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Route 66 News

History of the “Patel motels”

Although there is a link to the Route 66 Pulse newspaper on the side of this site (and vice versa), I don’t often link to their stories because there’s a lot of redundancy there. Route 66 News often reports news on the Mother Road first because the Internet allows nearly instantaneous coverage; Route 66 Pulse elaborates on the story later.

But the current January/February issue of the Pulse takes on a story that I didn’t have either the time or resources to tackle — the history of Asian-American motel ownership on Route 66 and America in general.

The Pulse reprinted an Express Hospitality story by Neeti Mehra about “The Patel Invasion.” The influx of India natives into the United States started in the 1960s.

They opted for the hospitality industry in the United States for pragmatic reasons. Firstly, it offered them immediate housing, and secondly, it provided them with a regular cash flow. Most importantly, it let them assimilate into the culture of their adopted country.

At that time the American motel industry was experiencing a downturn. Motels were distressed and available for low prices, partly due to high gas prices leading to reduced interstate travelers. Interestingly, motels could be acquired at a price equal to the investment for acquiring permanent residency in the country at that time – about $40,000. While some Patels were flush with cash, others toiled and scrimped to invest in a motel.

The article also gives kudos to the Manoj Patel and his family, who restored the Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in Rialto, Calif.

This Frank Redford-built property with its legendary teepees owes a lot to its present owners. The Patels painstakingly restored the place, which had degenerated to dereliction and would attract unsavoury ladies of the night and drug peddlers. They restored the neon signs, revamped the pool and did up the rooms. Today, the motel stands with all its glory on the iconic Route 66, proving that at a Patel motel you will receive much more than a comfortable night’s stay.

But what makes the article exceptional is a companion opinion piece, titled “Non-native Motel Owners Deserve Your Support, Too,” by Pulse general manager Jim Conkle, who’s also executive director of the California Route 66 Preservation Foundation.

In it, Conkle says Asian-American motel owners should not be derided because they came from a foreign land.

While some travelers might prefer to support only American-run lodging establishments, one must consider what would have happened to these motels if these folks from other countries had not bought and kept them open. Most would have gone the way of so many others that were abandoned after Route 66 was decommissioned; in ruins, demolished or worse.

When a current owner of a motel has signs saying “American Owned” and needs to sell the business, who do you think they often sell it to? That’s right, often the same folks they advertised against.

Also keep in mind that many of the non-native owners have lived at and owned their motel properties for over 30 years. This means that many have been involved with the Road longer then most of us Roadies. […]

It is this writer’s opinion that the color of your skin, the accent of your voice or the country you were born in should not be a measuring stick on which one is judged as a motel owner. The correct way to evaluate a lodging facility is to objectively look at the historic value of the location, how it is being maintained, cost for a room, cleanliness and accommodations the facility provides. […]

You can stay wherever choose and can afford; that is your right. But please be open minded and courteous to our non-native motel owners along Route 66 and everywhere else you travel in the United States. They may not have all been born on American soil, but they all share the American Dream.

I second this stance. As they often say in the blogosphere, go read the whole thing.

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18 thoughts on “History of the “Patel motels”

  1. James M Conkle

    Ron,

    Once again you stand up for what we all believe is the fair way to look at this issue. I am not suggesting that one group of people are better owners/managers then another. But the facts speak for themselves as to the number of them that are minorities.

    And no I am not a liberal left winger. In fact I am a very staunch conservative on most issues. As well as a former Marine.

    But right is right and wrong is unacceptable.

    We at the Route 66 Pulse want to thank you for all you do for the road. We are honored to call you a fellow roadie as well as a friend.

  2. redforkhippie

    We definitely owe Indian immigrants a huge debt of gratitude for buying historic motels and operating them as motels instead of selling them off to make way for Walgreens and McDonald’s. Certainly there have been a few missteps along the way, but in the end, many of these motels would have disappeared, if not for the willingness of Indian immigrants to gamble on a small business in a challenging industry. Here in Tulsa, Jack Patel is constantly making improvements to the Desert Hills; in the past few months, he’s expanded the front office eastward to allow for easier supervision of the property (the old layout was such that it was impossible to see some of the rooms from the office) and added a gorgeous Route 66-themed mural to a previously nondescript wooden fence. Down the road in Claremore, Shawn Patel’s Claremore Motor Inn isn’t historic, but it’s immaculate, and Shawn offers more amenities than many major chains, at a lower price.

    Meanwhile, over on the west edge of Tulsa County, another motel proudly advertises itself as AMERICAN OWNED and even sports signage urging travelers to “Sleep American.” This motel’s biggest claim to fame? Sex offenders. It was among a handful of motels that were housing such a high concentration of registered sex offenders that the city of Sapulpa finally had to buy land and build a pocket park nearby just to run them all off. (In Oklahoma, it is illegal for sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of a park.)

