Hotel Chester owner David Mollendor is pictured outside the hotel at 101 N. Jackson St. in downtown Starkville. The circa 1925 hotel is the focus of tonight’s episode of “Hotel Hell” with Gordon Ramsey on Fox at 8 p.m. CST. Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
August 11, 2014 10:02:31 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Fox network reality show "Hotel Hell" airing tonight hits close to home for the Golden Triangle. Hotel Chester in downtown Starkville is the focus of the episode that brought show creator and host Gordon Ramsay and his crew to the college town to film in June 2013.
The television series, which premiered in August 2012, features the acerbic celebrity chef and hospitality expert visiting struggling hotels, inns and resorts throughout the country in an attempt to reverse their misfortunes.
Hotel Chester opened in 1925 as the Stark Hotel. The years since have brought ups and downs, as well as multiple changes in ownership and name, including Ivy Guest House and The State House. Current owners -- David and Sukie Mollendor -- purchased the hotel in December 2000, hoping to return it to prominence. Their efforts, however, were met head-on with harsh realities.
A promotional statement from Fox publicist Joanna Wolff describes family financial struggles that forced the Mollendors to move from their home into the hotel, where Sukie took charge of the kitchen "without any prior experience." The business was in desperate need of change, the statement read.
As he prepared for Ramsay's visit more than a year ago, David Mollendor was eager for the celebrity's input. He felt the hotel had never lived up to its potential, even though it had been named "Among the Best" hotels in the state by Mississippi magazine in 2012 and 2013 (and now, 2014).
The experience turned out to be intense.
"It was different than we thought it was going to be -- it was a revelation," Mollendor told The Dispatch on Wednesday. "And it wasn't just three hours a day. It was 15, 16, 18 hours a day. One thing for sure, he [Ramsay] put a hell of a lot of work into it."
The filming sparked widespread interest locally.
"The city was abuzz," the owner remarked. "And I never thought I could be asked so damn many questions in my life."
Without giving away tonight's show, Mollendor credits Ramsay with turning the boutique hotel's Beer Garden into a high profile draw.
"I had been developing the beer garden to generate revenue," he said. "When Gordon came in I think he thought my idea was good."
Ramsay embellished the beer garden concept and customized a menu the owners have kept largely intact.
"The menu is great," Mollendor said, "and heck yeah, we've kept the Gordon Burger -- it's our number one-selling item."
The hotel owners, of course, have not previewed the episode and are not quite sure what to expect. They hope that it will entertain. And David Mollendor is especially interested to see if the final edit includes a memorable moment for him filmed last summer.
"Gordon kissed me ... I thought I had hit a soft spot in his heart," said Mollendor. "I'm really anxious to see if they keep him kissing me in it."
"Hotel Hell" is scheduled to air tonight on Fox at 8 p.m. CST.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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