Hotel Northampton Blends Location, History, and AmenitiesThe recipe for success at the Hotel Northampton, which hosts about 1,000 meetings and conventions every year, contains ingredients that are difficult to replicate.
First, there is the old-fashioned historic charm of the hotel itself, which was built in 1927 with great attention to detail and an elegant ballroom designed for formal affairs. Next is the advanced technology available to meeting planners, including state-of-the-art sound systems and audio-visual equipment.
Then there’s a third fundamental — the hotel’s location.
It is set in the heart of Northampton’s thriving downtown, which allows people who attend business retreats, meetings, and conferences to season their stay with visits to eclectic shops, restaurants, museums, and art and entertainment venues.
But perhaps the most critical ingredient is owner Mansour Ghalibaf’s belief about the importance of catering to clients and surpassing their expectations.
“Everything we do is for our guests,” said Ghalibaf, who has 33 years of experience in the hotel business, began working at Hotel Northampton in 1990, and purchased it in 2006. “We listen to our customers, and whatever they want … they get.”
That extends to unusual ethnic foods. “We have had people who are planning weddings ask for foods that are not on our menu. Our chef has gotten recipes from them, and we have prepared the food under their guidance and had them taste it to be sure we got it right,” he told BusinessWest.
He added that many people who come to the hotel to stage a social event such as a retirement party need help with the planning process. “We know it’s something people don’t do often, and we want their event to be successful, so our staff members act as consultants and advise them on what they need to do,” he said. “We want them to be happy.”
In fact, Hotel Northampton’s service and amenities have caused it to be featured in more than one edition of Yankee magazine, and the hotel and Ghalibaf have also won a number of awards.
But he doesn’t seek that type of publicity. He prefers to go about his business quietly, showing due respect to guests and conference planners whose events range from meetings that take half of a day to itineraries that last up to a week.
“Every group needs a different type of setup, and we have a lot of repeat business from groups who come here and appreciate the high quality of our food as well as the service,” he said. “We conduct a follow-up survey which is sent to all of the managers who attend a conference, then review the results. It’s important to listen to your customers, and it’s something we have done for a long time.”
The hotel has 6,000 square feet of meeting space for event planners to choose from, with offerings that range from the formal to the informal. There are also 196 rooms for overnight stays, which include a cottage with two suites and two large rooms.
The hotel’s insider boardroom, which Ghalibaf describes as “elegant,” is often used for meetings of 18 people or fewer, while the executive boardroom can hold up to 20.
The T.K. Room is larger and can accommodate up to 45 meeting participants, while the Northampton Room holds 50 to 55. “It has windows on three sides and is a very bright room,” he said.
The Hampshire Room holds up 80 people, but large groups often prefer to stage meetings in the ballroom, where tables and audio-visual equipment are set up according to need.
“The hotel has a lot of the technological equipment that groups need, and we also work with a local company, so we are able to provide everything from lighting to a closed-circuit camera,” Ghalibaf noted. In addition, wireless and wired Internet access is available throughout the hotel.
Meeting planners also have their choice of two award-winning restaurants on the premises — the historic Wiggins Tavern and Coolidge Park Café, which offers seasonal outdoor dining.
But there is a wide variety of other eateries within walking distance, and the hotel’s location definitely adds to its appeal.
“Northampton is a vibrant city with theaters, restaurants, and shops with welcoming merchants, which helps to make our hotel exclusive and very unique,” said Ghalibaf, adding that many firms that host retreats for their managerial staff look for a place where they can enjoy local comedy, restaurants, and other attractions, and Hotel Northampton gives them that option. “We’ve had groups that also schedule activities such as whitewater rafting or golf; the atmosphere and number of things to do here allows participants to enjoy each other’s company and build camaraderie.”
The food is also a source of pride, and Ghalibaf said the hotel has received an untold number of letters from guests who rave about the cuisine. “Most of our ingredients are fresh. We don’t try to save money on food.”
