of this,” Mr Kitson said. “She is a firecracker,” enthused Ms Petty.
A key moment took place in February 2018; after a monthlong closure, the hotel brought management of Huckleberry in-house. The quality and nature of a property’s culinary offerings are among the considerations made by the Relais & Châteaux association when it considers whether to invite a property to join its membership. “We did that so we could align the restaurant’s standards with those that we were looking to achieve for the hotel,” Mr Kitson said.
Meanwhile, Ms Walker went to work. “In April, I found out what was required by Relais & Châteaux,” she recalled. “We pulled back because we didn’t have an executive chef at that point — we were in a transition period so we said ‘let’s wait’. Then, in September, we decided to go for it.”
In early October, a Relais & Châteaux representative arrived in Bermuda on a secret mission to inspect the 40-room property. “They sent a mystery shopper, who came and stayed for one night and then identified himself as he left,” Mr Kitson recalled. “What is incredible is that Nagma was off the island, and so were Lee and I. Even our food and beverage manager, Rob Bruni, stayed out of the way and trusted his staff at that point. It was an incredible vote of confidence in the depth of the staff.”
Confirmation of the property’s acceptance was extended shortly thereafter. Mr Kitson attended the Annual General Meeting of the Relais & Châteaux organisation in Montreal in November. “Everyone was amazed that we started a restaurant and became an R&C property within ten months,” Mr Kitson said. “That is unheard of. We knew where we were with the standards of the hotel — the restaurant was the last piece of the puzzle. The people I met were excited to welcome Bermuda back into the Relais & Châteaux family as a destination.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be a member and are especially pleased to say that we have already welcomed our first guests, who are regular Relais & Châteaux followers, even before we officially opened.”
“It’s good exposure for Bermuda as a travel destination,” Ms Walker said. “The R&C designation opens up a whole new market. It’s another brand that the traveller can relate to, one that is more focused on personalising guest service and guest experience.”
Kevin Dallas, CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, was among the guests at yesterday’s ceremony. “This is proof of the growing confidence in tourism in Bermuda that our international partners have,” he said. “It is a mark of quality for Rosedon and all of Bermuda. It is a signal to the jet-setter audience, and experience enthusiasts, that Bermuda should be on the radar as a place to visit.”
Huckleberry is a tribute to American novelist Mark Twain, a frequent Bermuda visitor whose books include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The restaurant, with a capacity for 40 diners, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as for tea time daily and à la carte brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Some 25 people work in the hotel’s food and beverage operation.
Executive chef Matthew Weber arrived in October from Fort Worth Boat Club in Texas. He embraces the “sea and farm to table” ethos, using local ingredients where possible. “Chefs want to know where they are sourcing their ingredients from,” he said. “We want to make everything uniquely Bermudian. Anything I get from Bermuda, I take right from the ground and put it on the plate.”
“Most loyal R&C followers travel as much for the food as for the hotel experience,” Mr Kitson said.
Membership in Relais & Châteaux will provide Rosedon staff with a window on the worldwide hospitality industry, Ms Walker said. “Membership opens up a new avenue for young Bermudians who work here and who are able to experience what the rest of the world is like — the standards that we are compared to.”
It may also provide work opportunities elsewhere. “If they are good enough to work for an R&C property in Bermuda, then they are good enough to work at an R&C property anywhere in the world,” Mr Kitson said.
Rosedon is currently the only Bermuda property with Relais & Châteaux membership. Horizons and now-closed Waterloo House were once members.
Hotel rooms get an upgrade
Rosedon reopened yesterday after a month-long renovation project.
Renovations to the hotel’s interior include upgrades to the property’s Luxury and Royal rooms, which have been refreshed with new fabrics, linens and furniture, as well as custom millwork and lighting. In addition, improvements have been made to the hotel’s circulation and workspaces to increase productivity in the restaurant, kitchen and bar.
“On the exterior of the property, our focus has been to enhance our guest’s experience from the moment of arrival,” says the property’s co-owner, Lee Petty.
“In 2017, we renovated the front lawn and gardens, creating small outdoor living areas. This year, we wanted to join the front lawn with the main house. We created a more formal front entrance by replacing asphalt with tumbled pavers from England, a new dedicated area for bicycles, and established outdoor seating areas with new cantilevered umbrellas that overlook the gardens.”
The hotel’s tropical garden has been carefully maintained for more than 70 years. “We have enriched the gardens with new plantings, increasing the number and variety of mature local and tropical plants, and undertaken beautification projects around the pool area and back gardens,” Ms Petty said. “We have also integrated a new kitchen garden for fresh herbs, edible flowers, fruits and vegetables.
“Prominence has been given to outdoor living spaces by increasing the number of dining and lounging areas with new furniture arrangements, and by creating private dining experiences in intimate outdoor settings.”
Relais & Châteaux: a badge of honour
Prospective members of the Relais & Châteaux association either apply for membership, or are spotted and invited to apply.
The organisation’s quality department audits the candidate according to its “quality charter”, which has more than 300 criteria.
A candidate property’s membership application is reviewed by the organisation’s network commission, composed of members, employees of Relais & Châteaux’s quality department and the organisation’s president, Philippe Gombert.
“We are considered a label, a guarantor of good practices as compared with haute couture,” Mr Gombert says. “In order to be part of the Relais & Châteaux family, it is not enough just to fill the association’s criteria of excellence. Candidates have to share our core values: local focus, humanity, sharing and commitment. The cuisine is also a major criterion when recruiting a new member.”
Each member establishment must also embrace the organisation’s core values of passport of friendship, innkeeper spirit, taste of the land, celebration of the senses, and awakening of the art of living, the organisation says.
Relais & Châteaux’s board of directors bases the admission or rejection of an application based on the documents in the application file, an anonymous quality audit, and an interview with Mr Gombert.
The organisation conducts nearly 400 inspections of its member properties annually, some by appointment and others in secret.
It welcomes about 35 members annually, and about the same number leave the association.