Bob Shallit

Eclectic Del Paso hotel on the comeback trail

A garden and courtyard fronts rooms that are labeled with letters instead of numbers.
A garden and courtyard fronts rooms that are labeled with letters instead of numbers. bshallit@sacbee.com

In his 36 years in the hospitality business, Jon King has never experienced anything quite like this.

Invariably, as guests check out of his Greens Hotel on Del Paso Boulevard, they make a point of shaking his hand.

“I’m not sure why,” said King, who was brought in last fall to reopen the quirky, 27-room hotel after a two-year closure.

Actually, it’s no mystery. Guests most likely are impressed by the workload King shoulders in running the Greens nearly single-handedly.

He opens the place at 6 a.m. every day, putting out fresh fruit in the lobby and unlocking the gate to the pool. He closes things down at 10 p.m. In between, he works the front desk, makes improvements on the seven rooms that aren’t yet ready for occupancy and attends to the needs of guests. Until recently, he was even making beds and cleaning rooms.

“This is pretty taxing for somebody over 50 years old,” said King, who turns 52 next month and has worked for Best Western, Marriott and Red Lion among other hotels during a career that started when he was 16.

But he’s energized by the progress he’s seeing.

After years of futility, the Greens – a crime-and-nuisance spot called the Arden Motel before being converted to a boutique hotel a decade ago – is finally catching on. Guest totals rise each month with overall occupancy now about 40 percent, King said. On weekends, the place is often full.

Many of the guests are repeat customers, and online review sites like Bookings.com and Hotel Tonight are loaded with raves. On Yelp, the hotel has a top 5-star score.

King attributes the praise to what he calls a “unique property.”

On a recent morning, he showed off some of the rooms, pointing out features that are not exactly typical hotel fare: handcrafted furniture, original art, extra-thick mattress pads, Keurig coffee makers, Dutch doors and vibrant – some might say outrageous – color schemes.

Then there’s the room labeling system devised by owner Dan Friedlander.

Instead of numbers, the rooms have letters – A to Z – but they aren’t necessarily in order. For example, on the second level, the L unit is next to I, which is next to M and then N. It’s a not-so-subtle nod to the ultra-upscale Limn furniture stores that Friedlander operated in San Francisco and Sacramento before closing them in recent years.

Because there are 27 rooms, the extra alphabet room number is “XXX.”

“Our guests get a kick out of that one,” King said.

Aside from eclectic touches and King’s energetic brand of customer service, the hotel is benefiting from some gradual improvements along the boulevard – a stretch that has long been the focus of city redevelopment efforts.

Two well-regarded restaurants – Mama Kim Cooks and Cask & Barrel – are nearby. Three art galleries operate out of the building that adjoins the Greens, and a couple more have opened in the neighborhood. A taproom, King Cong Brewing Co., is being readied for an opening in the neighborhood. So is a music store and recording studio.

There’s also talk of a national supermarket chain opening up on Del Paso near Arden Way. A new housing complex, built near El Camino Avenue by New Faze Development, the company owned by City Councilman Allen Warren, is making brisk sales.

The developments are more encouragement for King, who is convinced “The Boulevard” is finally shaking an undeserved reputation as a crime haven and moving to become a hip new retail center just a few miles north of downtown.

Where will the Greens be a year from now? King, who has a profit-sharing arrangement with Friedlander, doesn’t have to ponder that one for long. The citywide hotel occupancy rate is about 75 percent, he said. Room rates average about $104 per night.

By next summer, King said, “I expect to be at or beyond” those figures.

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