New Innkeepers Plan To Continue Tradition of Warm Hospitality and Three-Wheeler Rides
There are new proprietors for one of the town’s most prominent properties, and everyone involved could not be happier. On October 19, Gordon and Rebecca Clark handed the keys of the Davidson Village Inn on Depot Street to Mariano and Caroline Doble, who view the transaction as a dream come true.
Mariano and Caroline both studied hospitality management in colleges in Miami; he at St. Thomas University and she at Florida International University. Mariano, who was raised in the Dominican Republic, began working in Hilton hotels while still in college, and at age 28 was the youngest general manager of a hotel in that country. Mariano and Caroline each worked at hotels in Miami, and ended up meeting while working for Hilton Hotels Corporation. They married in 1994.
The 18-room “boutique” Davidson Village Inn began operations in 1993 after it was conceived, developed, and constructed by the Clarks and local developer Ed Harris. Rebecca graduated from Davidson with a major in history in 1982, and sold real estate in Davidson and Charlotte before starting her career in the hospitality industry. She ended up in Dallas working for the finance division of Nissan, where she met Gordon, who was working for the liquidation branch of the FDIC. They were married in 1992. They heard Harris was building an inn in downtown Davidson and needed someone to manage the property. After their first meeting at the Soda Shop for lunch, everything came together, and they moved to Davidson a year later to start building the business.
Mariano and Caroline both worked in the technology industry before acquiring the Davidson Village Inn. Mariano founded Doble Group LLC, which provides Customer Relationship Management (CRM) consulting services to corporations in Latin America. Caroline is a marketing contractor for Hewlett Packard. After many years in the corporate world, Mariano and Caroline decided to pursue their lifelong dream of owning a boutique Inn.
The Clarks were also beginning to think about a career change. Their children, Cameron and Hannah, were soon to be graduated from college, which would reduce their expenses. In addition, they were ready to take a break from the constant demands of running a hotel.
Gordon Clark explained, “We had reached the point where it was time for us to do something else. The market was right, and we found a buyer who has a lot of energy and is excited to take over. So, it was the perfect time for us to start a new chapter in our lives.”
They called in a professional hospitality broker and consultant, “The B & B Team,” earlier this year to consider the sale and establish an asking price. The consultants listed the Inn on their national bulletin board, and much to everyone’s surprise, within two weeks had two offers at 95 percent of the asking price. They accepted the offer from the Dobles, and the next two months were a whirlwind of legal and financial consultations, inspections, paper work, and training sessions.
The Dobles had found The Village Inn on the “B&B Team” web site in mid-July and liked it so much that they came to Davidson to see it in person. They were delighted with what they found. “It was exactly what we were looking for,” said Mariano. “It was the right size, in a perfect location, and we both felt an authentic devotion from the staff to making guests feel like family.”
The Clarks owned the Inn just short of 25 years, and maintained an impressive 79 percent occupancy rate at current room rates of $150 to $195. Their most frequent guests were business associates of Ingersoll-Rand and Lowes, as well as parents, guests, athletic recruits, and speakers associated with Davidson College. It has maintained popularity, in part, because it’s located just a short walk from the college, the music stage and beverages at Summit Coffee, and several fine restaurants.
Gordon gave credit for the business success to a staff of seven employees, many of whom were long-time. They include Vanessa Burris (25 years), Joy Penninger (18 years), Yvette Rhyne (20 years), Liz Pierce (10 years), and Mary Deal (10 years). The Dobles are equally impressed by the quality of the staff, and continue to employ them all. Gordon also attributed much of their success to all those people in the community that supported them over the years, “Davidson has always been a special place because people value relationships and small town village life. We just tried to be a part of that community.”
Despite the long hours, Gordon Clark said one of the benefits of innkeeping has been meeting people from all over the world, and he said his retirement plans may include taking trips to visit some of these former guests. “We haven’t traveled much, but a lot of people from other countries have visited us,” he said. “Maybe we could go visit them now, though I don’t know how they’ll feel if we showed up on their doorstep!”
Mariano agreed that success in the industry is based on building relationships and providing guests an extraordinary service experience. In return, the distinguished guests are a regular source of continuing education. Mariano said, “It’s unbelievable the interesting conversations we have with our guests, so every day is both rewarding and educational. In return, we enjoy making every guest feel special. Our motivation in this purchase comes from the heart, rather than the head. We’re committed to preserving and extending service by the inn and its staff. We want people to say this is the best boutique hotel ever.”
The Clarks hosted many notable people over the years. The Royal Shakespeare Company occupied the entire Inn during their two
sorties in Davidson. Other guests included Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, commentator Fareed Zakaria, Billy Crystal, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, and Timothy Leary. Gordon recalls, “Timothy Leary was looking over the books in the lobby, and was excited to find a copy of “Confessions of an English Opium Eater.” Gordon continued, “Most of the books in our attic library were donated by one of our original partners whose father had passed away. People often commented on the unique collection.”
The Dobles intend to make minor upgrades to enhance the customer experience and maintain the relevance of the Inn. They have no plans to change the warmth, character, and casual comfort the Inn provides. Mariano is now starting to settle into a daily business routine.
Mariano intends to conduct as much of his business locally as possible. He was encouraged and reassured by the ease of the transfer of ownership. He assembled a “dream team” that managed the purchase efficiently and professionally. The team members included attorney Rick Kline, First Citizens bankers Denise Cole and Andrew Rowell, and SBA CDC representative Jean Moody. The town’s downtown manager Kim Fleming, Mayor John Woods, and everyone involved was eager to help and collaborate. He also was grateful for support from the Clarks and broker Peter Scherman, in making sure the due diligence and transition process went smoothly. “There was absolutely zero bureaucracy in the transfer of ownership process,” Mariano said.
The Dobles have three children. Their son Mariano is a 21-year-old student at the University of Florida. Their 18-year old daughter Nicole attends Florida State University, and 11-year-old daughter Anna attends a Christian school in Miami, where she remains with her mother while the Dobles sell their Miami residence. In the meantime, Mariano is renting a house just ten minutes walking distance from the Inn so that he can get to the property quickly, if needed. The Clarks are also staying in town, maintaining their home, also just a 10-minute walk from the Inn.
Gordon said his new “inn-less” lifestyle will include downsizing his cycles from three wheels to just two. One of the favorite guest services at the Inn has been Gordon’s pedicab tours around town. Mariano vows to continue the rides, and has told Gordon he’s welcome to use it any time.
The Dobles are eager to meet local residents and get involved with Davidson life. Toward that end, they participated in the Main Street Halloween parade and the town’s cookie crumb trail. They will offer live music at the Inn’s lobby during Christmas In Davidson. Mariano is also committed to buying locally, wherever possible, through partnerships with town merchants.
For now, Mariano is putting in long hours at the Inn, whittling away at a four-inch stack of correspondence, and learning by experiencing all aspects of the business. He’s busy, but excited and eager. He said, “When Caroline and I first took over the inn, we looked around and said ‘Now, what?’
“Well, the ‘what’s haven’t stopped coming since then, and we are loving every minute of it!”
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.