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, which Patel’s team sanitized thoroughly after each user.
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, yet Patel opened the lobby floor so more guests could be sheltered.
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.
“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 even kept in touch via a Facebook group! They check in on each other and keep up with news from 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.”
That’s why GNN voted for Patel’s hotels to be the Nicest Places in America this year, and why, if you are ever in need of a hotel room in Kodak, Tennessee (30 minutes from Knoxville), or Junction, Texas (1.5 hours outside of San Antonio), you should definitely vote with your wallet and visit Sean.