New Hoste takes on north Norfolk hotel

The former chief executive of the second largest Australian media company and his wife have bought the iconic Hoste Arms hotel group.

Entrepreneurs Brendan Hopkins and his wife Bee, who are old friends of former owner Jeanne Whittome and her late husband Paul, took over the Hoste Group this week.

Mr Hopkins ran APN News & Media for 10 years, but has recently returned to the UK to live near Wells.

Mr and Mrs Whittome transformed The Hoste Arms into a magnet for film stars and celebrities during their 20 years at the helm and after Mr Whittome died following a year-long battle with cancer in 2010, Mrs Whittome continued to develop the business.

Mrs Whittome said: 'Since 2010 I have received several offers for The Hoste, but I was determined to continue with the developments that Paul and I planned and instigated together; the Beauty Spa was opened more than a year ago and it has been a great success, proving popular with both hotel guests and locals.'

She said: 'I was never tempted to sell The Hoste, until I received the right offer from the right people.'

The group, which has an annual turnover of �7m, includes The Hoste Arms Hotel, Vine House, The Railway Inn, the Hoste Beauty and Wellness Spa and the company's Burnham Market holiday cottages.

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All 100 staff including directors Emma Tagg, Andrew McPherson, Janie Thompson and head chef Aaron Smith, will remain in post.

Mr Hopkins said: 'Bee and I are taking over one of the finest boutique hotels in the UK. Many people will remember the humble village inn which Paul Whittome bought in 1990. Over 20 years, he successfully developed it, with the unfailing support of Jeanne and the team, to create the award-winning hotel and restaurant we know and love


He added: 'The Hoste is a great Norfolk business, well-known nationwide and overseas, which suited our plan to invest locally in an area we love and want to see prosper. Our experience in business in general and travel and tourism in particular, makes us ideal owners of Norfolk's best loved hotel.'

Mr Hopkins has worked in hotels from an early age. His aunt was a 'significant' hotelier on the Isle of Man and in Northern Ireland. Mrs Hopkins has worked as a consultant with hotel groups, including TrustHouse Forte and Marriot Hotels. She has also worked with the English Tourist Board, regional tourist boards, as well as leading travel and tour operators. The couple were also significant shareholders in a successful, multi-site London Pub company, before they moved to Australia in 2002.

Mr Hopkins said that he and he wife were looking at some 'quite significant expansion plans' and had already approached the district and local councils. Plans include a new function room and a more open kitchen environment.

'We are not taking it on to sit back, we want to carry on the fantastic work that Paul and Jeanne have done here and make it the leading small luxury hotel in the area,' he said.

The company has recently found out that it will be included on the international hotel listing Mr and Mrs Smith.

He said March was a record year for the group and last year the hotel was full for 151 nights with no discounts.

Law firm Howes Percival advised BNB Leisure Limited on the acquisition. Corporate Partner Robert Colman led the Howes Percival team. He said: 'The Hoste is a Norfolk institution and a brand that resonates far beyond North Norfolk. The deal was a significant undertaking and we're delighted to see the company pass safely and securely into new ownership. Despite the downbeat economic situation we have continued to work hard for clients and help deliver deals such as this. There are buyers out there, looking to invest in great Norfolk family businesses and we're delighted to be able to help secure such deals.

'The Hoste is a great business, supported by a large and loyal customer base. The company has continued to develop the proposition and invest in the brand and the quality of its service in recent years.

'Ownership remains within the county's borders which is significant for Norfolk and the local economy. It was always going to be important to find owners that understood the original vision and the passion for quality, and in Brendan and Bee Hopkins I think the company is in safe hands. Importantly, there will also be continuity in terms of the existing management team remaining in place to guide the business going forward.'

Robert Colman continued; 'The Norfolk leisure and tourism sector is constantly evolving and changing but it remains one of our strongest industries. The Hoste is certainly one of the jewels in the Norfolk tourism and leisure crown, but this deal also signifies the ongoing strength of the sector and the appeal of the area as a destination.'

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