The Quality Inn in Kodak, Tennessee
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2021 FINALIST
When friends try to hold you back from being too generous and kind, you know you’re doing something right.
When icy temperatures this past winter froze Kodak, Tennessee, shutting power down and freezing pipes, Sean Patel, owner of the local Quality Inn, wanted to do something to help his neighbors: open his hotel to all comers, even if he ran out of rooms, and provide them food and warmth until the power came back on.
“I frequently ask him to dial it back a bit because I know he’s spending so much of his own money and energy to help others, but he has such a big heart, I know he will only give more,” says his friend Steve Smith, who nominated the Quality Inn for Nicest Places in America.
But Patel wouldn’t listen. The immigrant from India, who came to America in 2004, saw goodness in the people around him when he settled in Tennessee and wanted to be a part of it.
“I saw how much people helped each other in the South and it got to me,” explains Patel. “It’s not always about money. Sometimes you just need to talk. I always wanted to be that kind of person.”
So, he did what came naturally: Patel took to social media to say, “If you can get here, we will take care of you.” Even at maximum capacity, Patel would make space for those who needed it whether that be in the lobby or around the pool area, just so they could have someplace warm to be.
Between Christmas and New Years of 2020, all 60 rooms in the hotel were completely booked with some rooms housing as many as eight or nine adults. Some guests even stayed in the lobby or meeting rooms just to have a warm place to be. A couple rooms under maintenance were used so guests in the lobby could take a shower. With COVID-19 precautions in place, the bathroom was sanitized between users.
People came together in ways that Patel has never seen before. Everyone pitched in. Some guests even paid for each other’s rooms. Everyone was sharing food. The hotel staff turned on their breakfast station so people wouldn’t have to worry.
Later in the winter, when a similar freeze hit Texas, Patel did the same with another hotel he owns, the Segovia Lodge. Power lines came down and pipes froze over as the cold engulfed an unprepared Texas. Patel waived all fees so anyone who could get to the hotel could stay and eat for free all week. Guests even walked to the hotel because their cars couldn’t get through.
The hotel eventually lost electricity and stranded truckers took turns staying up all night to keep a fire going. All of the rooms were full, so many of the hotel guests slept on the lobby floor.
With over 200 people at the hotel, there wasn’t any fuss. No one argued. Everyone made sure the others were comfortable, warm, and fed as they took turns cooking for each other. A sheriff even went out of his way to bring baby supplies for an infant caught in the crossfire of the Texas freeze and Patel’s kindness.
“It wasn’t about who was Black, White, democrat, republican. COVID, or no COVID, everyone was a family,” says hotel manager Shelly Shirley.
All the guests who were at the Segovia Lodge during the freeze have kept in touch via a Facebook group. They check in on each other and keep up with each other’s lives.
“Business is down, but I still have clothes on my back, the kids were safe, we had a shower and food,” says Patel. “We all have to look out for each other.”
I’m a father to a beautiful eight-year-old girl named Danica, and husband to my beautiful wife Zarina. Zarina is from Kyrgyzstan, a little town named Kalinovka. Zarina and I met when I was working at Manas Air Base, a U.S. Air Force base, in 2007. I was working there as a communications engineer supporting the Air Force during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Zarina and I quickly fell in love and since then we have lived in both Kuwait (I worked there as well, supporting the U.S. Army for Operation Iraqi Freedom) and also South Korea while I was also supporting the U.S. Army for a large base relocation.
My daughter was born in North Carolina, but moved to South Korea with us when she was only one month old! Her earliest memories are of Korea. Once she was old enough to start kindergarten, we moved back to the United States and found our home in Knoxville. We love it here! We love to camp, fish, hike in the Smoky Mountains, and many other outdoor activities.
I want to write to you about my friend, Sean (Vishant) Patel. He is a local business owner, but more importantly, he is my friend and a glowing example to everyone in our community. Sean is the friendliest, most caring person I think I may have ever met. Honestly, I frequently ask him to “dial it back a bit” because I know he’s spending so much of his own money and energy to help others, but he has such a big heart, I know he will only give more. As I and my friends thought about what we’d say about Sean and his businesses, our first thought was “we are so very proud to call him a friend.”
Let me tell you what Sean is doing. Sean owns a local budget hotel (Quality Inn) in Kodak, Tennessee, and another (Oyo) in Segovia, Texas. The Quality Inn in Kodak is not in a very wealthy area. Despite having tourist locations within 20 miles, his clientele is primarily travelers and locals, many, frankly, down on their luck and in need of a good place to stay for a while. I have known Sean for several years, and his reputation for running an exceptionally warm-hearted business is really growing. He has, over and over, opened his doors to those less fortunate than him, doing whatever he could to help those nearby who could not do for themselves.
Over the last two winters, Kodak, and the nearby Sevierville and Pigeon Forge area, have been rendered snowbound several times. Workers in the local area were unable to get home to their families on the icy roads and had no place to go for food or to stay warm. Rather than capitalizing on the situation, Sean, every time, lowered his rates to the bare minimum and advertised that “if you can get here, we will take care of you,” meaning that even beyond capacity, he would house and feed the people of his community.
During 2021’s very harsh winter in Texas, the same thing happened in Segovia, Texas, just weeks after Sean took over ownership. Other hotels in the area turned people away, but Sean immediately called the hotel manager (at the time known as Segovia Lodge, now OYO Segovia) and instructed her to open the doors wide. He then spread the word through local ranchers in 4×4’s: “If you can get here, we will take care of you.” Travelers and locals alike were welcomed, made warm, fed, and allowed to “camp” for free, even in the lobby, until roads were clear and there was a way for everyone to get home safely.
During the COVID-19 pandemic (still today), Sean has made every effort possible to help both his long-term guests and his employees get to hospitals and doctor’s offices, using his own vehicle, over and over. He takes both long-term guests and employees to get their vaccines, food when necessary, and many other required visits when those people do not have working vehicles or the economic means to do it themselves.
Sean is continually improving his hotel and seeking ways to support the local community. He stands head and shoulders above his peers by seeking ways to serve both his customers and employees, daily.