“Is this what a regular family does on the Family Day holiday?” That was 13-year-old Siya Patel’s question as she replenished coffee supplies in a unit of the Kent Inn. (I’m imagining a slightly plaintive tone.) Her brother, Shivam, was vacuuming nearby as their mother, Priti, made the beds, and father, Chetan (Chris), cleaned in the bathroom.
What was the response? They all — Siya included — laughed good-naturedly and stored away the anecdote to reminisce about from time to time.
This is the story of a successful family-owned-and-operated business and a hard-working, close-knit family that in a variety of ways is contributing to our community.
Chris and Priti grew up in a small town in a western province of India. After a diploma in electronics engineering, Chris ran a telecommunications business. The couple’s move to Canada was prompted by frustration with government corruption — the constant demand for bribes.
In 2000 they joined Priti’s uncle and aunt in Etobicoke. Shivam (now 20), was two, and Siya was born a few years after their arrival.
The Patels knew only that Canada was open to immigrants from all over the world; they didn’t know much about the climate. Priti bundled up in sweaters in the evening. (“Priti,” her uncle told her, “it’s August! What are you going to do in winter?”) She adjusted, and by 2004 they’d become Canadian citizens.
Looking to open a business, they saw the advantages of running a motel or inn. Priti’s training was in early childhood education and her young family was the priority. “I love my kids and wanted to stay with them,” she says. A motel made that possible.
They managed a motel in Whitby to gain some experience. It worked out well and Chris began scouting for something to buy.
One day, Chris returned with news. He’d found an inn on the main street of a town an hour or so north of Whitby. His assessment, “It will be a lot of work. But if you’re ready . . .”
Building a Business
The Kent Inn had fallen on hard times and its reputation had suffered. When Chris first saw it, 11 years ago, the parking lot was unshovelled and the rooms a little shabby. When the family arrived in April the snow had melted to reveal leaves and litter. No landscaping had been done and nobody had painted for 30 years. Among the town’s motels and inns it was typically last to fill up. Prospective clients would take a look and turn around.
Most of the Patels’ money had gone into the purchase, so they focused first on extensive clean-up. They landscaped and tidied up the entrance areas; inside the 16 rooms of the Kent Inn, they scrubbed and purchased fresh linens. Once this was taken care of they overhauled all the rooms, one by one — carpets, painting, and furniture. “Everything but the walls changed,” says Chris.
An important step was replacing the old wooden sign with a new one that set the tone: Kent Inn: Clean Comfortable Rooms. The other selling point for the Inn was affordability.
Largely through word-of-mouth, business steadily increased until at times there was a waiting list. Those who stayed told others and returned themselves when they needed accommodation.
All the hard work has paid off, not only in the increased business, but in Certificates of Excellence from Trip Advisor for the past five consecutive years.
Who are the clients? Business people and parents of Fleming students or relatives of those in the hospital (the Inn is just two blocks from Ross Memorial Hospital, and just a little further from the college). There are also wedding bookings and theatre-goers. Tourists as well, here for curling tournaments, golfing or cycling. During Classics on Kent their entire parking lot has been full of classic cars.
Running a Business
Lots to be done in running an inn. Asked who does what, Priti has this to say: “Chris and I grew up in India with a different perspective. It’s never this is your role, this is mine; we work together, often side-by-side.” Some customers have asked them “How can you spend so much time together and be so happy?” (More laughter, when Priti shares this anecdote).
If there’s a preference, for Priti it’s working the front desk and meeting guests. Some of them come from as far away as France, Germany and the Netherlands. A few have had connections to their house, including one whose great-grandmother had lived there. Chris, with his background, looks after the technology and online booking system.
They have one week-day and one week-end employee (though making the beds is always one of the tasks Priti takes on.)
The kids have helped out from the outset. By the time he was in high school Shivam worked at the inn after school and on the weekends; Siya started taking a more active role in Grade 7. Both particularly enjoyed handling online reservations and booking guests in. Occasionally, Siya has been able to use her fluency in French (she’s in the immersion program).
If part of the reason for running an inn for Priti was being close to her kids, that’s worked out well. Siya says that something she has particularly appreciated is having her parents at home whenever she finishes the school day.
The Patels and their Community
All of the Patels believe in giving back to their community. The business offers one night free stay to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Patels regularly donate to Women’s Resources and the Boys and Girls Club, and have sponsored seats at the Academy Theatre.
Both Patel kids volunteer at the hospital. Shivam started when he was completing the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Weldon. Now, back in Lindsay after completing his second year at Queens and working for the summer at Stewart Morrison Insurance, he continues to help out in the dialysis unit a few hours a week. He prepares the packs the nurses use, brings ice to patients and helps maintain a calming environment.
Of late, the Patel kids have encouraged their parents to get out more. For Priti that means some gym time, and both enjoy taking summer walks by the locks when Siya arrives home to spell them off for a bit.
What’s Next for the Patels
Chris and Priti aren’t going anywhere. They may do some renovating of the Kent Inn, and Chris is always on the lookout for business opportunities. (Priti: “Stop opening businesses!” Chris: “Stop spending!”) He runs the William Street Coin Laundry and Carwash in Bobcaygeon. (Campers using the coin laundry on a rainy day will see posted notices about the Kent Inn in case they want to bail on the camping.)
Shivam is going into the third year of a high-powered program that combines life sciences and business. He sees himself going into the healthcare field in an advisory capacity but wants to stay connected to Lindsay, whether that means commuting from here or maybe summer cottaging.
His sister plans to complete the IB program then follow her brother to Queens to take a combination of business and law. But after that, the Patel who was born in Canada dreams of starting her own legal practice. . . in the Caribbean.