The menu is enhanced by the fact that he is serving his second term as chair of the Mass. Restaurant Assoc., which gives him access to a variety of chefs. “The hospitality community is close-knit, and everyone helps each other,” said Ghalibaf, adding that restaurants in Northampton have borrowed food from other nearby eateries if they run out of an item. “These things all make a difference, and our guests reap the benefits.”
The Hotel Northampton was built in 1927, thanks to funding by the chamber of commerce and local businesses that felt the city needed an upscale place for guests to stay.
Three years later, entrepreneur Lewis Wiggins moved the Wiggins Restaurant from Hopkinton, N.H. to Northampton, where it was attached to the hotel’s lower level. The tavern had been built in 1786 by his grandfather, Benjamin Wiggins, and the move was tricky.
In order to accomplish it, the building had to be disassembled, then carefully reconstructed, using the carved paneling, hand-hewn beams, and stone and brick hearths brought to the site from New Hampshire.
When the restoration was complete, Lewis, who was a renowned antique collector, filled the tavern with antiques from the original building as well as others purchased throughout New England.
He continued to add to the collection, and by 1937, two staff members were assigned to mingle with guests and discuss the hotel and its antiques. Many of these pieces still grace the hallways, restaurants, and lobby of the hotel, which went through a number of owners over the years.
Ghalibaf was hired in 1990 to handle the hotel’s operations and budget, and in 2006, he purchased it with partner and hotelier Tony Murquett from the United Kingdom. Since that time, Ghalibaf has worked to improve the property and provide noteworthy service in the historic setting, which appeals to wedding planners as well as conference planners.
In fact, the hotel hosts about 75 weddings each year, and many are held in the ballroom. “Discriminating couples appreciate its atmosphere. There is nothing like it in Massachusetts — it’s very elegant and was designed for balls,” said Ghalibaf, as he talked about the room’s arched windows and historic charm.
Event planners also find the space attractive, and in some instances, classroom-style tables are set up for a morning or afternoon meeting. When it ends, participants are given a break, while employees, including members of the management staff, rush to replace the long tables with round ones so lunch or dinner can be enjoyed beneath the enormous crystal chandelier in the room’s unusual setting. However, some groups choose to eat in Wiggins Tavern, while others dine downtown.
“The ability to enjoy downtown Northampton also makes our hotel exclusive and very unique,” said Ghalibaf. “But the bottom line is that, if people have a good experience, they will come back.”
This pattern extends to Hollywood actors and actresses. Indeed, Ghalibaf noted an instance where word of mouth, which has increased the hotel’s business exponentially, made a difference.
It occurred when actor Michael Caine was staying at Hotel Northampton during the filming of the movie The Cider House Rules — several scenes were shot on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital.
“He was in our cottage for two weeks and no one knew it,” said Ghalibaf. “The staff kept it quiet, and we did a lot of work behind the scenes because we wanted to respect his time and privacy. As a result, he was able to put on a hat and sit in the café without anyone bothering him.”
When Caine returned to Hollywood, he told his peers about the experience, and later, actor Mel Gibson stayed at the hotel during the filming of Edge of Darkness.
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman also stayed there during the first days of the filming of Malice. In addition, the Dalai Lama was a guest at the hotel in 2007 when he came to the city to speak at Smith College. Ghalibaf said his hotel stay required unusual security measures, but everything possible was done to secure his privacy. “We try our best to provide comfort and relaxation and fill every need.”
Other factors play into the success of the hotel, which is listed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America. They include the fact that General Manager Essie Motameni has more than 40 years of experience in the hotel business, as well as frequent upgrades to the property, such as new locks installed last month that work when a guest holds an electronically programmed card in front of the door of their room.
“We take care of our guests and all of their needs and provide 21st-century technology and convenience with the charm of yesteryear,” said Ghalibaf, recounting ingredients in the recipe that is responsible for the Hotel Northampton’s award-winning success.