Hotel

Alan Rooney Of The Hendrick On What Inspires Him

By Robert McHugh
Alan Rooney Of The Hendrick On What Inspires Him

Robert McHugh speaks to Alan Rooney, general manager of The Hendrick, ‘Ireland's only street art hotel.’

Since opening in 2019, the Hendrick has been a proud member of the vibrant Smithfield and Stoneybatter community.

The Hendrick’s art collection is particularly unique, celebrating the urban art-forms of graffiti and street art. This extensive collection documents all eras of urban art, from the birth of letter-based graffiti and stencil street art up to the most progressive and avant garde movements of today.

Alan Rooney, general manager of the Hendrick, spoke to Hospitality Ireland recently about the hotel's unique relationship with Smithfield and how it offers a platform for artists of all disciplines.

The Hendrick has a very unique relationship with local street artists. How did this come about?

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It was ultimately the owners who decided the route that they wanted to go down when they were building it. I think the idea was that they really wanted something fresh and unique. There was nothing like this in Dublin before.

The owners were young and hip at the time. They were into art, and street art in particular. It was aimed at a new kind of traveller who is a bit more edgy and looking for something a bit different than what is traditional.

If you look around Smithfield and Stonybatter, street art is a big part of the scene around here, incorporating that into the hotel just made sense. Whether people realise it or not, there is meaning behind every piece of street art that you see here. Some people consider it to be graffiti, but there is meaning there. It is rarely just something that's been spray painted or what would be considered vandalism. There are a lot of very talented people who are putting proper pieces of work together and I think that is an important aspect of it.

One of the unique things about the hotel is that the artists here are not all famous or celebrities. They love what they do and are passionate about what they do. Some of the artists might not be known outside their own art circles. We have over 270 pieces of art across the whole hotel and every piece is unique. They are all curated neatly for this property.

Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.

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I come from a small village in North County Meath called Drumconrath. It borders Louth, Cavan and Monaghan on the North tip. The village only has a population of about 400 people. It is not very remarkable, I suppose. I come from a family of seven siblings, I am the fifth. I had a good upbringing in a quiet place.

My first job was in the local shop and post office. I enjoyed interacting with people, that is probably what started me on the route to hospitality.

What was your first big role?

I worked in Cabra Castle. It was the local hotel, I loved it there.

I was studying in Dundalk IT in 2007. The Crowne Plaza was opening at the same time and this was big news for Dundalk. I decided I wanted to work there and I did. That hotel gave me a lot of firsts. Once the financial crisis hit, things were getting very tough and people were spread thin, but from my perspective, I learned a massive amount during that period. I was in that hotel for five years and I did everything from bar, restaurant, conference, event manager and wedding coordinator roles. It was amazing.

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Ultimately in 2019, I returned to Dundalk as the general manager, and that was my first GM position in the Crowne Plaza in Dundalk. My career started in Dundalk and I got my first big GM position in that same property, six or seven years later. That was my first big role.

The year 2007 was an interesting time to start in the industry. What was that like?

It was a tough time. I'll never forget it, I was in college from 2004 to 2008.

When 2008 came, I finished college and spoke to the general manager at the time, I told him what I wanted to do, I told him that I was very ambitious and I wanted to progress. So that was all great. A position came up. I applied for it. It was a supervisory role. I got it. This was the first time before you could say I got an increase from minimum wage. And then within two weeks of that happening, there was an announcement for everybody that there would be a 10% pay cut.

It was tough for everybody, but you know the more you did, the more you were valued. That really pushed me to do as much as I could. I learned so much there, I always look back on it as a place where I learned the hotel business inside out.

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Who was your first mentor in hospitality?

Garret O'Neill. He was GM of the Crowne Plaza Dundalk. I thought he was fantastic. After Dundalk, I followed him to Crowne Plaza Blanchardstown and then afterwards to Crown Plaza Dublin Airport.

He helped me to understand the best way to improve people skills. I got a lot of extra confidence by dealing with people on a daily basis. I grew into a manager, under Garret. I would have looked to him for guidance. One thing he really taught me was to never take anything personally, which can be tough when you are young. You are trying to make a career, and it's tough not to take things personally as well. But that was something that really stuck with me, never taking things personally.

When you are dealing with someone, always put yourself in the shoes of the guest before saying anything. I think it is super important to remember that even to this day. I really admired him when I was younger and still do.

Of which industry networks have you been a part that have provided vital support and contributed to your career progression?

