The White Vine House
Purchased by Javed Khan in 2004, The White Vine House has become one of Rye’s most popular places to stay and was awarded Five AA stars in 2005 –an accolade it has held ever since. EatSleepDrink caught up with the man himself to find out more about this home away from home.
With a history that can be traced back to 1575, when the building was commissioned by a local ship owning wine merchant, The White Vine House today retains many of the exquisite features that have been added to this intriguing property over the years. Indeed, a further 25 coats of paint were been added to the original French Oak Panelling, which until 2005 remained undiscovered. When Javed realised his chance discovery the panelled rooms were meticulously restored by hand by local craftsmen who have done a fine job of restoring The White Vine House to its former glory. It is this kind of serendipity that has come to define this most charming of properties.
Although not usually a natural career progression, Javed’s former life as an investment banker provided the backdrop for the vision of The White Vine House, as he begins by explaining. “With no experience in the hospitality sector whatsoever, the initial concept was simply based on ‘what I would like in an establishment’. This meant simpler but higher quality surroundings and very good food.
“Avoiding the formality and overly ‘corporate’ look of many places, I decided to forego the services of an interior designer and went with what felt right and what guests would find useful”, he recalls. “I wanted the place and my guests to be at home, hence our motto: ‘Your home in Rye’. Since opening, many of the touches that guests appreciate have been added as a direct result of their feedback and this in itself is a consequence of engaging directly with our customers”.
This engagement with guests is something that Javed has worked tirelessly to promote and, today, stands as one of The White Vine’s major selling points, as he continues by affirming. “Alongside our interaction with visitors, I would say that the property’s history is also a massive selling point. The building has a great ambience to it, so providing quality service that befits our history is something that I was very keen to introduce”.
With more than 300,000 visitors per year, Rye is one of the UK’s most thriving tourist destinations, particularly for history buffs and those in search of weekend breaks away. Indeed, given The White Vine’s location in the heart of the town, it is perhaps unsurprising that the property continues to enjoy such strong occupancy rates throughout the year. However, as Javed testifies, marketing the property was something he had to learn the hard way.
“With only six rooms to fill (and concurrently fewer rooms to fund a ‘proper’ marketing budget) I’ve come to adopt two strategies. The first of these is repeat or referral custom. I take the view that you never know who you are talking to,” he asserts. “In one instance, I have had an entire wedding booked after a couple came in initially for a cup of tea! This is what happens when one truly engages with a guest.
“Secondly, we use a local PR company called Avocado Media that helps us to identify target markets and increase our visibility to potential customers,” Javed explains. “Going forward, the next phase is to devote more time and effort to online strategies and to appear in Hardens, Sawdays and the more exclusive guide books”.
Also home to The Ambrette, The White Vine has a considerable advantage over many of its competitors in Rye. Indeed, the exquisite Indian cuisine crafted by Dev Biswal in The Ambrette is becoming more and more sought after and with more visitors flocking to the restaurant, The White Vine is perfectly placed to capitalise on such through trade.
“I do not believe in chafing dishes and self service,” Javed notes. “Our breakfasts are cooked to order using local produce and in the coming months, Dev will consult on the breakfast menu to offer a more ‘Ambrette-aligned’ menu, although the core staples of the ‘Full English’ will remain. In the rooms, our hospitality trays (packed with fine teas, fresh milk and delicious snacks) are organised and presented in Kilner jars.
“These offer a significant reduction in waste packaging and also allow us to purchase more effectively, which allows us to source higher quality products, instead of the lowest common denominator,” he affirms. “Similarly, the bathroom products are decanted into refillable aluminium pump-dispensers. The bars of soap are made locally and cut from loaves, hence why they are presented in Kilner jars too. All of our light fittings utilise low energy bulbs and the lighting and ventilation in the ground floor guest toilets is powered by motion sensors and timers”.
Despite the building’s Grade II listing, Javed has achieved a remarkable level of environmental efficiency, as he continues by confirming. “As a Grade II listed building, I am to a great extent limited in managing my carbon footprint. The windows are single 3mm glazed sash windows, the building itself is timber-framed and the roof is Kent clay peg tile. English Heritage simply wouldn’t let me insulate the walls, install double-glazing or re-roof with a higher performance tile!
“So while my hands are tied in certain respects by history of the building, we have done all we can to make the property as efficient as possible,” Javed confirms.
The road ahead
Having firmly established itself as one of the places to stay in Rye, The White Vine has also become a popular wedding venue, as Javed continues by describing. “Whilst we do host weddings, we do not offer ‘packages’ as such. This is part of The White Vine House ethos. I don’t believe that it’s right to dictate a package A, B or C as this implies a ‘take it or leave it / one size fits all’ approach. Instead, we design the wedding around the couples’ requirements.
“On this basis they can do as much, or as little, as they wish with us,” he affirms. “That being said, our weddings tend not to be over 30 guests, so all wedding events are fully tailored, intimate events. On this note, I think that it’s our bespoke approach that keeps guests coming back to The White Vine, because we meet, and generally far exceed, our guests’ already high expectations,” Javed concludes.
Indeed, having graciously accommodated EatSleepDrink in Room 4, we can confirm that The White Vine House truly goes above and beyond for its growing number of loyal fans and delivers excellence at every corner. Given the passion and drive of Javed, we are predicting a prosperous decade for this most charming of properties.
Visit: http://www.whitevinehouse.co.uk/ for more information or call 01797 224748 for reservations.
Don’t forget to read our article on The Ambrette!