Family Transforms Thunderbird Lodge into ‘Pride of Downtown Redding’

Today I speak with Jay Patel about the drastic improvements at the Thunderbird Lodge in downtown Redding, a place that the Patel family owns and has completely transformed and renovated. Please join me in welcoming him.

Q: Hello Jay Patel. Thanks for talking with me and being part of A News Cafe.com today.

The first time I stopped by the Thunderbird Lodge to speak with you, I was given a business card with the words: Thunderbird Lodge – Pride of Downtown Redding. That status took some time to achieve, but the title is now well-deserved.

For a few years I’ve observed the progress at the Thunderbird Lodge through the window of La Cabana (my favorite Mexican restaurant, btw). I’ve watched new windows being installed, old furniture being removed, new furniture being brought in, and new everything, from new paint and new room numbers to new railings and even new asphalt.

The Thunderbird Lodge in downtown Redding has been completely remodeled.

The Thunderbird Lodge in downtown Redding has been completely remodeled.

And that’s just what I could see happening on the exterior of the Thunderbird Lodge from my booth at La Cabana.

I looked up your website and saw photos of rooms.

All the rooms at the Thunderbird Lodge have been completely remodeled. Everything is new.

All the rooms at the Thunderbird Lodge have been completely remodeled. Everything is new.

But the lobby has been remodeled, too.

thunderbird seating area

And the dining area for a continental breakfast is renovated, too.

thunderbird dining room

Apparently, guests appreciated the improvements as well, because the Redding Thunderbird Lodge has 4-out-of-5 star ratings, and many positive reviews, like this one from a business traveler from Los Angeles:

“I was in Redding for work in downtown location and this place is perfect for the budget I had. They make an effort to make the room look nice, the bed is comfortable, basic breakfast and wi-fi included. Coffee-maker, hairdryer, refrigerator and ironing needs are available in the room.

Great location. You could walk to many conveniences nearby. There’s a good Mexican restaurant, a donut shop, and Japanese Steakhouse just around the property. The beautiful Cascade Theater, Rite-Aid and Walgreen are just a few minutes walk away …”

But before we get to the remodel, can you tell a bit about yourself and your family who works with you?

My family immigrated to the United States from Zambia, Africa, in 1997.  My parents bought the business in 1998 and have been operating it since.

The Thunderbird Lodge is an iconic downtown Redding fixture. Photo by Joe Domke.

The Thunderbird Lodge is an iconic downtown Redding fixture that’s been remodeled in the last four years. Photo by Joe Domke.

My wife and I have two daughters and my brother and his wife have one daughter. My parents are retired and help us during the summer. The entire family helps in running the business.

The Patel family works together to renovate, operate and maintain the Thunderbird Lodge in downtown Redding. Photo courtesy of Jay Patel.

The Patel family works together to renovate, operate and maintain the Thunderbird Lodge in downtown Redding. Photo courtesy of Jay Patel.

Each one of us has a specific responsibility. I handle all the finances and marketing while my brother handles the daily operation. Our wives handle all housekeeping needs.

Q: That’s a lot of work, I’m sure, to keep everything running day-to-day.  How long have you managed the Thunderbird Lodge?

Well, my parents operated the Thunderbird Lodge since 1998. There came a time when they had to spend more time taking care of my grandparents. My brother and  I were working in the Bay Area at the time. As a family we decided that it would be best for a family member to operate the business rather than have a management company operate it. So I moved back to Redding in 2009 and started operating the Thunderbird Lodge. About two years ago, my brother and his wife joined us.

Q: Do you know much about the Thunderbird Lodge’s history?

The Thunderbird Lodge in the '60s. Photo courtesy of Jay Patel.

The Thunderbird Lodge in the ’60s. Photo courtesy of Jay Patel.

I believe that the motel was built in the late ’50s or early ’60s. It was part of the Thunderbird Lodge franchise throughout California.

The original owners of the motel were Jim and Beverly Gunari (along with other partners) whom we bought it from. Jim also owned the Squire Room.

Q: One of the things that most impresses me about the transformation of the Thunderbird Lodge is the dramatic before and after, because there were some years when the Thunderbird Lodge had fallen on hard times. What exactly has the remodel entailed and how long has it taken?

Around 2009/2010, Redding was changing and becoming a destination. We decided it was time for us to make changes, too. We wanted to update the property so that we could cater to tourists as well. Over the years we had already changed the windows and doors. We kept maintaining the physical structure of the buildings over the years. So the main task was to beautify the property and streamline the interiors.

We started with the guest rooms by updating bathrooms and furnishings and then worked on the exterior. It took us approximately three to four years to complete the remodel due to funding.

Q: Forgive me if this is an indelicate question, but roughly how much did the renovation cost over these years?

I can’t tell you the exact figure, but it was a lot of money over the years, and will take many more to recoup.

Q: Judging by the success of the remodel, I wouldn’t be surprised if you regain the remodeling money quickly.

What’s left to be done?

We are are pretty much done now, with the exception of maintaining the property, which is always ongoing.

Q: What are you most proud of in the remodel?

What we most proud of is that we have tried to create a place where a guest can come and feel at home. Being in downtown it is a challenge to keep our place safe and clean. However, we try our level best to do so.

Q: What kinds of comments are you hearing about the renovation?

We have received many compliments from our guests and the community, which is very appreciated. There are some comments from locals like “lipstick on a pig” but that doesn’t bother us because we know how much money, blood and sweat have gone into making the place what it is today.  We are proud to be part of the community and have a place to serve them.

Q: Let me say that as someone who’s a champion for downtown Redding, I appreciate what you’ve done to improve this part of our city.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to thank all my family members and employees who have helped in making the Thunderbird Lodge what it is today.

And I thank you, Jay, for not just taking time to answer these questions, but to you and your family for restoring the Thunderbird Lodge. As an aside, I know of a Redding family with an upcoming wedding who’s reserving a block of rooms for their guests, and they are very pleased with their choice.

I wish you and your family all the best, and continued success.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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