Jet Black Jewel: Meet the woman who opened a hotel with a difference in Whitby despite having never worked in hospitality
A Leeds woman who bought a disused office building on a whim has converted it into one of Whitby’s most unique guesthouses.
Hospitality business owners Zoe Cottier and her husband had careers in branding and IT respectively when they decided to put an offer in for the council-owned premises on Skinner Street in 2019 with no real idea of what they would do if it was accepted.
Two years and several lockdowns later, the building has become Jet Black Jewel, a forward-thinking hospitality business, a hybrid between a traditional hotel and an Airbnb with a cafe-bar attached.
The accommodation is themed around Whitby‘ s famous folklore and Zoe – the sister of BBC Look North presenter Amanda Harper – has even hired a local ghost walker to drop into the cafe unannounced and regale customers with spooky stories.
She believes her lack of experience in the hospitality sector has actually given her an advantage, enabling her to approach tasks with a guest’s eye and follow trends.
“We never planned to do anything 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 cafe came afterwards. We spent a year renovating it as it was an office block that had not been used for about 20 years.”
Incredibly, Boris Johnson announced the UK’s first lockdown just half an hour after Zoe had posted that the business was about to open on Instagram.
“Luckily, we had no staff at that stage, but we had to mothball it. We were fortunate in that we both had other jobs and it wasn’t our sole livelihood. It was much tougher for some of the other hospitality businesses in Whitby and everyone helped each other.
“The government grants were fantastic and many of them wouldn’t have survived without them.”
After finally opening in July 2020, hospitality business, Jet Black Jewel was inundated with bookings and has been busy ever since.
“It was a steep learning curve, as we were novices and had to learn as we went along and find our feet. I always wanted us to stand apart from the crowd, and I wanted that personal touch – comfy mattresses, power showers. It’s a bit hands-off but Covid played to our strengths as people didn’t want to mix so it turned out to be a middle ground.”
The hotel does not have a traditional reception desk, room service or lifts. Breakfast and the public face of the business are both centred on the cafe, and guests are given an Airbnb-style code to enable them to check in and out themselves. A couple of confused elderly guests were given a fob instead, but for the most part the system has proved a success.
“It lets people feel safer. Hospitality is evolving 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 break them! It just made sense for us.”
Settled in Leeds with their eight-year-old daughter, the Cottiers are not planning to relocate, and Zoe commutes to the coast once a week to oversee the hotel, which she has left in charge of an experienced team.
“Whitby is famous for its ghosts but there’s 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 original abbey who banished the 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’re getting an actress to play a 19th-century herring girl too. It’s not just for the goth weekends.
“Ultimately I want to develop the cafe-bar and open in the evenings, and eventually become a destination in Whitby. We’re happy with everything we’ve achieved so far and now we want to grow our brand.”
The original version of this article was first published on The Yorkshire Post
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