Jordan Martin has dreamt of owning a hotel since he was a child. This ambition is now a reality and he plans to make the former Merrill Inn as glorious as in his dreams. “I returned it to its original name, the one it was given in 1878,” he says. “Merrill House.” That exemplifies Jordan’s approach to his hotel – passionate about preserving its heritage, unapologetic about the changes he will bring to make it a modern boutique hotel.
“I’ve been on a path to Merrill House since my Bachelor of Commerce at the Queen’s School of Business,” he says. “I briefly went to Zimbabwe to work in development and then completed a master’s in luxury brand management in London, U.K. I then worked with the Jumeirah Group, based in Dubai. The group owns luxury hotels in the United Arab Emirates and around the world, including the Burj Al Arab which is one of the world’s only two seven-star hotels.
“Back in London, I became the marketing manager for the Grange Hotel Group, a group with a portfolio of 18 hotels in Central London and, at the time, 150 hotels around the world. My final experience ahead of purchasing a hotel was running my own communications and brand management consultancy in the U.K. I was looking in the U.K. for a hotel when I decided I wanted to be in a wine region thus started to search in France, instead; Burgundy, specifically.
“How did I end up in Prince Edward County? Well, I grew up in Belleville. I was visiting my parents over Christmas and saw the Merrill Inn was for sale. I had to go back to the U.K., but my father went to see it and when I returned in February I viewed it and liked it – a lot. I was back in London and the deal materialized over the next couple of months. I landed in Canada on the 7th of May at 10:00 p.m. and was in the hotel early next morning shadowing Edward and Amy Schubert, who had been running it for 16 years. They stayed on through June as part of a transitional period. It has been an intense couple of months and we have already made a lot of changes in the communal areas. We have not yet done much in the rooms, but there is a lot of new furniture and a lot of new art. The dining room is quite transformed and we have started to implement new services already. I began planning the changes months before the deal closed, so I could hit the ground running.”
WHY THE COUNTY – NOT EUROPE?
“I had heard about how Prince Edward County was developing, about the vineyards and all, but I had not actually been here for ten years. I used to come to the Sandbanks as a child, and I had visited the early wineries with my parents, but all the current activity was new to me. So when I came in February I took the opportunity to tour around and really see what was going on and I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I thought it was incredible. February is quiet, but I found the places that were open, Rosehall Run and some others; one could feel the energy. When I came back in May and having been here now for June and July, I am amazed by how many visitors there are and how many things are going on. It is definitely establishing itself as a serious place for tourism and there are a lot of new businesses opening. The people I have met are enthusiastic and passionate.”
How does that compare to Burgundy? “Well Burgundy is an old place, a beautiful place, but not much changes there. It is not a burgeoning and flourishing new tourist destination. Its established and little has changed in hundreds of years. Here in The County I experienced the excitement of being in a place new to me and alive with like-minded people who are passionate about their ventures and creating something interesting in a place that is growing rapidly. I also had the sense of coming home.”
THE JOY OF AGE
“There is a distinct quality to The County. People talk about an rustic urban vibe, but for me it has a lot to do with Prince Edward County being a very old place – for Canada. It is rare in Canada to find a house like this, the floors alone are amazing. In Europe you will find many floors like this, but in Canada it is special. Canada has just been a colony in 1878 and to have stateliness like this preserved in Anglo-Canada is wonderful. This house and the neighbouring houses are treasures. Go much farther west and you will not find anything like this. The rich history of The County will help to make my dream possible; its age is a big part of its charm.”
“I did not envision coming back to the Quinte region and I was not sure I would ever come back to Canada. My plans included building something in France, but having seen The County my plans changed. It is a bonus and an asset that my parents live just north of Belleville.
“In my short time here I have established great partnerships and connections, for example with Vincent and Christophe, owners of Maison dePoivre Gallery in Picton; they are now curating the art for Merrill House. Vincent’s family owns a champagne château and it functions as our house champagne. The art that is currently on display in this study is by my night manager, Milé Murtanovski! We have hired new staff to support us with new programs, and I inherited a great team. I am feeling confident and happy with the way we are working.
“There is continuity here. Chef Michael is staying and Astrid was here in a smaller capacity but is now our full-time wine director. Patricia Bell was assistant innkeeper and now she is now my hotel manager. We are up to 26 staff now. We are almost fully booked for the next couple of months and running at full-force, but we are also staffing-up to support the operation in the direction we are going in; offering more services.
“Changing the name back to Merrill House is part of rebranding and transforming from a country inn to a luxury boutique hotel and a destination in its own right. We will bring back its finery, restore its heritage and remind its interiors of some of the glories they saw in the 1870s. Preserve the heritage of the building, preserve the exteriors and where possible bring them back to their original state. But the interiors? They will be very contemporary, more about today and the energy that characterizes The County.”
MERRILL FOOD AND WINE
“We are fortunate to have Michael Sullivan as our executive chef and I am going to give him the dining room his food deserves. We started a chef’s carte blanche tasting menu every Thursday where Michael prepares a different six-course meal that exhibits his range of skills. In this way, I am also pushing the rest of the staff to show me what they are capable of. Astrid Young had a smaller role here before, but now she will be our full-time wine and service director. We are building a serious cellar. Over the winter we are renovating; we will have a short closure early in the year and in that time we will transform the restaurant into a cellar. The idea is one will dine white tablecloth inside the cellar.
“We will be laying down some County wines so we can see how they age. Most of the domaines cannot do this because of financial restraints. There is one laying down some wines, they call it their library, but there are a lot of wines, many Pinot Noirs for example, that could benefit from at least five years in a cellar. We will do this and people will be able to enjoy some Prince Edward County wines they cannot get anywhere else. The wine, food, service and interiors will be the pillars that will make this an incredible hotel. We are licensed for 15 rooms, but currently only operate 13; we will have 15 by the new year.”
ADVICE TO OTHERS THINKING OF MOVING TO THE COUNTY
“It is very vibrant here. If one is passionate and energetic, it is a wonderful place to be. It is exciting to think what is going to happen here in the next five and ten years.”
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.