When I was in college, I became part of the Irish Hospitality Institute. In 2007 or 2008, they had started the Hospitality Business Game and I was one of the first entrants from Dundalk IT on that programme. As part of it, they gave us a year membership at the IHI and I really enjoyed it. I liked meeting people during that time and it really made me want to keep it up.

I am a member of IHI and I attend as many events as I can. Networking obviously is fantastic. So I do it as much as I can. It can be tough if you are busy at the hotel, but I do find it to be a great support network. You meet so many people, people who have gone through what you are facing now. You meet younger people who want to know your experience, so it's a really fantastic association.

I don't know if you would call it an industry network or not, but I get a lot of value out of Ibec as well for fantastic advice and training.

What do you think are the main challenges in the industry at the moment?

To be honest, the last 15 years have been a challenge. I mentioned the financial crisis. We had a number of good years until Mr. COVID came knocking. Since then, everybody's probably going to say that costs have gone through the roof. That is a massive issue that we are dealing with at the moment. It is a big challenge for the team and for managing relationships with stakeholders and whatnot. Everybody expects so much and you are trying to deliver and manage all these things at the same time. It's hard to get the balance sometimes. The industry is never plain sailing. It has always been a rollercoaster.

Recruiting staff is also a massive challenge. It is hard to attract people. The industry has been known for not treating people fantastic over the years. It is changing and changing fast which is fantastic.

However, it is hard attracting people and that is down to the housing crisis as well. I have had so many people start over the last couple of years in properties only to then leave a month or so down the line because they cannot find somewhere to live. That is really tough. You have so many people who really want to work in the industry but can't. You have people who are sharing not only houses, but sharing rooms. That is so tough for people.

There is a changing attitude within hospitality. That is something that is happening and needed to happen. People have changed a lot over the last couple of years, they expect a lot more. It is up to us to be able to provide that. If we do not, then we are not going to be able to attract people. So we do not have an option. We have to progress. We have to treat people as good as they are treated in other industries.

What do you think are the main opportunities for the sector at the moment?

Challenges also become your opportunities. Getting good people is an opportunity, as I said, we are changing paths, we are learning fast. People's expectations are changing and we are responding to that change. So that is an opportunity.

We have an opportunity now to stop haemorrhaging people and it is up to us to take it, to offer people a better quality of life and work-life balance. We have to be more understanding of people's needs in general. There is a big opportunity to make good people stay with the company.

It is similar with guests, their expectations are changing as well, how we communicate with them is changing. Travellers have different needs and one hotel does not fit all. There is an opportunity for people who want to seek something a bit different. The Hendrick has an art vibe, it is not for everybody, but it has a massive market for people who really want something a bit more chic and different.

There is a global selection of people who seek out these type of places, a very local cultural experience. Not everybody wants a branded hotel or somewhere where they know exactly what they are getting. Some people want to do something very immersive in the local culture. There is space for everybody.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I have a dog at home and I love spending time with him. I find that to be a great way to de-stress. Everyday, I love going home to walk the dog.

I love cooking as well. I have always loved cooking. At home, when I was younger it was presumed that I was going to be a chef because I was so into cooking. But that did not happen. I tried it and I did not like it. I decided that it was going to be a hobby and not a career.

I have particularly got into baking and fermenting in the last couple of years.

Given your surroundings, have you ever been tempted to pick up a paint brush?

I might but I am not sure that my work would be going on the walls anytime soon!

We have run some events over the last year and have been trying to open ourselves up to the local community, and we've been hosting events of all different types.

Looking ahead, what are your career goals and aspirations, and how do you envision making a lasting impact on the hospitality sector?

I think I have a long way to go. I am with the Hendrick for about five years. I still have lots more to learn and more roles to do.

I really want to continue to really be the best mentor that I can for the team. That is really important for me, to just shape the next generation of leaders, doing what is right for the team. Ultimately, that is going to challenge myself too. I think personal fulfilment is a massive element of what everybody should strive for. I want to learn from situations and I try every day to be as open-minded as I can.

I am not a very flashy person and I like to help other people to elevate themselves. I like to challenge people to think bigger, and above all I like to be fair. I like to do what is right for the business while being considerate of other people as well. I think all those things are what I strive for.

I do not have any ambition to be famous for what I do, but if I can be remembered for doing the right thing for the business and for our people, I will be happy.

Favourite meal?

I do not know if I have a favourite meal but I absolutely love Italian food!

Favourite drink?

An Italian wine called Barolo.

Favourite holiday destination?

Thailand. I spent a number of weeks traveling around South Thailand. I absolutely adored it and would go back in a heartbeat.