It was the organized chaos and fast pace of hotels that first seduced Paul Gregory into the hospitality industry. “I remember finishing my first week and being exhausted but exhilarated at the same time,” says Gregory, recalling his first full-time hotel job at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.
The affable hotelier has been at the helm of The Bruce Hotel in Stratford, Ont. since its opening a year ago. Though he’s worked at various hotels throughout his career, it’s the “Stratford experience” that makes this job different. “There’s a sense of community that radiates from the vibrant culinary and theatre scenes. Having the Stratford Festival’s world-class theatre at our front door or being able to buy locally made water buffalo cheese from Monforte Dairy are a couple of the luxuries that remind you how great it is to be in Stratford,” he says.
At the height of the summer season, when theatre is in full swing, Gregory oversees approximately 60 employees charged with the fluid management of 21 rooms and four suites.
Helming a new hotel means Gregory’s days are never boring. “The Bruce is the first ultra-luxury property in this location; we face the same challenges any new business does in its early years — building relationships with good suppliers and training staff to the level of service our guests demand. Fortunately, we’re in a community with an abundance of highly trained service industry workers so we have a great pool to choose from. We also have a number of excellent food suppliers in the area, which makes our job easier.”
With intensified competition across all market segments, Gregory stresses the need to be “innovative and never complacent. People are also always looking for consistency. The owner (Jennifer Birmingham) has provided us with a beautiful product; it’s my job to ensure we deliver incredible service and constantly strive to be better.”
The hotel’s location in a town noted for its network of farms and strong culinary roots means it prides itself on offering Canadian cuisine. The new executive chef, Arron Carley, formerly of Toronto’s Canoe restaurant, and his team “go out daily foraging and meeting the local farmers. We’ve just established three beehives on our grounds to make our own honey. And, in a small place steeped in tradition, one of our biggest initiatives is to build and strengthen our relationships with the city itself,” he describes
Clearly, Gregory has a lot on his plate but he’s determined to find ways to broaden the hotel’s appeal. “Down the road we are looking at the possibility of building a full-service cottage on the grounds, along with a spa.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about offering something unique. “The Bruce, for example, is located in a city with many forms of accommodation, from B&Bs to motels, to small inns and traditional hotels. Our owner identified an opening at the high end of the market, and we’re successfully filling that niche.”