The Duke's Head Hotel — Local Business Spotlight

Discover King’s Lynn is excited to introduce the Local Business Spotlight feature to our website! Each week Discover King’s Lynn will be shining a light on a local, town centre business to highlight the wide array of talent we are lucky enough to have here in King’s Lynn.

We will be asking each featured business a series of questions so you can get to know a little bit more about what they do and who they are.

This week, we were fortunate enough to speak with Jake Smith, General Manager at The Duke's Head Hotel.

1.    We want to get to know more about your business! Tell us a little bit about what The Duke's Head does and how long you have operated in King’s Lynn. 

Built in 1683 for the King’s Lynn Member of Parliament, Sir John Turner, The Duke’s Head Hotel has stood overlooking The Tuesday Market Place for over 300 years, evolving throughout the years to become the 79 bedroom 4*AA Hotel that it is today. Since being refurbished to its splendid glory 10 years ago by current owners Surya Hotels, the hotel showcases a range of bespoke bedrooms for every occasion, 5 function spaces, a renowned restaurant and stunning bar taking its name from the original bank on its site, Massey & Co.

Whether it’s for a morning coffee, locally sourced evening meal or hand-crafted cocktail, we aim to provide guests with an environment capable of stopping time. Allowing you chance to relax, unwind, and (even more so in the current climate) leave the downs of the day at the door. The setting has evolved to be this way over the years, the team understand the prestige of its history, and it’s special for us to be able to share this with our guests.

2.    What do you love about being based in the town centre?

We have the special role of enjoying the town centre of King’s Lynn not only as the base of our Hotel, but the selling point for our guests as the base of their stay in West Norfolk.  We host guests from all over the globe, often the States, China & western mainland Europe.  From our doorstep we can look up at the ‘Witches Heart’, tell the tales of the merchant trades from years gone by, and enjoy the old and new working in harmony as the town goes from strength to strength.  The town has done well to keep our community feel, I value the community support of the town centre, and whatever the situation mutual support is only ever a telephone call away! 

3.    What is your business’ founding story?

The Duke’s Head was built as a coaching inn between 1683 and 1689 by Sir John Turner MP, a local wine merchant and three times mayor of King’s Lynn. The hotel was designed to host people visiting his Merchants’ Exchange which then later became known as the Custom House, meaning we are history bound to have a splendid wine list on hand at all times!  Since Surya Hotels purchased the property in 2001, and completed its first extensive refurbishment at The Hotel, the group has gone from strength to strength now proud to host 14 bespoke properties across the East of England. 

4.    We’d love to know what you think draws The Duke's Head apart from other similar businesses.

Without a shadow of doubt this is our team.  Nothing makes me prouder within my role than to receive letters of congratulations or thanks from guests who remark of the commitment of our team.  Customer service isn’t a carbon copy thing to teach.  I believe in a style of welcoming our guests into ‘an extension of our living room’ encouraging guests to 'put their feet up while we put the kettle on’ and I think our team believe this too.  Each able to articulate and demonstrate this ethos to our guests in their own natural way and that is what I believe is different; it is natural and sincere.

5.    People are important to the success of a business; tell us about the team who works for you.

I am exceptionally proud to lead a team of fantastic people who are committed to going the extra mile for the guests, the business, and The Duke’s Head Hotel.  We have so many bright stars to write about.  As a management team we can only set the tone and the standard we wish to deliver, the responsibility to own and deliver this to the guest is our team’s!  Whether it be our housekeeping, reception, kitchen, events or front of house teams, our people are key to making sure our product is consistent every time our guests visit.

6.    How long have you worked with The Duke's Head and what do you love most about it?

I had the pleasure of joining The Duke’s Head Hotel 4 ½ years ago, as Operations Manager prior to moving to manage one of our other properties before returning as General Manager in 2019. At this point appointing Hannah Valentine as Operations Manger, whom herself has in excess of 8 years experience within The Duke’s Head, a fantastic bedrock of hotel knowledge but more importantly a passion for the success of The Duke’s Head Hotel.

My love has been, and I look forward to it continuing to be, the relationships that I form with team, guests, and other professional contacts across King’s Lynn. We have regular patrons whom have had morning coffee in the lounge of The Duke’s Head for over 35 years, and the stories they to share are important to preserve the future of the hotel. We have team whose personal passion is cocktails, and their confidence to experiment this within the workplace enables us to have a fantastic hand-crafted, bespoke cocktail menu. Finally, as I mentioned the professional relationships across the town. Our community is vital to keeping us all battling through these difficult times, and the few phone calls to check how businesses have been baring up this last year have been appreciated!

7.    How would you describe your business’ way of working?

One person’s view isn’t always the correct one.... As I touched on earlier, as a management team we can set the standard and direction of the business, however it is critical that the team are on that journey too.  No idea is a bad idea!  Hospitality is a quite an objective industry and more specifically within hotels.  Whether that be firmness of pillows, dishes on a menu, or included items within a wedding package, it is important that we discuss these projects before pursuing a collective decision.

8.    It’s been an odd few months for businesses and many are looking forward to better times… What does the future look like for you?

2020 has really put the brakes on what had been an exceptionally positive start to the year. I am devastated for the destruction this has caused for bride and grooms who were due to be wed at The Duke’s Head over the last few months, as well as the team who has been sadly distant from the business far longer than I think any of us ever thought would be the case.  We have new menus, new cocktails and some great stay-cation offers on standby to green light as soon as the path becomes safe to do so again.  I think this period has been particularly tough for the Event’s sector. Sophie, our Events Manager has worked tirelessly with our bookings keeping them up to date with changes of legislation and our commitment to delivering their event better than ever in the future.  Please allow me to take this chance to thank our suppliers who have also had their businesses devastated but have still been so flexible in moving dates for our guests!

9.    It’s been a turbulent time for town centres across the nation too. What are your hopes for King’s Lynn Town Centre?

More of the same please King’s Lynn!  The recent growth in great places to Eat and Drink are fantastic for business,  it’s important that people see King’s Lynn as the location for their evening out opposed to travelling to Norwich or Ely.  We have a fantastic town centre, I hope we can continue to shout loudly about it.

10.  Tell us one thing you or your company learnt from 2020.

Furlough... Zoom call... Social distance...Home schooling! The year was an absolute whirlwind!

But I think the thing that stood out the most for me was the togetherness of people. As a company we maintained open for Key workers throughout the first and second lockdowns, supporting QEH’s crisis team. People wanted to help each other, and I hope that when we find ourselves in ‘The New Normal’ we all might continue to help one another that bit more.

11.  And finally, on a less business-related note, if you could create a new flavour of ice-cream, what would it be?

Oooo tough one... but now you ask... have you tried The WhataHoot Tawny Curd...?  2 ice cream scoops of that!! YES PLEASE!

Please note, the ideas and opinions expressed within this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of Discover King’s Lynn, the King’s Lynn BID.

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