Family Transforms Thunderbird Lodge into ‘Pride of Downtown Redding’

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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 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 what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is 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 lives in Redding, California.
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23 Responses

  1. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:

    More hard work, risk taking and faith like this family and downtown must thrive.  Wonderful to know this story and these people.

  2. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:

    BTW, Gunari’s Squire Room is being reborn as well.  New owners are pouring their hearts into bringing back this downtown business.  Hope and transformation are everywhere in this block.

  3. Avatar Carla says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I also have watched the progress of the Thunderbird and I wish Jay Patel and his beautiful family all the success in the world. They’ve got the coolest neon sign in town too!

  4. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    People like the Patels make me very hopeful for the future of downtown.  I see that Final Draft is nearing completion, but Wilda’s seems to be at a standstill.  Now if “we” could just do something about that monstosity of a parking facility . . .

  5. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    I remember eating at Sambo’s, now the La Cabana Mexican restaurant, my fav, too, as a kid, and looking up at the great neon sign in wonderment.  The Patels are also involved in community affairs, and are very generous in other ways that they humbly withhold. I’m taking a bouquet of flowers to them for their community effort in keeping downtown a safe and fun place to go.

  6. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    After reading many Tripadvisor reviews of lodging options in Redding, I booked a room at the Thunderbird in May of 2013 for a visiting family member who was very impressed with the cleanliness, convenience, and management, and thoroughly enjoyed her stay. Thanks to the Patels for their hard work, financial investment, and commitment to our downtown.

    BTW, La Cabana is also our favorite Mexican restaurant. Excellent food, value, superb service.

  7. Avatar Ginny says:

    Wonderful to hear of all the improvements to the Lodge.  I stayed there with my grandmother when we came to my uncle’s funeral in 1962.  It was great then, and now is again.

  8. Avatar Gerrine Peckenpaugh says:

    Great story. I will advise future guests to stay there.

  9. Avatar Hollis says:

    Immigrants contributing and making a positive impact in America?????  Loved this story!

  10. Avatar T J Gold says:

    Great story…Downtown Redding is getting better every day.

  11. Avatar Kevin Lewis says:

    It’s great to read about restoration projects like this. It’s been 13 years since I moved to Idaho but I still try to keep up with what’s happening in Redding.

    • Avatar Richard Christoph says:

      Hey, Kevin,

      Thanks for taking such good care of my beloved ’68 122S Volvo wagon while you were in Redding.  After 25 years of trouble-free ownership, I gave “The Beast of Sweden” to a retired Methodist minister who also loved old Volvos. Good Karma…

      Be well,



  12. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:

    I love the history here. Great story.  Thanks for a beautiful restoration.


  13. Avatar shelly shively says:

    Thanks for this feature, Doni.  Downtown Redding is coming around, with bold restorations as the Patels have done with the iconic Thunderbird Lodge.

    I’m impressed by the high caliber of remodel and redesign. I inquired into booking rooms for out of town guests, and was surprised that they even have some rooms with hardwood floors, specific to guests with pets.  The Thunder Lodge is ideal for guests, in restaurant choices within easy walking distance, and walking across the Promenade to the Cascade Theater.

    It’s heartening & inspiring to see how much the Patels have poured into bringing the old Redding Thunderbird into new Redding.

    I’m highly recommending Thunderbird Lodge to out of town guests, and wish the Patels continued success in their place in this community.

  14. Avatar Demetra says:

    Great story, Doni. Wonderful family. We are lucky to have them in our town.

  15. Avatar same name says:

    This is a great story, as it definitely would have been a lot easier and less expensive for the family to just leave the motel as is, and get by with minimal maintenance.  I am glad that they renovated it, providing a decent place to stay downtown.

    I hope some of the other downtown slumlord motel owners are paying attention, and that they will consider doing a similar thing with their dives.  Downtown needs more decent lodging – if you catch a late show at the Cascade, or drink a few cocktails at Market St. with your steak, then it would be very convenient to stay close by rather than driving to Hilltop Drive.

    I noticed some work going on at the closed and fenced off motel near Wendy’s.  Maybe that heap will be remodeled also?  Speaking of Wendys, I wonder who owns that building, and if there are any plans to open up a dining establishment of some sort again there?


    • Avatar wil says:

      I am hoping someone buys the Wendys building and puts in a Chik Fil A, one of my favorites and there isn’t one between Sacramento and Portland

  16. Avatar Pam says:

    More good news in Redding about the good folks who live here and the good work they are doing! Truly inspirational on so many levels…all the best to the Patels! and yes I’m one who loves La Cabana too…another great family with a business to be proud of! Thank you for this uplifting journalism and the great care that all of you put into your Redding businesses.

  17. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Great story. I love reading about how people can revitalize a business. Kudos to the Patels.

  18. Avatar Clinton says:

    A great location when visiting Redding. The downtown area is blossoming with established and new venues all within walking distance from the Thunderbird.  Easy driving to Turtle Bay Museum and the other surrounding landscapes such as Whiskeytown NRA, Shasta Dam, Lassen NP and Mount Shasta.  If I were a visitor I would definitely consider staying here. La Cabana, Maxwells, Post Office Saloon, Vintage, Dip, Shameless O’Learys, Jack’s…good music and food so close. Location, Location Location!

  19. Avatar Sally says:

    I join the applause for anyone who is trying to do things to our town for which we are proud, so though I do not know the Patels, and have not had cause to house someone downtown, we should all THANK YOU and let you know your efforts are appreciated!

    Different subject – Squire Room.  I have lived here 52 years (YIKES) and frequented the Squire room frequently when Jim Gunari owned it.  They had the BEST Abalone to be found anywhere!  Will be interested to see what transpires now.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

  20. Avatar Tom Buckner says:

    Great story! Am also going to recommend this place vs the Hilltop mass.

  21. Avatar wil says:

    I appreciate hearing a positive story about downtown.  I have never been in this hotel, but it does look nice from the outside.  The Cascade is great, and there are a number of quality businesses in the downtown area, including the dance studio my daughters attend.  Hope to see more businesses and improvements in the area.