Innkeeper goes through “Hell”
by By Jack Deming
Aug 29, 2014 | 11561 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sandy MacDougall strikes a relaxed pose at Layla’s Riverside Lodge on Tuesday.
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DOVER- The night before chef Gordon Ramsey showed up on the doorstep of what was the Four Seasons Inn on Route 100 to film an episode of “Hotel Hell” last June, local innkeeper Sandy MacDougall had one thought racing through his brain: “What have I gotten myself into?”

On Monday, 14 months after his inn was taken over by the particularly demanding and confrontational celebrity chef and his camera crews, a far more relaxed MacDougall held a screening of the episode as it aired on Fox in the 8 pm primetime slot. MacDougall had 40 friends and guests at the inn Monday night, and projected the episode on to the side of the building so all could see three days of filming packed into one hour, or as MacDougall called it, “The best intervention anybody could have walked into.

“Going into it I was ready to give Gordon hell, until he walked in here,” said MacDougall. “We didn’t butt heads, he tried to get me to, and I didn’t fall for it because once he started his spiel, I couldn’t argue with it. So he came in and he knew what the problem was right away, and you know, I’m a stubborn mule and it takes someone yelling at me to make me go sometimes. But I was raised that if you’re wrong, don’t stand on your soapbox and preach about how right you are. Suck it up and figure out how to make it right, and there was a lot of sucking it up.”

According to MacDougall, Ramsey was at the hotel for 14 hours a day for three days, critiquing food, inspecting bedrooms, and discovering problems with the inn’s business plan. Of course, he performs these tasks in the abrasive and typically profane style that is his trademark.

“The constant harassing,” said MacDougall. “You have no idea how it is to get run like that, it scares the hell out of you. You take a guy off the TV and he walks through your door, everyone says be careful what you wish for, good Christmas.”

Reminiscing on that week of filming and production, MacDougall singled out one moment of the experience as the worst, when Ramsey brought him into a roomful of guests, turned off the lights, and used a black light on the interior.

Without providing any spoilers, the episode also featured two dinner scenes in which MacDougall’s dining room is filled with many local faces, and different camera shots show recognizable parts of Route 100 such as Wheeler’s maple syrup stand in Wilmington.

One of the many patrons that first night at the inn’s restaurant was AyeJaye Lovern, of Guilford, who said seeing the episode, and himself in it, was surreal. “It brought back the sounds and smells of the restaurant from that night, and also the fear in some of the faces of the staff,” said Lovern. “It definitely showed how unprepared that kitchen was for that situation, and I was a little hesitant to say what I wanted to on camera, but I’m lucky to be able to say I was there, and it was definitely fun to see myself on TV.”

While MacDougall and his staff were put through the wringer, MacDougall said there were many positives that came out of his week from hell. At his disposal for another two years are financial consultants who he says correct his financial “homework.” Two rooms were completely remade, along with the inn’s dog kennel, which was turned into a more luxurious space for his guests’ four-legged friends. MacDougall was also given $100,000 in new bed linens for his rooms, as well as a business plan and property management plan to work with. “The whole change has been good,” said MacDougall. “It opened my eyes, running it as a business like it should be, instead of the business I thought it should be. If you don’t want to fail they’re going to help you and I’m taking advantage of everything they give me.”

The most notable change was the name of the inn from the Four Seasons Inn to Layla’s Riverside Lodge, named for MacDougall’s best friend and partner in crime Layla, his English setter featured heavily throughout the show. Layla was Ramsey’s first introduction to the inn, according to MacDougall. Not seen on the show, Ramsey showed up at the inn three hours early, and upon his arrival, Layla jumped into his truck to welcome him with a “Welcome to Dover” kiss. Ramsey is allowed to come by Layla’s anytime he wants with a 20-minute warning, according to MacDougall, who said he has no problem with that at all.

MacDougall said his website has crashed multiple times since the episode, and random people as well as friends from Vermont and across the country have called him to say they were touched by the episode. “I’ve gotten Facebook messages from all over the country saying ‘Hey you really showed you were really ready to embrace change, because a lot of these owners don’t.’ This is something I want to do, it’s not me running away.”

Over the course of the slower season, MacDougall said he has been doing a “boatload” of the work again at Layla’s as depicted in the episode, but he also says he knows far more about being an innkeeper than he knew 14 months ago. “It was hellish, but I’m not there anymore. The best part of the entire experience is having a boatload of knowledge and resources at your fingertips and being able to use them. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Gordon, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here.”
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