  3. Wil Olds

    American owned, I see these signs up on many motels. Does this mean that the American born children of the Indian immigrants are any less American? Honestly I think it is so cheap to put these signs up. Does it mean that they have no other means of competing so they try to use a sign to sell their services

  4. Stephen Baldwin

    Actually, “American Owned” is code to those on the road who are sick and tired of staying at motels owned by Indian-American immigrants. Call me a racist if you like, but as a motel owner myself, I hear the complaints about indian run motels all the time! (“They smell bad” They are “dirty”, their services are “not up to par”, they have “terrible customer service” because guests can “barely understand what they are saying”, “bedbugs”, “dirty sheets”, “unvaccumed floors”, “overcharging”, “questionable guests”, “crime”, “no-tell motel”, etc. etc. etc.) The commonality of Indian run motels in the US makes it difficult for the average, “American” small mom and pop motel owner. Lots and lots of guests go elsewhere if they even suspect Indian ownership. They’ve had bad experiences and they don’t even look through the front door. They head to the nearest motel 6 where they think they are safe! That’s a fact! As a frequent traveler myself, I have stayed at Indian owned and American owned and I will take the average American owned property any day of the week. Those are all legitimate complaints! If you want to try and marginalize them by calling them racist remarks be my guest, but you are seriously fooling yourself! You wouldn’t have mom and pop owners putting up American owned signs all over the country if there wasn’t a problem with the competition. The Patels have ruined the American hospitality industry!

    1. Ron

      Stephen, I am also well-traveled, and I’ve seen no difference in quality between the Asian-owned and so-called “American owned” motels. Mostly, any problems with quality stem from lack of cash flow and poor management, not ethnicity. And, as you well know, poor cash flow and poor management is color-blind.

      Perhaps it would behoove you to judge motels individually, and not by the skin color of the proprietor. If you’re judging motels by skin color without bothering to check the quality of the motel itself, that’s racism, plain and simple.

    2. RICK

      stephen, are you a motel owner? what the hack are you thinking man?
      it’s not indian that are giving bad names to hotel industries, but people like you give bad names to not only hotel/ motels but people in general. you are not american. american people are warm at hart, loving, and fun people. you are A RACIST PIG.

  5. sandra garcia

    I stayed at a motel in Mesa, AZ; a motel 8 in Tucson AZ, a motel 8 in Ruidoso, NM, a motel in Roswell NM and an Economy Lodge in Pratt, KS in this calendar year. All 5 have had grumpy, argumentative managers. In Mesa, the cleaners didn’t shut the door tight, although nothing was missing; in Pratt, the room was dirty.

    I don’t know what to do about this; all 5 had Indian managers, but as I am an Anglo, it is hard not to become prejudiced. I was in the car when I saw the Indian woman in the Pratt motel, and almost called my husband back to look for another place. I now wish that I had. I have been in Israel, and the people pushed and shoved off the elevator and in the streets, so I am used to cultural differances, but I can’t handle “the customer is always wrong” attitude, the dirty rooms, and the antagonism. Why do I get this attitude that the Indians (from India, not Native American) are nasty? I agree with the other posters, that Motel 6 and other ‘american’ motels have a different attitude.

  6. jeff

    Sandra if your budget is of only less than 50$ that’s not indian managers problem .Do not expect the luxury of Hilton’s & Sheraton’s at that budget.

  7. Roger

    LOOKING FOR A BEAT UP MOTEL:
    I’m looking for an old, beat-up motel in the desert, for a movie location. Something past it’s time. On a lonely road, if possible. Ideas?

  8. Roger

    Hey Ron, thanks. It looks good. I’m still looking if anyone else has ideas for a beat-up, run-down motel in the desert… to be used in a movie.

  9. Susan

    A friend told me that Indians were given grants to buy motels from the US Gov. and that is why they run so many of them? Is this possible? I can’t imagine why it would have been done.

    1. Ron

      No. Many of these Asian-Americans bought motels during the 1970s and ’80s when the lodging market was depressed. They got in on the bottom floor and rode the wave of prosperity and old-fashioned business acumen.

      Also, when these Asian-American motel owners got successful, they loaned seed money to other Asian-American motel owners — many of them relatives. They did these loans partly because the banks didn’t want to give them the money at the time.

  10. Davy Delgado

    By accident I read (about 20 years ago) that “the Patels” (luv u Alka!) were servants in the U.S. embassy in India (and in other satellites). To show their gratitude, our ambassadors banded together to offer them educational and business opportunities in the U.S. The (Patel) families banded together and took one distinguishable name. Be cool.

    1. Jay. J

      Dude Davy Delgado!!!!!! I can’t believe your words. The word “servant” is not a normal part of American English. So I assume you come from a British colony back ground. But dude, this is what I call racism in disguise of lack of knowledge.

      1. Davy Delgado

        I talked to one of the first Patel families that moved to my hometown about it and they confirmed it. Just sharing what I read and DOUBLE CHECKED ON Jay.J

  11. Anonymous

    I’d say it depends on the Indians owning the motel. I have experienced dirty, awful places with rude, unfriendly owners and I have experienced wonderful, clean, places with friendly helpful staff.

    I highly recommend Best Western in Willits, CA. It seems like the entire family runs the motel. It’s very clean and quiet. Willits is super hot in the summer, so I especially appreciated the effective, quiet AC in the room.

    In Denver, CO, there is a Best Western that is either managed or owned by Indians. The owner or manager took the time to approach me in the lobby to ask about my room and if he could do anything for me. I was happy with the room and had a minor issue I told him about. He graciously took care of it immediately.

    Staff were African-American, Anglo, Mexican-American, Indian. They were all friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about Denver. I was so impressed with the facility that I wrote a long, favorable review on TripAdvisor.

    It really does depend on the individuals.

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