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From generation to generation: Best Western hotel owners honored for 50 years with brand

1953 Original Holland Motel postcard1 / 2
Pictured Left to Right in Holland Family Photo: Katriana Mehlhaff, John Holland, Kathy Holland, Scott Mehlhaff, Chris Holland–Mehlhaff, Hans Mehlhaff.2 / 2

The Holland family was recently honored with Best Western's Gold Anniversary distinction for 50 years of service under the the hotel chain's brand.

Chris Holland-Mehlhaff, the third-generation Best Western hotel owner, along with her husband, Scott Mehlhaff, were presented the award at Best Western's Annual North American Convention in Grapevine, Texas.

The family has operated their hotels under the Best Western name for 50 years, but their business actually began 65 years ago in Detroit Lakes in 1953 when Holland-Mehlhaff's grandparents, Emil and Hilda Holland, built the 14-unit Holland Motel on what was then the outskirts of town. In 1968, the motel was turned over to Holland-Mehlhaff's parents, John and Kathy Holland, who owned and operated the business until 2000.

During John and Kathy's ownership of the business, the hotel grew exponentially, with the two constantly anticipating guests' needs and using their business savvy to find ways to bring people to the area. They added onto the Holland Motel, which was later renamed the Best Western Holland Motel in 1972 and was renamed again in 2010 to the Best Western Plus Holland House. Business was booming and they had to put on four additions to the hotel to keep up.

John and Kathy operated their hotel in a much different manner than most hotels are operated today. The two lived on the property, truly taking care of guests needs 24/7. Holland-Mehlhaff says she has fond memories of growing up at the hotel that she will always cherish, like delivering newspapers to rooms and helping her mother make breakfast.

"We truly did it all," said Kathy, adding that they hired a few housekeepers who became just like family, but otherwise, they did all the fixing and cooking and tending to guests needs themselves.

Holland-Mehlhaff says she credits growing up in the business for her current knowledge of running a hotel. She says for her family it's never been about the money, or "running the hotel as hard as you can." Rather, it's been about quality, providing comfortable beds, and an all-around great experience for guests. She remembers her mother telling her "anticipate your guests' needs," and the family did just that.

Not only did they experience what the guests were experiencing because they lived at the hotel, the family stayed very connected in the hotel world. John held the Best Western Governor title with the brand for 30 years, a position that Holland-Mehlhaff now holds. She also serves on the Minnesota Lodging Association board of directors as both her father and grandfather did. In 2007, John was inducted into the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame and is considered a "legend" in the Minnesota lodging industry...and for good reason.

John was quite the trailblazer when it came to hotels, initiating many hospitality "firsts." The property was the first motel in Minnesota and the first Best Western to offer an indoor waterslide. It was also the first hotel to join the Best Western Plus brand in North America. The hotel stood out in other ways as well, offering hot water heat and coin-operated radios and TVs when it first opened. They also had waterbeds at one point, which were later replaced by bunk beds in some rooms.

The Best Western Plus Holland House was sold in June, ending an era for the family, but they continue to operate two other locations, the Best Western Premier The Lodge on Lake Detroit and The Spa Within, which was built in 2006, as well as the Best Western Plus Superior Inn in Grand Marais, Minn., which was purchased and renovated by the family in 1983.

Holland-Mehlhaff says she didn't go to school for business or necessarily intend to take over the family hotel, but it was something that just came naturally to her after being around it all her life. She says she and her husband will continue to manage the hotels and, her daughter, Katriana Mehlhaff is currently attending business classes in college, so there is a good chance the family business will stick around for many more years to come.

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