'Hotel Hell' raised in Dover


DOVER -- An inn with a restaurant and dog kennel was given a second chance, but not before it all went to hell.

The phone was ringing off the hook as "Hotel Hell" appeared and was projected onto the side of Layla's Riverside Lodge, where the FOX television show's host Gordon Ramsay had stood in a blue bikini bottom refusing to jump in the dirty water.

People were attempting to book rooms at the former Four Seasons Inn well before the East Coast debut of the episode was over.

"We had over 800 messages in the last 24 hours on Facebook. The e-mails are insane. The phone calls didn't stop until 2:30 in the morning," owner Sandy MacDougall said. "Hopefully, it will be a very positive thing."

MacDougall estimated that approximately 40 people gathered to watch the episode on his yard located on Route 100 in West Dover on Monday night. They watched and cheered as Ramsay tore MacDougall and his place apart. Ramsay is well-known for his harsh criticisms of inns, restaurants and chefs.

As far as the portrayal of his inn, MacDougall said it is what it is.

"It's reality TV," he added. "I think he did a good job bringing it around."

MacDougall said the show has raised the inn's profile. Viewers from Canada saw it a week earlier and began booking rooms for dates in December, January and February.

The opportunity to be on the show, which focuses on hotels in disrepair and in dire economic straits, presented itself after scouts came to Dover in search of a location to shoot a future show. They talked to local entrepreneur Phil Gilpin Jr., whose parents own the West Dover Inn. Gilpin asked if they had been to MacDougall's Four Seasons Inn.

"They came over here and called me the poster child for the show," MacDougall said. "So with that, they went back and came back out and spent a weekend here filming. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. They had a full blow out of what was going on."

Although Ramsay was quite intimidating while filming was going on, MacDougall painted a different picture of him off camera.

"He's larger than life. Plus, he's 6 foot 3," he said. "Off camera, he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet."

In the episode, Ramsay inquires about the former name of the inn. MacDougall tells him it is not at all affiliated with the Four Seasons chain.

"It's the Four Seasons Inn," he says, with a special emphasis on the word inn.

That prompted Ramsay to rename the inn. It's now known as Layla's Riverside Lodge, named after MacDougall's dog that tends to greet guests at the door. The riverside refers to the river running behind the establishment.

MacDougall pointed out that the inn has all new employees. One of the major focuses of the "Hotel Hell" episode was the lack of payment for all of his employees.

"We're growing with employees as we grow with business. It's a whole new business model," he said. "I have consultants I deal with on a constant basis that watch and guide me. I'm a very managed person. They don't let you stray very far from what they teach you. By the end of it, I'll know how to run a hotel and restaurant correctly."

Another change that Ramsay wanted to see involved MacDougall himself. He wanted him to act as the innkeeper and not have anything to do with the kitchen. His former employees who were chefs during filming couldn't agree more with that plan in the episode.

MacDougall will still from time to time assist in the kitchen. When business is slow or there are not many employees, he'll step in, he told the Reformer. Two of his guests seem to have no problem with that.

Jack and Cathy Cascio, of Ware, Mass., visited the inn during the filming of the show, not knowing what they were in for. Producers called Cathy and asked if the couple wanted to cancel their arrangements due to the filming. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary and decided to stick with the plan.

They knew of Ramsay but not much about "Hotel Hell." At the time, there was only one season that had premiered.

The Cascios came back to watch the episode and they stayed in the guest room, where a black light was used to identify spots that showed up in "Hotel Hell."

"Good Christmas," MacDougall says as the camera pans to him during that scene.

The couple roared with laughter, as they received messages throughout the show from family and friends who were watching too.

Jack said he could not disagree more with the statement that MacDougall was a lousy chef and did not belong in the kitchen.

"Every meal we've had over the past three or four days, he's been the chef. We like omelets. We like salmon. We get that every place we go. And the meals are superb in his own way," he said. "He's an excellent chef."

In his opinion, Jack thought the service was terrible during his first stay. He recalled the waitress asking if he and Cathy would like to see a dessert menu. They had not been served dinner yet.

"The whole atmosphere has changed dramatically. With the people that are here now, they cater to you," Jack said. "They treat you as guests."

The new employees, he continued, are professionals. He said he saw the former employees more as college kids looking for part-time jobs.

The couple were the only guests who stayed the whole weekend with the filming crew in May.

Cathy said she thought the portrayal of the inn was accurate, before and after Ramsay's visit. The Friday meal when filming began was much different than Sunday when filming concluded. She said the meal on Sunday was phenomenal.

During that weekend, the menu was switched around to include more farm-to-table options. Ramsay, in the episode, notes that there are several nearby farms.

The whole experience ignited a friendship between the Cascios and MacDougall. The couple plans on returning to the inn in the future. They are also recommending the place to friends and family.

"When we left and went home, we wondered if it would stay the same. We were very pleased," said Cathy. "We're happy to see the changes he made. It's just going to be great."

Before leaving, Ramsay's crew refurbished and rehabilitated two of the guest rooms as well as the dog kennels housed on the side of the properly. Since then, MacDougall and his employees have made improvements to six more rooms and have plans to address other areas at the inn. They plan to add a bar as well as finish a basement and make it into a kids' room.

When asked where he sees his inn in one or two years, MacDougall said he sees it blossoming like mad. He read a comment posted to his Facebook from a viewer that said: "Best episode of 'Hotel Hell' yet."

"People just love the episode," he said. "Jack and Cathy came back a year after. He said the improvements were like night and day. People come here and pretty much return and return. That's where most of the business comes from. Once you come, you want to come back. My house is your house and people feel that comfort level. You don't get that at the chain hotels."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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