Ahmet Kurcer retires from the Alderley Edge Hotel after 25 years at the helm
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 May 2016
As he retires, Cheshire Life pays tribute to Ahmet Kurcer, General Manager of the Alderley Edge Hotel, now synonymous with fine dining and exceptional hospitality. Words by Ray King
The retirement later this month of Ahmet Kurcer, after more that 25 years as general manager of the Alderley Edge Hotel, marks the close of an era not only for the hotel and the village just down the hill, but also for hospitality in Cheshire and the north west of England.
For the 30 years since Ahmet first moved from the brash, bright lights of Manchester city centre in its late 1980s’ hedonistic heyday to what was then a quiet, semi-rural backwater, have seen remarkable changes in Alderley Edge and the industry itself. Istanbul-born Ahmet, who turns 65 on June 1st, recalls the very early days at the Victorian country house overlooking the village.
‘When I came the village was very traditional, quiet and very English where everyone knew everyone else. The hotel itself was quite run-down; not much more than a bed and breakfast and the small restaurant had almost no customers. The switchboard was an old-fashioned plug-in type and there were virtually no duplicate keys for the rooms.
‘One day I walked into the village past the old police station and called in at the hardware store where the Alderley Bar and Grill now is, to get some keys cut. As soon as I got back to the hotel the telephone was ringing so I wrestled with the plug-in switchboard and a voice at the other end said: “This is the police. There’s been a report of a strange man buying duplicate keys for the Alderley Edge Hotel.” ’
Ahmet added with a chuckle: ‘I had to tell them that I was that strange man, the manager!’
The Alderley Edge Hotel had been bought by the family-owned brewers J W Lees specifically to be run by the late John Buttery, former general manager of Manchester’s Portland Hotel, and Ahmet who had been head-hunted from the nearby Britannia Hotel to become the Portland’s food and beverage manager. They had come into close contact with members of the Lees-Jones family though the north Manchester brewery’s associated wine business Willoughby’s, suppliers of champagne and fine wines to the Portland.
Soon promoted general manager at the Alderley Edge, Ahmet has from the outset maintained a genuine respect for the brewing family who still own the hotel. He said: ‘I’ve had an extremely good relationship with them and they have always supported me one hundred per cent.’ That support enabled Ahmet, down the years, to oversee the expansion of the hotel’s accommodation from 32 bedrooms to 50, development of The Alderley dining room into a 3 AA Rosette restaurant, putting it in the nation’s top ten per cent. Recent years have seen the opening of the brasserie and the Laurent Perrier Suite, one of the most sought-after wedding venues in the county.
‘All of that has given me great satisfaction,’ Ahmet reflected. ‘I have been very lucky and I am very proud of what we have achieved.’
Following an idea developed between Ahmet and Patrick O’Neill, (the previous editor of this magazine) over a lavish lunch, the hotel hosted for 15 years, the Alderley Edge Hotel/Cheshire Life Champagne Oscars, one of the glitziest black tie occasions in the county’s social calendar.
Ahmet expresses ‘huge respect’ for his staff, many of whose talents he has nurtured and recognised by a policy of in-house promotion. ‘It really gives me a lot of pleasure to see where they are now, almost like my own children. It’s priceless.’
Of his genial management style, in which the privacy of guests is the prime consideration, he says: ‘One of the biggest things for me is that I never do a hard sell. I really care about customers and when you genuinely care about people - however much or little they may spend and that’s the philosophy of all the staff here - they become not only good friends but also your sales force. That’s why the Alderley Edge has become a very special place over the years. I have seen long-time loyal customers bring their children and then the children, grown up, become customers also. That has given me so much pleasure too.’
As for the future, Ahmet intends what he calls ‘a proper retirement’. Will he revisit the country’s top hotels and restaurants as he did with his staff ‘to learn but never copy’?
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Because I have been in this business so long, if I go to those famous establishments it would almost feel like I am still at work. From now on I want to be more casual and relaxed, enjoying good simple food with the best ingredients.
‘This first summer I will spend most of my time in Turkey, where we have a place on the coast near Izmir. I love going to the wonderful markets with amazing fruit, vegetables and herbs - incredible, like theatre - and I will enjoy cooking fresh fish for the family in a fantastic kitchen. Beyond that I don’t have any set plans. I am going to relax, not rush anything and see what the future brings.’
The father of two daughters and grandfather of two girls and a boy added: ‘For many years my work has been number one. I am not so proud, really, to say that, but that’s just how it happened. Now I want to make up for all that lost time with my wife Linda and the rest of the family.’