Editor Alun Thorne catches up with the man looking to turn Birmingham’s hotel sector on its head – at last.


 

The first time I saw Nick Taplin, he couldn’t have been any less pleased to see me.

The managing director of Sanguine Hospitality Ltd was enjoying a celebratory lunch at San Carlo in Birmingham city centre with consultant Richard Dickson and The Cube’s Neil Edgington and Anthony McCourt, having just agreed to bring a new hotel, spa and Marco Pierre White restaurant to the landmark building.

For a number of reasons, the last person they wanted to see was the Editor of the local paper.

Speaking four months later, having finally gone public with the deal, Mr Taplin admitted it had been quite a challenge to prevent the story leaking out.

“I think it’s the biggest secret I’ve had to keep in my life – it’s been difficult,” he said. The diners – who spoke in whispers for the rest of the afternoon – were keen to keep the deal under wraps as there were still issues to be straightened out regarding the proposed roof-top restaurant.

A deal had previously been done with D&D London, formally Conran Restaurants, for the space and it was unclear at that time whether they wanted to follow through with the arrangement.

“As it happens they decided to focus on a new venture in Leeds – although they are still actively looking for opportunities in the city – and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We’ve been through quite a rollercoaster,” said Mr Taplin. “So to be able to finally launch the scheme is the good part.”

Weather permitting, work will start on fitting out the 14,000 sq ft Steakhouse Bar and Grill on the 25th floor of the building in January – which will be a 250-cover restaurant with two private dining areas, open theatre kitchens and a large bar – with a view to being open for business in August and if all goes to plan then Sanguine Hospitality hopes to follow up with another five restaurants in the chain in the near future.

Although the team will have to work hard to find locations quite as special as The Cube.

“Marco has been to The Cube and he was absolutely blown away,” he said.

And he is keen that as many people as possible should be able to share the experience of dining 70 metres above the city.

“This is affordable glamour,” he said. “This isn’t about the Michelin stars for Marco. He’s been there and done that and everyone knows the story about what he did with them. There’s a place for that but it’s not The Cube – we want people to come here more than just once a year.”

But for Sanguine, Marco Pierre White is just part of the story.

Launched in 2003 by Mr Taplin, fellow director Paul Bolton and chairman Simon Matthews-Williams, the company’s first project was Cadbury House in Bristol and it now has more than a dozen in various states of progression.

The company develops and operates branded and independent properties throughout the UK with operations in cities such as Bristol – where it has an office – and Chester.

It currently has eight properties across the UK with operators such as Intercontinental, Hampton by Hilton, Hotel Indigo and Wyndham as well as Marco Pierre White but has ambitions far beyond their current lot.

“We will be operating 350 beds by 2011 and 1,000 by 2012,” said Mr Taplin.

In Birmingham alone, Sanguine is building quite a portfolio.

As well as the four-star boutique hotel over two floors at The Cube and the accompanying Spa on the found floor public levels, the company has also just announced plans for two more hotels in the city.

Working with Hampton by Hilton, Sanguine is planning to overhaul Cumberland House on Broad Street to create a 285-bed three-star hotel which will also see the building completely reclad.

The company is also seeking planning permission to transform the Bruntwood-owned Kennedy Tower in the Snow Hill area of the city into a 224-bed hotel and conferencing facility. The building was only recently acquired by Bruntwood after buying it from Kenmore when it went into administration.

The company is now doing more work in Birmingham than in any other city and this is more by design than accident for Mr Taplin.

“I was born in Rugby so this is my old stomping ground and I know the area quite well,” he said. “Sanguine saw this as a great opportunity and we see this as not just great for the company but also great for the city.

“In terms of The Cube, we had been here a few times but only during the day and most of that time was in meeting rooms but I came here at night in the summer and walked through with my wife and she was like ‘oh my God’ at how much it had changed.

"Birmingham is the second biggest city in the UK and it is where we want to be.”

And he believes all three of the new ventures will be a success and feels the operation at The Cube can be an attraction in its own right.

“Birmingham is not as reliant on the exhibition market as people think it is," he insists. "I think it has its own market itself and we believe the spa will bring people to the hotel for the weekends – we’d take a couple more floors if we could.”

It’s undoubtedly been a quite an expansion for Sanguine, which has been backed over the past seven years by Lloyds, Coutts and the Co-op as well as a London-based private investor, and Mr Taplin believes the secret to securing the backing of the banks during such a challenging economic period is quite simple.

“Solid brands and a good track record and I’m confident there’s still more business to be done,” he said.