Why a hotel owner is keeping doors open for the sake of his employees

Comfort Suites owner Jimmy Joshi.

When I was 10, my parents spontaneously decided to remodel our house. It started with a few minor adjustments: some new cabinets here, a change of faucets there. But since my dad is a home builder, he couldn’t just stop there — everything had to be updated. Before we knew it, walls were being ripped down and the entire house was being repainted while we were still living there (not the best idea in hindsight). So, we eventually packed up our belongings that were strewn about the house in miscellaneous baskets and storage bins, drove down the street past Rose Rudman Trail and arrived at the Comfort Suites behind Best Buy.

We ended up living there for two months. It was a little kid’s dream, and a parent’s worst nightmare. Thankfully, the hotel staff was more than accommodating, offering us anything we needed. The previous owner, Bharat Patel, was especially kind. He checked in on us frequently, cracking jokes about our situation with my dad.

Recently, Ohio native Jimmy Joshi became the new owner of the Comfort Suites. Seventeen years ago, Joshi moved to Louisiana where his involvement with the hotel industry began. He and his family began searching for a city in Texas about two years ago, to move closer to Austin where their son would be furthering his education. After stumbling upon Tyler and looking at the Comfort Suites, Joshi decided this East Texas town nestled in the Piney Woods was the perfect fit. 

Joshi currently owns eight hotels in Ohio, two in Louisiana (one of which is under construction) and one in Tyler. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the service industry has been hit hard, Joshi’s business included. Here is Joshi’s story in his words, edited for clarity and length.

“As of now, we’re down by 55% percent occupancy, and future occupancy is pretty low right now. We’ve been getting cancellations. We have some groups that have been cancelled for May, and today we’ve been getting calls for June and July as well.

We’re open because we have some employees that need the work — need the money badly. Right now, we are just paying them what we used to pay them. The housekeepers are getting less hours because of the fact that we don’t have any rooms to clean. 

I was just talking to my manager in Ohio, and they had to shut down some of the hotels by today at 5 p.m. In Louisiana, we’re about to close it down, one of the Hampton Inns. It’s in South Louisiana, and South Louisiana is worse right now. 

Some of the employees [at the Comfort Suites] are scared to work around the clients, and business is literally down. That is a fundamental thing because we cannot afford it, and the franchise cannot afford it to close down. 

Joshi’s hotel, Comfort Suites, on Rieck Road in Tyler.

One of my employees is a student, and he’s staying in the dorms. But they’re going to be kicked out from the dorms, and he doesn’t have anywhere to stay, so I’m going to give him a room. Basically, I’m going to help him out to stay here until his classes start back on. But the way he was explaining it to me, it’s going to be online classes for the rest of the semester. He relies on this job, so I told him that he can stay here at the hotel, and he can work from there. So, he doesn’t need to worry about looking for another apartment or something just for the time being. 

We had to order food supply for a few of my employees because it’s hard to get some food in the store. We are ordering some food supply from ES Foods for breakfast, so we ordered some extra for them so their kids can have something until they can get something in store. There’s only a certain time that they can go and get supplies, but sometimes their work comes into that time frame, and they don’t get food at that time. 

We tried to order a lot more supplies from P&G, and we had to reorder some rubbing alcohol and a lot of further chemicals that would help because hand sanitizer is hard to find. We keep it at the hotel for employees, the housekeeping area and the front office. We have those things left, we have a little bit of stock. We also have the rubbing alcohol and vinegar, so that way we will have something to protect.”

The way it looks like it’s going to be affecting [us], it’s going to hurt a lot because our expense is going to mostly be as-is. We cannot control those kinds of expenses to run the business. That is kind of difficult for us. We’re trying to talk to the bank. If we can avoid the mortgage payment for these couple of months, that would at least help us a little bit. 

Joshi poses on a recent vacation with his wife and son.

We are planning to stay open unless a state emergency says we have to close down. Otherwise, we would like to keep the business on because a lot of my employees stay on this job, and they have to have the income. I mean, the government is going to help them, but it’s probably not going to be enough to survive [for] their family. 

In fact, keeping it closed would be better for me financially, but I don’t want to do that. If I close down, I don’t want to lose my employees. It’s not fair for them if I close it down. So, I’m not going to close it down until I get notice from the city or state.”

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Yasmeen Khalifa, a Loop 2019 summer intern, is a Mass Communication and English student at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is the managing and lifestyle editor of The Patriot, a student-run newspaper investigating issues on- and off-campus, exploring the changing East Texas culture, and giving students a voice. Khalifa recently co-founded a new music series in The Patriot titled “Music in the Pines: Exploring Eclectic East Texas.” The series highlights local musicians, venues, concerts and other events as the music scene in East Texas evolves and thrives. Yasmeen also works as a lab technician in the Mass Communication department. Khalifa is the founding president of the Keep Tyler Beautiful Youth Advisory Committee, a group of students working together to encourage beautification, litter reduction and recycling in Tyler.