Plymouth's famous Astor Hotel closes after going into administration
THE famous Astor Hotel has closed with the loss of 25 jobs – but proprietor Joseph Louei is still hoping to save the business.
The 54-room hotel, on the Hoe, is now in administration, mothballed and up for sale.
Administrators said the Astor Hotel had been making a loss for some time, and it would not have been commercially viable to trade it in administration during the winter "low season".
Mr Louei put the blame on the expense of fighting two high-profile legal cases, one he won, one he lost.
But the Iranian-born hotelier, one of the most colourful characters in Plymouth's business community, said the business had been trading well, with plentiful bookings.
And he stressed: "I'm doing everything I can to save it."
Mr Louei still hopes to reopen the three-star hotel, honour bookings and re-employ staff.
But he fears the worst: that the Elliot Street pile will end up as apartments.
"It's a disaster for me, the staff and the city," he said.
"It will be the end of me if it goes. I don't know what I'll do."
The Astor Hotel shut last week when its boiler failed.
It was busy at the time but all guests were found alternative accommodation paid for by Mr Louei.
Administrators from Grant Thornton were appointed at both the trading company, the Astor Hotel Limited, and also Joseph Louei and Sons (Holdings) Limited, which owns the site.
This came after what administrators called the recent failure of the Astor Hotel Limited's Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), which had commenced on March 2.
CVAs effectively offer to pay back a company's creditors a percentage of what they are owed, rather than the full amount.
Mr Louie said he blamed being left out of pocket after two court battles for his woes.
Last year an employment tribunal ordered him to pay £40,000 compensation to a former employee.
And although he won a costly legal row with business partner in 2011, he said he was still hit financially.
He said that including part-timers about 25 staff have been made redundant.
But he said he would like to see them reinstated and added: "I'm doing everything I can to save the hotel and jobs. I'm doing everything in my power to save it."
Mr Louei said the hotel was still popular with bookings for 2013 already taken.
"We have bookings and a very good summer, more or less fully booked with group bookings," he said.
"I'm hoping to keep them. But if it goes then everything goes.
"I'm hoping I will reopen it as the Astor Hotel. But there have been people waiting for this moment, to turn it into apartments."
Mr Louei has owned the hotel for the past 14 years.
He said he had put in £175,000 of his own cash, and borrowings, to keep it open.
And he said he had even been living in a single room at the hotel in recent years, to save money.
He said that if the hotel did not reopen it would be "a tragedy for the city and the end of me".
Mr Louei is a well-known face around Plymouth – and further afield.
In 2010, he and the Astor Hotel starred in an episode of Alex Polizzi's Hotel Inspector, on TV channel Five.
Mr Louei is also a former director of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce and Industry and an ex-vice-chairman of the Stakeholders in Hospitality Licensed Retail organisation.
He also commissioned and published a book about Plymouth's Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat as an MP.
And he raised cash for charity and stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate in a council election.