Historic St. James Hotel under new management

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

The services at Selma’s only full-service hotel will soon be expanded to include a valet, a concierge and international food with a southern flavor.

Gourmet Services, Inc., was announced Friday as the new management of the historic St. James Hotel, which company officials called “the most beautiful properties” they had ever seen.

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The firm, which provides food services to a number of colleges, has a client list that includes the CNN Center in Atlanta and hopes to take services at the St. James to another level.

City Attorney Jimmy Nunn is developing a lease agreement, which city officials

will review and sign at the July 9 meeting of the Selma City Council.

Company chief executive Nathaniel R. Goldston III told council members of some of their plans to make the St. James “a destination place,” and unveiled the red and white uniforms servers and valets would be wearing. He said they have already begun selecting china and silverware.

“The 42 rooms will not pay the bills. The dining room and cocktail lounge will be a destination place,” said Goldston, founder of the nation’s largest African American foodservice management company.

Goldston went out on his own in 1975, tapping the under-served market of historically black colleges and universities. His company now serves meals to an estimated 240,000 students, as well as catering galas for Turner South. With offices in the Sweet Auburn area, Gourmet Services employs 2,500 people with reported sales of $171 million last year. The St. James will be the company’s first hotel.

Goldston introduced the most famous member of his staff, Chef Marvin Woods, known by his trademark scarf and his cooking show “Home Plate.” The delegation toured the hotel. Woods flew in from California to join Goldston in touring the facilities.

“To walk inside that property sent chills down my spine, to see how gorgeous it is” Goldston said. “It’s going to be a first class operation.”

Woods, known for creating healthy fares, was introduced to council members, and will be responsible for developing the menu. Councilwoman Jean Martin, who worked to get the St. James renovated and reopened in 1996, welcomed Woods and the delegation to Selma and joked with him about whether he would be able to create the popular bread pudding dish, “using bourbon in the topping.”

The hotel was built in 1837 and the $6 million renovation made it an anchor for downtown revitalization. The company plans to have an international staff in the kitchen, and have already announced upgrades. Goldston said they have 42 flat screens on hold for every room, and plan to add an exercise area complete with state-of-the-art equipment.

Terms of the lease have not been finalized, but Goldston said they should be reopening the bar and restaurant within the next 60 days.

“I’m excited about it. It’s a chance for us to leave a legacy in a city that’s very important,” Goldston said.