Kelly Moran of Kildare House Hotel went through challenges and change… and came out the other side
To say the past few years for Kildare House Hotel owner, Kelly Moran has been busy is an understatement. Since buying the hotel in 2019, Kelly renovated it and established two thriving restaurant offerings, one of which has an innovative vegan focus. Hotel & Restaurant Times met with Kelly to chat about this challenging, exciting, and ultimately triumphant journey.
While Kelly purchased the hotel in 2019, she has in fact been running it since 2014. The hotel has a rich history and was originally an infirmary in the 1700s. The building changed hands several times over the years and was known as both The Derby House Hotel and The Curragh Lodge Hotel, which sadly ceased trading during the recession. Once the former hotel ceased trading the building remained unused, empty, and unloved until Kelly took it over. “I’m from Kildare Town so I used to pass it often,” Kelly tells us. “I always thought it was such a pity to see it derelict and had my heart set on once again breathing new life into this grand old dame!”
Given the disrepair of the building, there was a lot of work to do. Kelly had a three-year plan, starting with downstairs, then the ballroom, and finally the hotel’s 21 bedrooms, but the demand for rooms meant they had to tweak their plans. “That demand surprised me,” says Kelly. “We have had around 92% occupancy since we opened, so the rooms were quite basic and clinical when we did them first, white walls and grey carpet. It’s not what we initially wanted to do but it got us through.”
Then, after five years of working hard to establish the hotel Kelly received a shock. The property’s landlords wanted to sell. Initially Kelly was offered the option to purchase the hotel in year seven, but here she was in year five, not knowing what was going to happen with the hotel.
“I was scared because I wasn’t ready for it,” Kelly tells us. “I was thinking, I am staying, am I going? How much work should I put into the hotel? It took a full year for the sale to go through. It was a very tough time.”
Unfortunately for Kelly and of course the hospitality industry at large, more challenging times were ahead. Just six months after the hotel’s purchase, the country went into lockdown, and Kelly, like the rest of the country, didn’t know for how long.
“Not knowing in the beginning was difficult,” says Kelly. “There was that uncertainty, and it was mentally hard. My husband and I were also meant to buy a house before the pandemic happened and that didn’t go through. However, we eventually decided to push on with the renovation of the upstairs bedrooms. While the house not going through was devastating at the time, it ended up being the best thing for us. We created an apartment on the property, and it meant we were readily available, as the hotel needed so much time and work.”
Renovation-wise, there are still some upstairs bedrooms that need to be finished, Kelly says she is planning on turning the ballroom into ten ground floor bedrooms. She decided that weddings and large events weren’t right for their hotel, and instead she is seeking to cater for families and people with mobility issues. She had initially hoped to install a lift, but a preservation order on the building would not allow it. We asked Kelly if she found this frustrating, but she emphatically said she did not.
“It’s an old building and needs a lot of love,” she tells us. “I love the building and its history and want to respect and mind it. I want it to be modern of course, but I need to embrace what suits the building. For example, when I see the décor of modern purpose-built hotels, I think, ‘Oh it’s gorgeous,’ but it’s just not right for our building. Our hotel has a relaxed country house feel to it, like a home away from home.”
The Kildare House Hotel is home to The Gallops, a traditional restaurant with a quality breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, but it also houses a new and innovative restaurant offering. SOULBURGER is a burger restaurant with a plant-based twist: everything on the menu is available in a meat or vegan option. The restaurant was in the planning stages for three years and opened just after lockdown ended, and it has been so well-received that Kelly is planning to have three more locations in the next three years.
“SOULBURGER came about from not finding what I want to eat myself,” Kelly says. “I am a vegetarian and love vegetables but it’s so hard to find a comfort food vegan option, like, for example, loaded fries. Everywhere has a veggie option at this stage, but sometimes it’s not a great option. I wanted a place where there was no stigma, like, ‘Oh, you’re vegan?’ We do vegan wings, ice-cream, milkshakes!
“We thought, Kildare needs a place like this, everywhere needs a place like this. Together with our talented team in the kitchen I combined meat and vegan dishes as we thought there wouldn’t be enough of a market for the vegan side alone. At first, some of our chefs were really against it like, ‘Oh this is ridiculous, this not going to work, this is not proper food,’ but when they saw and tasted how good the product was, they were wowed by it.”
Reopening after the lockdown was tough, Kelly says, and, as we are seeing industry-wide, staffing shortages are an issue. However, she is feeling positive and looking to the future.
“We have achieved so much with the hotel. My team and I were recently looking at photos from a few years ago and we were wowed by the difference, by the homeliness. The hotel is ours; we’ve put our own stamp on it, and the future is looking bright.”