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September 12, 2013
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Travel Channel's 'Hotel Impossible' visits Grass Valley's Holbrooke Hotel

The staff at the Holbrooke Hotel is hosting a viewing party to reveal their debut on national television Monday with an appearance on the Travel Channel show, “Hotel Impossible.”

“It was very intense, tiring and a little bit stressful, but overall really fun,” said Holbrooke owner Ian Garfinkel. “You have a camera in your face 12 hours a day for about a week, and they have a microphone on you, and the idea is you let your guard down and act normal.”

Anthony Melchiorri was not as bad as some reality show hosts who berate participants (think Gordon Ramsay), but he supplied a firm opinion on changes that need to be implemented to make the Holbrooke more successful, Garfinkel said.

“He’s pretty rough to try to make the drama happen, and I tried not to react too strongly,” said Garfinkel, whose background involves real estate, not hotel management. “He had a ‘You don’t know what you’re doing (attitude).’”

The day before the Holbrooke was supposed to foreclose in 2011, Garfinkel cut a deal with the bank out of his love for history, he said.

“This place was ready to be boarded up and shut down, which would have made a huge hole in Main Street,” he said. “I love history and historic buildings, so I tried to save the business.”

The building sale was supposed to involve a 30-day escrow, but the bank arranged a faster transaction and Garfinkel took possession the day of his meeting with the bank.

“They said if you want it, it’s yours today,” Garfinkel said. “It was intense. We hit the ground with no time to prepare, to get anything in order.”

With Melchiorri’s assistance, the business has been able to become more efficient and cost-effective, Garfinkel said, adding he provided some tough criticism on the housekeeping and cleanliness standards, which can be difficult with a 162-year-old building.

“We really focused on keeping the rooms very, very clean and looking at spots you don’t ever look at,” he said. “The kitchen had a lot of problems with food. It’s always a challenge keeping food costs at a reasonable level, and I want the best quality, which can be expensive.”

The Holbrooke implemented a new menu with the help of “Hotel Impossible.”

Garfinkel was also criticized for excessive micromanaging and playing live music at the restaurant.

“I felt like at first I was going to take his advice, but people said they were going to stop coming, and I don’t think he realized that important aspect of the business,” said the musician of more than 40 years. “His point was that my staff will not take me seriously if I’m playing music, like I shouldn’t be partying with my staff and guests, I should be running a hotel.

“It’s a fine line, but I think people want that social experience and to enjoy the venue. … It’s a balance.”

The “Hotel Impossible” crew will visit the Holbrooke Hotel once more Oct. 18 for a follow-up episode, which the public is welcome to witness, Garfinkel said.

“I think they only do three or four follow-ups,” Garfinkel said. “(Melchiorri) really liked Grass Valley and the Holbrooke. He really thought it was a special place and he said he really loves the history.”

Garfinkel said the most helpful changes have been revenue management with adjusting rates based on availability like an airline, and improved kitchen costs.

“A lot of his ideas were really good and really helped sales,” he said. “We’re definitely up between 15 and 20 percent on gross sales over 2011.”

Garfinkel said events have been booked through December and sales for 2013 look promising, despite recent challenges like fixing the elevator — a $100,000 cost — and maintaining staff in a business with a high employee turnover rate.

“I gave myself five years to turn this place around, and once we get through big repairs, it’ll all come together,” he said. “People have really helped support The Holbrooke and make it what it really is. I think that’s a lot of what Anthony from “Hotel Impossible” was impressed by.

“For such a small town, there’s such a strong community. I want to thank the community and invite them down.”

View a photo gallery of photos of the Holbrooke from 1800's to present.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated Oct 7, 2013 04:20PM Published Sep 17, 2013 11:38AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.