The American Dream: An immigrant’s success story in Dubois County

Sourced from Dubois County Free Press

In 2003, Hemang and Darshana Shah moved to Huntingburg with one door closing behind them and another barely opening ahead of them.They had decided to purchase the somewhat rundown Dutchman Inn on Huntingburg’s north side. The 90-room Dutchman was a huge jump for the fledgling hotel owners who had only operated an 16-room Traveler’s Inn in Olney, Ill. for about five years.

But the quaint and well-kept Travelers Inn had sold almost as soon as the Shahs decided to list it. With the Dutchman purchase still being negotiated, they had little choice but to head to Huntingburg with their two young children and face the uncertainty of not having a home or business.

“I still have a letter from Darshana in which she said she trusted me with whatever decision I made,” Hemang said. “That she would support me.”

They lived in an apartment for more than a month working through the details of the purchase of the Dutchman from its Delaware-based owner. Hemang credits his wife, family and German American Bank for helping him finally secure the hotel.

It was a pivotal point for Hemang and Darshana, who are first generation immigrants from the city of Valsad in Gujarat, India.

Hemang came to the country in 1990 to attend Christian Brothers University where he completed a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering. Darshana holds a business management degree from a university in India.

After graduating, Hemang worked for a civil engineering firm, but while on a trip to Chicago in 1998, he and Darshana found a listing in the Chicago Tribune for the Olney, Ill. inn. They lived in Memphis at the time but thought they could swing through the small town to see the property.

“Maybe it was just meant to be,” Darshana said. “It was perfect for us. It had a house attached to it, and we felt with our daughter, we could work and live right there. We were also looking to test the waters to see if this would be right for us.”

There are a few reasons Hemang was interested in the property and why Asian Indians own over 40 percent of the hotels in the United States. According to Darshana, owning a property means security. India is a country with 1.327 billion people crammed into a space the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined. One can assume property ownership is scarce and highly sought after. In the United States, property is more plentiful and the opportunity for ownership easier to obtain.

Additionally, as Asian Indians have worked in the hotel industry since beginning to move into the United States in the 1950s, the family-oriented culture has the ability to tap into significant expertise in the industry as well as help with funding their venture.

Hotels are seen as a safe and secure investment that ensure the owner can provide for his family and their future.

Hemang relied on his father Chandrakant Shah and his mother Kalavati, for advice and support as he purchased the Olney location and even more so coming to Huntingburg. But it worked out. Hemang and Darshana invested in their property and made it better.

The family completed their move to Huntingburg and became part of the Dubois County community serving on various boards and committees. As they did in Olney, they invested in their new property. Through renovation and good management, the former Dutchman Inn on Huntingburg’s north side now flies the Quality Inn flag.

“We have a good reputation because we keep a good quality hotel,” Hemang said explaining that people will return to his hotels due to the service and cleanliness he maintains through his great staff.

Under the name of Kala Hotels — derived from Hemang’s mother’s name — Hemang also owns the Days Inn in Jasper. He purchased it in 2008 and is in the middle of several renovation projects on the Jasper property.

Earlier this month the Senior Vice President of Brand Operations Patrick Breen, visited the Days Inn in Jasper for a tour. The inn had been recognized for two special designations. In a trend that has been occurring since Hemang purchased it in 2008, it was awarded the Best of the Best Days Inn by Wyndham Hotel Group, the owner of the Days Inn brand. Among the 1,800 Days Inns in operation around the world, only a few hundred receive the Best of the Best designation.

But it was the more prestigious Chairman’s Award of Excellence that brought Breen to Jasper to tour Hemang’s hotel. Only about 26 Day’s Inn’s receive the award annually.

The hotel’s general manager Mary Klem was presented the award by Days Inn and Wyndham Hotel Group at the 2016 Wyndham Hotel Group Global Conference in Las Vegas. She accepted the award before an audience of more than 6,000 hoteliers.

Klem has been with the Days Inn for more than 20 years and Hemang credits her with its continued success. He jokes that her iron will to improve the hotel prompts him to always support her requests and plans.

Along with the two Dubois County hotels, Hemang owns five more with his partners and good friends, V.T. Gala and Hitesh Patel. The three met while attending college in Memphis and have remained friends since.

Through their partnership, they operate hotels in Memphis, Tenn. and Albany, Ga. They are in the process of building three new hotels including one in Downtown Evansville revealed last October.

At a special conference, Hemang and V.T. announced the construction of a 139-room Hyatt Place downtown next to the planned medical school. The $18 million hotel is being built without any public money from tax increment finance or tax abatement, and construction is expected to start this spring.

Hemang credits his passion for the hotel industry for his success. The move to Huntingburg was attractive because of the area’s economic strengths and community involvement. “We felt we could work hard here and be successful,” Hemang said. “It has worked out for us with help from friends and family, the risks we took and our hard work.”

Along with being the owner of his own business, Hemang is able to use his knowledge in civil engineering for the planning and construction of the new hotels. “I didn’t know I had a passion for this while I was in school,” he said. “Indian families want their children to achieve the highest degree in engineering or medical. After I bought my first hotel, I learned that this was my passion.”

Darshana sees joy in the creation of a place that caters to the needs of its customers. “I think it is a love to create a product that people love and come to again,” she said. “It is also the strength and security in your own creation. It is a wonderful feeling.”

Hemang and Darshana are proud U.S. citizens and live in Newburgh. Their 18-year-old daughter Sehal attends DePaul University of Chicago and 16-year-old son Ritik attends high school at a private academy.