Church rises to challenges at Rainbow Towers

Dusty Miller



RECENTLY Nick Mandeya, who runs Adrienne’s got me thinking, bemoaning a dearth of “character” hotel managers. A leading member of the hospitality indu

stry and former hotelier, he said he couldn’t name a single current urban hotelier.


It’s true. Thirty years ago (for instance) I could name the general manager of every major and many minor hotels from Beitbridge to Bindura, Plumtree to Penhalonga, Pandamatenga to Nyamapanda. I could have outlined a good slice of their professional pedigrees from memory, commented on strengths and weaknesses, known something about their families and possibly their education and birthplace.


That knowledge was by no means exclusive to me. They were household names; it was often common cause that the GM of hotel “A” in Bulawayo, there on promotion from hotel “B” in the capital, had his heart set on running hotel “C” at Kariba, but his missus preferred somewhere cooler, say hotel “D” in the eastern districts.


I had to check files to re-learn Tinashe Munjoma is now deputy manager at Meikles, following Russell Hadley’s departure to much greener Irish pastures, after Isaac Mpofu’s move to Victoria Falls Hotel.


No idea who runs the New Ambassador or indeed how many GM’s they’ve had since the era when I misspent a hefty slice of life in the Long Bar, Quill Club and the then superb Bird and Bottle Restaurant.


Who’s at the helm at the Crowne Plaza Monomatapa since the redoubtable Trythings (a wonderful name!) moved on after a brief stay? And so we go on.


Thirty years ago general managers and deputies were usually grizzled veterans spending a last few years at the pinnacle of much-loved careers. Today, certainly deputies are often mid-20-ish. What will they do the next 40 years? Recently I met someone, just 24, deputy GM of a major hotel with one promotion post above him in a career path, hopefully, set to span many years.


Incidentally it’s the same in journalism. When a brash young reporter, feature writer, sports reporter, sub-editor in my teens and early 20s, all top newspaper jobs were held by eminence grise-types who’d been around since Pontius was a pilot. Now a distinctly non-eminence grise type myself, but one who’s scribbled on three continents for more than four decades, many media decision makers seem wet-behind-the-ears bean counters not knowing printing ink from Pepsodent.


David Church, newly appointed GM of Rainbow Towers is certainly young — but not embarrassingly so -— and with already a wealth of experience spanning 18-years, two continents and several countries.


And my goodness he’s a dynamic go-getter; one whose name, I’m sure, will be talked about in local hospitality circles for years to come; like the giants of the 1970s and 80s still are.


I had already received reports of lightning, whirlwind, CO-type inspections of the Rainbow Towers (nee Sheraton), now incorporating Harare International Conference Centre.


As regular readers know, I’m conservative with a small “c”, see no point in re-inventing wheels and despise change for its own sake. Thus I was fairly cynical when invited to lunch with the new incumbent and PA, Barbara Hickey, to find we were to taste and test new dishes at a chef’s table in the throbbing, steaming, hotel kitchen. There was little wrong with food served in the Harvest Garden, Komba Hari and various banqueting rooms for 20-odd years, I thought.


But, wow, I was impressed. Apart from not hearing a single plate broken or glass shatter in an hour (unusual at a chef’s table) the food was stunning.


I stress we had small, bijoux even, soupçons to sample, lest you think the trio the size of gasometers. (The extremely affable Church and I sport not inconsiderable girths, but Barbara’s as slender as a cat.) We went through the card with: seafood salad of prawns, calamari, mussels, bean sprouts in garlic, ginger, chilies and a teriyaki sauce.


Then classical chicken Caesar salad: lettuce, chicken breast, marinated mushrooms and parmesan. Then fried Chinese cabbage salad with caraway seeds, chilies, deep-fried Haloumi. My favourite was ostrich salad: thinly sliced fillets of ostrich and peppers with sesame seeds and Haloumi.


British-born and trained, Church held a number of prestigious top management posts in four and five-star hotels. Most recently he was GM of Cape Town’s five star Lagoon Beach, the southern hemisphere’s largest hotel; prior to that — where he acquired an addiction to curry and spicy food already obvious in re-vamped menus — he was in charge at Durban’s Royal Hotel, also five-star, a venerable 150 years old and an institution of note.


Nowhere in UK is more than three hours’ drive from the sea, and with his last two posts being coastal, he says what he’ll miss most in Harare is the tang of brine and roar of breakers crashing on a beach.


He met wife, Gerry, when they worked together in London. She is from Johannesburg, where she will soon briefly return to have the couple’s first child. They declined a “scan” and blissfully wait whatever blessing they receive in the form of a bonny baby.


I thought Far East soup of beef and onion, noodles and vegetables possibly too hot for casual visitors to the Kopje hotel; it was agreed it could be served in various degrees of “heat” to suit punters’ tastes.


Main courses comprised Portuguese trinchado: cubes of ultra-tender beef fillet, tossed in oil, flashed in white wine with bay leaf and glorious fillets of kingklip, generously stuffed with New Zealand mussels on a bed of al dente egg noodles, which transported me, figuratively, to the sea.


I love the hotel’s signature fresh fruit salad with just a drizzle of cream or suggestion of ice-cream but we sampled three decadent menu newcomers: dark and white chocolate mousse in moulded brandy snap, chocolate box filled with fruit yoghurt (a delightful fusion of flavours). I’m not the world’s greatest fan of cheesecake, but could more than live with a fruit version served.


Church holds a BTech Advanced degree in Hotel and Catering Management from Plymouth College, UK and is a hands-on specialist with experience in Intercontinental, Principal, and Savrova Hotels in the UK and also France, Spain and Eastern Europe under his belt.


He has much background in refurbishing hotels, which will be useful as the former Sheraton undertakes a makeover and major re-branding. His first challenge was to see the new luxury casino on the Mezzanine Floor of HICC about now.


He considers international negative perceptions of Zimbabwe a major challenge and was already head shaking over hyper-inflation: a culture shock coming from South Africa where prices are adjusted, perhaps, annually, to a scene where major inputs double in price overnight.


First impressions of his new country:


“Magnificent, stunning, friendly; potentially a major tourist destination; but a place of incredible contrasts. There are more brand new luxury cars on Harare’s roads than you’d find in Sandton, but they drive past harsh, stark poverty.”


Having been here under a month, he is busy learning Shona to accompany fluent English, French, Spanish and a working knowledge of Afrikaans.


dustym@zimind.co.zw