Jet Black Jewel: Meet the woman who opened a different hotel in Whitby despite never working in the hospitality industry
Zoe Cottier and her husband had careers in branding and IT respectively when they decided to bid for the council-owned premises on Skinner Street in 2019 with no real idea what they would do if it was accepted.
The former owner of the Whitby cafe refused permission to open a tea garden for walkers and tourists.
Two years and several closings later, the building has become Jet Black Jewel, an avant-garde hybrid between a traditional hotel and an Airbnb with an adjoining coffee bar.
The accommodation is themed in the famous folklore of Whitby and Zoe – the sister of BBC Look North presenter Amanda Harper – even hired a local ghost walker to unexpectedly visit the cafe and treat patrons to spooky stories. .
She believes her lack of experience in the hospitality industry has actually given her an advantage, allowing her to approach tasks with the eye of the customer and keep up with trends.
“We never planned on doing something like this until we saw the building for sale. Nine weeks later it was ours – and we thought ‘now what?’
“The vision for a hotel and a cafe came later. We spent a year renovating it as it was an office building that had not been used for about 20 years.”
Incredibly, Boris Johnson announced the UK’s first lockdown just half an hour after Zoe announced the business was set to open on Instagram.
“Luckily we didn’t have a staff at this point, but we had to put it on the back burner. We were both lucky to have other jobs and it wasn’t our only livelihood. It was a lot harder for some of the other hotel businesses in Whitby, and everyone was helping each other out.
“The government grants were fantastic and a lot of them wouldn’t have survived without them.”
After finally opening in July 2020, Jet Black Jewel was inundated with bookings and has been busy ever since.
“It was a steep learning curve as we were newbies and had to learn as we went and find our feet. I always wanted us to stand out from the crowd, and I wanted that personal touch – comfortable mattresses. , showers with powerful jets. a little without intervention, but Covid played on our strengths because people did not want to mix, so that turned out to be a common ground. “
The hotel does not have a traditional reception, room service or elevators. Both breakfast and the public face of the business are coffee-centric, and guests are given an Airbnb-style code to allow them to check in and out on their own. Instead, a few confused elderly guests were given a keychain, but for the most part, the system proved to be successful.
“It makes people feel more secure. Hospitality is changing and people want experiences that go beyond just a bed. When you’re a novice who doesn’t know the rules, it’s harder to breaking them! It made sense to us. “
Settled in Leeds with their eight-year-old daughter, the Cottiers have no plans to move, and Zoe commutes once a week to the coast to oversee the hotel, which she left as the head of an experienced team. .
“Whitby is famous for its ghosts, but there is so much more folklore and history. Each room has a story to tell – from the Penny Hedge ceremony to the Hand of Glory and St Hilda, the founder of the abbey of origin who banished snakes from Whitby, to the Maharajah who lived at Mulgrave Castle and was friends with Queen Victoria.
“Our ghost walker Dr. Crank calls into the cafe, tells a story and then leaves. We also have an actress play a 19th century herring girl. It’s not just for gothic weekends. .
“Ultimately I want to expand the cafe bar and open it in the evening, and eventually become a destination in Whitby. We are happy with everything we have accomplished so far and now we want to grow our brand. “