Neal Patel grew up folding sheets and vacuuming rooms in his father’s hotel. After 30 years of watching his father run the show, it’s his turn. His family recently built Hotel DeSoto in Olive Branch, and this time, he’s in charge.
Patel’s father, Jay, has worked in the Memphis hotel industry as long as Neal can remember. His father’s hotel, Liberty Inn, is where Neal recalls spending long hours of his childhood running up and down the halls and helping out.
Jay and Neal decided to buy Hotel DeSoto — which opened its doors to guests last week — and broke ground on it soon after. Jay paid the bills but decided to put his son in charge.
“This is not a normal 9-to-5,” Neal said. “There are some crazy hours. It’s a 24-hour operation. There was a night that I didn’t go to bed until 6 a.m.”
Hotel DeSoto opened just in time for Labor Day weekend, though that wasn’t the original plan. Like most everyone during this time, its plans were uprooted when the pandemic took over.
“Our peak season for hotels is the summertime,” Neal said. “All our stuff comes from overseas, so COVID pushed us out a little bit.”
He said that all of the supplies they needed to keep guests and employees safe from COVID-19, like hand sanitizer dispensers and other cleaning supplies, have been backordered for months.
Hotel DeSoto, located at 8877 Mid South Drive in Olive Branch, comes with all of the usual hotel amenities, like continental breakfast, a gym and a business center. Right now, though, that’s all put on hold.
Neal’s main goal today is to increase their number of guests. As peak season is dying down, he said, they are going to see less and less traffic through their hotel.
“Our most common type of guest is someone who is just driving through and needs a place to sleep,” he said. “We do have one long-term guest right now. The most we have seen so far is five (guests).”
As general manager, Neal oversees all of the day-to-day operations. He also helped design the layout of the hotel, with everything from which rooms would go where to what art would hang on the wall. He also helps his seven employees handle guest services and complaints.
“There’s no corporate to call,” he said. “It’s just me.”
After Neal graduated from University of Memphis, he left his father’s hotel to gain corporate experience. He spent time working for Hampton and for Hilton, and he spent some time working for FedEx as well.
“I still wanted to see how the bigger hotels are run,” Neal said. He said that he took his experiences from the corporate companies and applied them to how he plans to operate Hotel DeSoto.
“I want it to be built like a franchise with a smaller feel,” he said. “We want to interact more with the guests and make it feel like a local spot.”