Arrivals: An executive butler

Roy Ben-Shlomo gives butlering a new meaning as he takes his business to the next level.

Roy Ben-Shlomo 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Roy Ben-Shlomo 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
If your idea of an English butler is a Jeeves-like unflappable character in a bowler hat and carrying a rolled umbrella, then Roy Ben-Shlomo doesn’t exactly fit the mold. Tall, thin and wiry, with a South African-tinged husky voice and expressive body language, he is, nevertheless, probably the only qualified butler in Israel, having studied in London and worked with some notable members of the business world and the aristocracy, British and otherwise.
He made aliya on the last day of 2007 and today runs his own company, “Executive Butlers,” a cleaning service with several teams of workers (he calls them “housekeepers” and hates the word “cleaners”).
But while spring cleaning is the company’s specialty, he will also provide all the other services of a traditional butler.
“Nowadays a butler is known as a lifestyle manager,” says Ben-Shlomo, who grew up in South Africa and studied the hotel business, qualifying there as an industrial chef. “Or, to put it slightly differently, a butler is an expensive slave.”
Surprisingly, there is quite a demand for butler services, even in Israel, and pinning Ben-Shlomo down for an interview in the week before Passover proved tricky as there were so many other calls on his time; preparing the homes of clients in England who would be coming over for the holiday, for example, and making sure everything was in working order and there would be fresh flowers to greet them on arrival.
“We provide any service a client can think of,” says Ben-Shlomo. “We know what they want, whether it’s catering services, running errands, computer skills, getting tickets for a show or arranging a relaxing massage.”
It’s all done by connections and over the four and a half years he has been here he has built up a remarkable network of people to call on.
Sometimes they double up in a serendipitous way.
“I only employ Anglos for the cleaning services, preferably young, and one of my housekeepers turned out to be a qualified yoga instructor and shiatsu masseuse,” he says. “People who know us originally from the cleaning service discovered that in one place you can get everything you want,” he adds. “One email and within 24 hours you get a response.”
With teams ready to go in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and many clients in both cities, the enterprise, which he launched a year ago, is clearly booming. But the beginning of his aliya was far from ideal and Roy looks back on nightmarish experiences he went through before finding his feet.
“I’d lived in Israel for a year in 1982, working at the Hilton, and I loved it here,” he says. “When the contract ended I went to London and stayed there for 25 years, but I always wanted to come back.”
He thought he had a contract for a hotel in Eilat, but when he got there he found no job and no contract. He stayed anyway, working as a cleaner.
“I had to survive, but it was two years of hell,” he says now.
Eventually he was able to move to Tel Aviv and held down jobs in two small restaurants, both of which closed down, one after the other.
“Is it me?” he wondered, and was beginning to lose confidence in his own abilities. Another failed experience, this time in a Jerusalem hotel, was nearly the death knell for his aliya.
“I was completely disillusioned,” he says. “I still loved Israel, but hated what it was doing to me. I used to be confident and extrovert and I began to be withdrawn.”
With his health affected too, he was on the point of giving up – but inspiration was to come from an unexpected source. He emphasizes that two people were especially helpful when he was at his lowest point.
“Shimon Baronovich of the Deborah group of hotels helped me focus on getting my life back and Louise Geva of Telfed [the South African Zionist Federation in Israel] was wonderful – without her I would not be here today.”
Through a friend he began to work for a cleaning company in Jerusalem, and after a few weeks he realized he could create his own.
Executive Butlers was born.
“I had one client in Jerusalem and from her it snowballed,” he says.
He never advertises his cleaning service. Every new client comes through recommendation and today he has 30 regular clients in Jerusalem and 24 in Tel Aviv.
“Every month I take on five new clients,” he says.
If your idea of a spring clean is sloshing water around with a traditional sponja (squeegee) you won’t get that from Ben-Shlomo’s company.
He hates “sponja” and considers it inefficient, not to mention death for highly polished wooden chair and table legs.
His teams arrive to clean with their own specially made up cleaning fluid and imported cloths.
“We take ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos and we teach our clients how to maintain the same level of cleanliness,” he says.
The client must provide a vacuum cleaner as many of the housekeepers travel by bus to the different jobs. Ben-Shlomo still doesn’t have a driving license in Israel and is having trouble passing the theory test. He seems to get by with a minimal knowledge of Hebrew, too.
How does he see the future? “I’d like to take Executive Butlers to the next level,” he says, “so at the moment I’m looking for investors. I can’t do it alone.”