Season 2 | Episode 4 | “Hotel Chester”| Aired Aug 11, 2014
I usually spend most of these Hotel Hell recaps telling you about hotel owners who are angry, defensive and argumentative. I detail terrible, knock-down, drag-out fights. I outline the accusations that are made, describe the fingers that are pointed and have to use the row of symbols above the numbers on my keyboard creatively to disguise the many colorful words thrown around by the owners, staff and our man Ramsay himself.
Not this week, folks.
I’m happy to report that none of the above happened during Ramsay’s visit to the Hotel Chester, located in Starkville, Mississippi, which is home to Mississippi State University. The owners, David and Sukie Mollendor, are instantly lovely (if more than a bit deluded about how to run a successful hotel and how to be honest with each other about finances). In fact, I spend the first 15 minutes just waiting for one of them to erupt in a flurry of obscenities or tell us that the lovely blond waitress with the darling Southern accent is embezzling money from them. They don’t. Their biggest offense? Ugly rooms and bad sushi.
Instead of spending the bulk of this recap outlining what’s wrong with the Hotel Chester, I’d rather give you the CliffsNotes version and focus on the feel-good parts of this episode, because let me tell you, it was like freakin’ Christmas morning for about half an hour. And really, couldn’t we all use a little “feel-good” right about now?
The Hotel Chester has been in a rapid decline since David’s serious car accident six years ago, which left him bedridden for almost six months. Despite it being in a college town and despite the fact that David has been in the hotel management business for over 30 years, the hotel is virtually empty every night.
The main problems:
- The rooms are dated and decorated with furniture that looks like it should be in a cheap motel (instead of an old brick building?). The furniture is stained and the walls are cracked, but apparently the mattresses and bedding pass the Gordon Ramsay blacklight test (we do not see this; I’m just assuming), because for the first time all season he actually sleeps in the bed.
- The restaurant is run by Sukie, who took over as chef after David’s accident. Although she has no formal training, she makes sushi from scratch every night. Did you get that? No formal training = fresh sushi. Hey, at least the salmon she’s using looks fresh, not frozen.
- Sukie is the only chef, and the preparation of her sushi takes hours—literally. Plus, the sushi she creates, while colorful and plated very well, isn’t the most palatable to Gordon. I believe the words “strange,” “weird” and “chewy” come out of his mouth, along with a giant wad of chewed-up sushi.
- The Mollendors are $900,000 in debt, and Sukie doesn’t know. Did you get that? Sukie doesn’t know. Listen, I’m guilty of buying a pair of flip-flops and not mentioning the purchase to my husband, but hiding $900,000? That’s a hell of a lot of flip-flops. David defends himself by telling us that “he doesn’t want to upset her,” and I can’t explain it, but I believe him. Call me crazy or call it Hotel Hell oversaturation, but the fact that this guy isn’t yelling at his wife and blaming her for the demise of the hotel has endeared him to me.
That’s really it: Hotel Chester’s problems in a nutshell. Oh, and David and Sukie also have a son and daughter who work at the hotel and who obviously care about their parents, as evidenced by the fact that a customer’s returned dinner and complaints about the time it took to be served bring Megan (the daughter) to tears because she doesn’t want her mother to be scolded. It was at this point that I checked my guide to make sure I was watching the right show.
But I was. And it quickly seems that Ramsay is feeling the difference as well. Listening to the Mollendors’problems brings out our tough chef’s soft side, especially when he discovers that David and Sukie live in a handicapped hotel room on the premises—without even a window. They tell him they “do what they gotta do,” and Ramsay is clearly heartsick for them. He then takes the night, and the opportunity to show off his blurred-out fanny (no pool = no Speedo this episode; sorry, folks), to come up with a plan to turn around not only the Hotel Chester, but the Mollendors’ lives as well.
The next day, Ramsay takes David and Sukie out for lunch (the first time they’ve ever been out to lunch together, apparently, which kind of makes me believe their problems might run a little bit deeper than hiding debt) and shows them what a restaurant in a college town should look like. Ramsay tells them he has ideas (of course he does), and David promises he’ll do whatever the magical Ramsay tells him to do. (No kidding: At this point in the episode, I always have to wonder if Super Ramsay is real.)
The next day (two days? How long does this take?), the owners, their kids and the pleasant-staff-we-didn’t-get-to-meet-because-they-are-so-pleasant-which-doesn’t-make-good-TV all gather at the hotel for the grand unveiling.
The rooms are spruced up (as usual)! Gone is all the outdated furniture. Bright colors and hip, cool-looking décor now adorn the rooms! They do look fabulous (I love the yellow/teal/brown color scheme). There is a gigantic “Hotel Chester” sign plastered across the front of the nondescript brick hotel so people can find it (you’d have to be blind to miss it). The best part? The new, casual beer garden (can you say “Perfect for college students”?), which features a gazebo that serves local craft beers on tap and a menu of Southern fare (including Chef R’s own signature burger!). It’s all cooked by a chef that Ramsay has not only hired, but whose salary he will cover until the hotel gets on its feet. Is Sukie upset by her ousting? Not at all, because our man Ramsay has thought of her and given her her own menu of classic Japanese BBQ—”robata”—which she can cook up on the grill out on the patio.
The Mollendors—and the new guests—love the rooms, the beer garden (again: college students) and the new menu. Ramsay tells us that it’s great to see David so reinvigorated. (Hey, if someone came in and cleaned my house, paid my bills and hired someone to cook for me, I’d be reinvigorated too.) It’s actually very touching to see a family that is so seemingly kind get help, see them appreciate it, and believe they will use this opportunity and gift that’s been given to them to make a change in their lives. Hang on, I need to find some tissues.
After Santa Ramsay picks up his bag and heads up the chimney, he returns to tell David and Sukie there’s one last surprise! They follow Ramsay into his big black SUV, and end up at a brand-new furnished apartment that Ramsay has rented for them for six months (he explains that he’s confident the Hotel Chester will have sufficient funds to cover the rent by then). There’s tears and hugs. And then my husband and I dry our eyes, sit down, and rewind to watch the Mollendors profess their tearful gratitude to
Oprah Ramsay and tell him that not only did he save their hotel, but he saved them emotionally. Damn. What did I do with my tissue?
UPDATE: According to Ramsay, the Hotel Chester is now a booming business and bringing in many guests every week. (If you know differently, please do not tell me.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find out how long it will take me to drive to Starkville. I really want to hang out in that beer garden.
Hotel Hell airs Mondays at 9/8C on FOX.