Denny Keane, Rydges Port Macquarie

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From Nottingham to the Mid North Coast, Denny Keane is set to stamp his signature on Port Macquarie’s leading hotel. We get some insight into Denny’s career across the globe and what we can expect from this dynamic leader who loves a challenge, a game of rugby, a fine scotch and is partial to a snazzy pair of socks. Denny sits down with Kate Wood-Foye to talk all things hotel and Port Macquarie.

Denny, you’ve led teams in top hotels around the world, including Australia, New Zealand and the UK. What was your most exciting and rewarding role to date?

I’ve been really lucky to work with some amazing properties around the world, but the one to tell the grandkids about would be taking the reins of the Abode Hotel Exeter, owned by two challenging and amazing business people. The first being Andrew Brownsword, the creator of Forever Friends – an iconic brand that he would later sell to Hallmark Cards before buying Bath Rugby Club and creating his his own hotel chain. The second being Michael Caines, a Two Michelin Star chef who held two stars for an impressive 19 years. Together we looked after members of numerous royal families and Hollywood greats like Steven Spielberg, who became a regular with us through the shooting of the movie Warhorse. 

From deluxe boutique five star properties such as Lace Market in Nottingham in the UK to grand scale operations such as Skycity in Auckland with 323 rooms  – how important is team culture to the success of an organisation?

Team culture is a huge element of any successful team. As a leader, you set the tone of this culture and outline what success looks like; if we do our job properly, we empower our teams to go out, use their creativity and passion to succeed.  The traditional, dictatorial days of hotel management are well and truly passed, and that is why you’re more likely to see me out on the floor clearing plates or discussing challenges with teams than sitting in an office. It’s important be amongst it with your team and be hands on, challenging, yet approachable.

Organisation culture is an overarching framework to what I set out to deliver; both Rydges and our owners have strong cultures that are focused on their units being regional leaders in their market place, so that is the starting point of what I am setting out to achieve in this new challenge.

You are something of a change agent … What can we expect to see in the future of Rydges Port Macquarie under your leadership?

My hope is you will experience a property that is committed to being the best in market – that is the first thing we have challenged the team with. At a point next year I would like to be bringing trends in from Sydney and Melbourne more regularly and introducing some new product and experiences for people of the Hastings. From my perspective, I want the property to reflect the best aspects of the Mid North Coast and be a real showcase to our travelling guests, while bringing back the energy around the first days of Zebu.

You’ve led key hotel projects from concept completion. What has been your greatest challenge to date?

Without hesitation, Lace Market Hotel Nottingham is my greatest challenge to date – in seven weeks we conducted a massive refurbishment programme, designed and staffed a hotel, while also setting up all back of house operating systems. Someone told me it was impossible; I kind of believe them now, but we did it!

To put it in perspective, the first thing I did once we got the keys was sign on with British Telecom to set up a number of phone lines. On the opening night seven weeks later at 4pm, we finally had access to these phone lines for the first time. I’m saying this shaking my head, but we made it!

The food and beverage experience in the Rydges group encompasses Zebu, The Beach House and an extensive calendar of conference and events. These areas are at the heart of the hotel’s success. Can we safely say this space is going to evolve under your guidance?

I would think so. Some tweaks and some totally new events are on their way; I go back to the previous statement of creating experiences that are best in market. You can expect Zebu to evolve – a seasonally focused menu is on its way with a blend of old and new cooking techniques to really take the next step in the operation.

A new breakfast menu has already launched for Zebu Café, with lunch being revised in July and then the famous Beach House – I want to enhance the menu here to be seafood influenced, great pub food.

From Michelin Stars to serving the stars, you have worked in some exciting hotels and eateries over the years – can you give us some insider info on some famous faces that have walked through your doors?

I probably highlighted my Australian nature looking after Prince Edward for the second time about 10 years apart, casually discussing the first event in Melbourne like it was yesterday. I don’t think he remembered my restaurant, but did remember the trip where he was here for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. Some other names include songstress Ellie Goulding, Tiger Woods, Heather Graham, Prince Charles, Linda Evangelista and countless English Premier League players. For me, the two greats who left a lasting impression were Michel Roux jr and Marco Pierre White, who are both really the two great stand out chefs of our generation.

A new role, a new challenge and a new start … What have been the highlights of settling into your new coastal home?

The stunning region I am lucky enough to call home. I’m looking forward to getting out in the water and hitting a few golf balls in time. I must say, no matter how fast the region is growing, the genuine nature of people who live here has been great and a delightful contrast from whining Nottingham to almost saying hello to everyone down the street.

The man behind the suit  – What are your key Keanisms?

If you ask some of the team already, it’s the lame dad jokes; they have always made me laugh. I enjoy work – I know, one of the lucky ones – and encourage the teams I lead to do the same … smile and have a genuine approach to looking after our guests.

I’m also a pretty big sports fan across all codes and am definitely a one eyed Adelaide Crows supporter, Brumbies as well as all Australian national teams. I’m a huge Arsenal FC supporter, which doubles as a hobby, as I try at least once a year to travel to watch them play. This year it was champions league in Barcelona.

How important is collaboration and community to the hotel’s success?

It is a huge part of running an operation like this. The reasons behind the benefit for the business are obvious … Not so obvious are providing pathways for employment for members of the community, allowing small and local suppliers ways of selling their produce, and working as part of a larger team to ensure we at Port Macquarie get better than our fair share of events, festivals and sporting tournaments that will benefit all business operators in the region.

Rydges will continue to be a key part of the community moving forward, and I look forward to welcoming and working with the people of Port Macquarie in the coming months.

Thanks Denny.

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