FLASHBACK: 1993 – ‘Carlton culture’ cultivates leadersOctober 25th, 2011 by Susan Reynard | Categories: beverages, columnist, government, hotels, industry, people, restaurants, tourism, training
Back in October 1993, The Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg’s CBD celebrated its 21st anniversary. Already much of its original market was reported to have moved to Sandton, which was fast becoming Johannesburg’s new business centre. However, The Carlton Hotel was still considered one of South Africa’s best.
Reasons for this were that it was modern, luxurious, retained its exclusive image, had an illustrious past and played a role in the development of the careers of many top hoteliers and chefs that worked across the property.
The hotel was built by South African Breweries and Anglo American Corporation for R23-million and took seven years to complete. The Three Ships restaurant and Die Koffiehuis pulled in the crowds. At that time, the first baby chair made for restaurants was still in use at Die Koffiehuis.
What set the hotel apart was the “Carlton culture”, set by past GM J Pat Burton. He implemented a five-day working week, multiracial staff complement, social club for staff at all levels, training through interactive management, and industrial relations procedures and principles. He often called “state of hotel” meetings where he addressed staff and would discuss anything to do with business.
This camaraderie, which existed among past and present staff, was rarely encountered in other hotels. Ex-Carltonites felt part of a club and a stint working at The Carlton appears to be a common denominator in a number of industry leaders locally and overseas.
Then GM Christopher Trimble said: “As change comes, and politics draws more and more people to our country, South Africa will be the most exciting place to be and The Carlton will be right up front, leading the way – the prospects are good. I see Johannesburg as the gateway to Africa and in this respect The Carlton has an important role to play.”
Burton at that time was vice-president operations of Shangri-La Hotels in Thailand.
Other events that made the headlines in then-named Hotelier and Caterer in October 1993:
- The first World Cooks Tour for Hunger saw some 118 chefs from 24 countries around the world come to South Africa, by invitation of founder and ongoing patron of this event which is now in its third tour this year (2011), Dr Bill Gallagher and the South African Chefs Association. He said at this historic occasion: “Many people are cynical about all the society lunches and dinners that surrounded the World Cooks Tour, but where else, other than to the rich, does one turn for funds. It would be pointless to stage an event such as this in Bangladesh or Somalia.” His work in raising awareness of the problem of hunger was raised to greater heights in the 2011 Bidvest World Chefs Tour Against Hunger, which raised R8m and received support from 250 chefs from 46 countries joined by some 700 local chefs.
- David Higgs, now executive chef at Radisson Blu Gautrain, impressed judges at the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs young chef’s competition in Brisbane, Australia. He impressed with the excellent taste of his dishes but lost points on the way he cut the meat for presentation.
- Peter Mokaba was the leader of ANCYL and also known for singing the now banned struggle song, “Kill the boer, kill the farmer” – a ditty which the current president of the ANCYL, Julius Malema, is also fond of singing, although has now been forced to give up singing it, at least in public. However, Mokaba seemed to have a better understanding that tourism development would be destroyed by violence and threats of violence, a point he made at a tourism conference organised by Satour.
- David Wigley, then chairman of the Hospitality Industry Training Board which was responsible for the in-service training scheme (another casualty of progress), said that tourism had the potential to become South Africa’s biggest industry in the next 10 to 15 years, but only if the hospitality industry could offer the service standards that will prompt tourists to part with their hard-earned disposable income.
- Ile de France restaurant (now closed) beat La Madeleine (still open) in taking first place in the 1993 Transvaal Popular category of the American Express Restaurant Awards. Linger Longer, which is no more after the sad passing of chef patron Walter Ulz in August 2011, won the De Luxe category for the third time.
- Speaking of Linger Longer (then owned by Ben Filmalter) it moved premises to Sandton after 30 years in Braamfontein. He said at the time: “Making Linger Longer remotely viable would have required rationalisation on a scale that would have dramatically altered the nature of this fine dining room. It was our contention that the excellent name of the restaurant should not be compromised by mediocrity.” He was joined in this sentiment by the late Ulz, who added: “We will be producing an all-new menu, but if anyone should want some of our old favourites, it’ll be my pleasure to make them.” That is what Walter Ulz will always be remembered for – his devotion to his guests.
- The Metropole Hotel in Strand near Cape Town, one of the last of the old seafront hotels at that time, was earmarked for demolition to make way for a block of flats. The occupancy rate reported by then-owner Albert Gramman for December 1992/January 1993 was just over 27% for 13 rooms, with the rest having been set aside for monthly occupation. One of the reasons for decline of business – the new liquor law that gave restaurants more freedom to serve liquor impacted negatively on the hotel’s bar revenue.
- Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) won the award for being a leader in affirmative action, Milky Lane Eastgate was named Franchisee of the Year and Steers was named Franchisor and Brand Builder of the Year in the Franchise Association of South Africa awards that year.
- Fedhasa was in crisis as during the association’s national congress held in August 1993 at Sun City, some members made it clear they did not think that one-time president and secretary-general, Dr Wynand Pretorius, should play a role in shaping the future of the association. However, after some commotion sanity prevailed and Pretorius was persuaded not to resign. Some high profile members did resign and the association was shaken by the events of the congress. However, editor Andrew Moth, reporting fully on the events of that congress, stated: “The furore over the role Dr Pretorius may play in the future of Fedhasa came close to destroying the association in the final hours, but it is clear that there is enough goodwill to make it possible for a Fedhasa with a different structure to succeed.” And, as usual, he was right.