Be our guest: Hotel Maverick celebrates 1st anniversary and No. 1 spot for hotels in Grand Junction

And a week before Hotel Maverick marked its first anniversary, it hit the No. 1 spot on Trip Advisor, a travel website that rates area hotels against each other along with providing guest reviews.

When Michael Della Ratta overheard a woman speak to her husband in Swedish, he also heard opportunity.

The woman stepped up to Hotel Maverick’s front desk, and “I checked her in, in Swedish,” he said. “That was probably one of my favorite days I’ve had.”

The woman, who had found the new hotel online and decided to give it a try, was pleasantly shocked.

“It’s really nice to have that impact,” said Della Ratta, one of the hotel’s hospitality interns who is getting ready for his senior year at Colorado Mesa University.

Della Ratta’s mother is Swedish so he grew up speaking the language. He came to CMU from Parker to play rugby, and if all goes as planned, he’ll leave with a degree in business administration with a concentration in hospitality management.

He started a six-month hospitality internship at Hotel Maverick in March, and it has given him hands-on experience (and pandemic experience, no less) as well as a front-row seat to the inner workings of a hotel during its first year in business.

Hotel Maverick, located at 840 Kennedy Ave. on the campus of CMU, opened June 18, 2020, and expectations were realistic.

“We actually projected that we would lose money,” said Tammy Anderson, general manager for the 60-room Hotel Maverick, which is managed by Charlestowne Hotels.

The projection accounted for the pandemic as well as the ups and downs of a business’ first fiscal year, she said.

What it didn’t account for was the enthusiasm the hotel would receive from guests curious about a teaching hotel, guests wanting to get in on something new and fresh — especially during the pandemic — and guests wanting the personalized service of an independent, boutique hotel.

There also was keen interest in the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Devil’s Kitchen. The restaurant offers an upscale, casual dining experience for patrons and internships for students in the culinary program at Western Colorado Community College.

Instead of losing money, Hotel Maverick is making money, Anderson said.

And a week before Hotel Maverick marked its first anniversary, it hit the No. 1 spot on Trip Advisor, a travel website that rates area hotels against each other along with providing guest reviews.

“We were able to show the trustees that they made a good decision,” Anderson said, referring to CMU’s board of trustees.

But even Anderson, who has a lengthy background in the hospitality industry, including eight years working with international employees at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, had a few doubts about what guests other than the families of CMU students would choose to stay at the hotel

In the beginning, it was curiosity that brought people in the door. “People would kind of guess at us,” she said. “Now they’re choosing us because of reviews.”

Anderson also is hearing from guests who like the energy that the college students — there are both student interns and students working as employees — bring to the hotel. “They just feel good about being here,” she said.

Leslie Valasquez is going into her junior year at CMU as a business management and finance double major. She started as a barista and is now the supervisor for Betty’s Gourmet Coffee, a coffee and snack shop just off the hotel’s lobby.

She does all the food and coffee ordering for the shop and works on the menu in coordination with the Devil’s Kitchen’s executive chef, Ken Kinser.

While her job isn’t quite in line with the career in real estate and property management that she wants after she graduates, “I think just the managerial experience has been something I would not get somewhere else. So that’s been incredible,” Velasquez said.

It’s also an easy two-minute walk from the hotel to class, however, “sometimes I forget I’m on campus,” she said.

Most of the people who stop by Betty’s are from out of town and staying at the hotel, Velasquez said.

They are in Grand Junction for business or came to ski during ski season, and there have been quite a few real estate agents who have given her pointers when they find out what she’s studying.

Her time at Betty’s hasn’t come without challenges, though.

Guest reviews are taken very seriously at Hotel Maverick, and each guest receives a survey after a stay at the hotel.

Feedback surveys and online reviews led to improvements in the quality of the food served at the shop, she said.

While in the beginning it was outsourced, food items are now mostly made in-house through Devil’s Kitchen or come from a local bakery in Grand Junction, she said.

Hotel Maverick’s first year also has led to adjustments in the internships for both hospitality and culinary students. Hospitality internships were originally set at three months and Anderson quickly realized that wasn’t long enough. Six months was a better fit for students to gain experience with everything from third-party bookings to personalized customer service.

Similarly, changes are being considered for the culinary internships that were three-months long when Vivian Wyckoff did hers from August to October.

The internship was as part of WCCC’s culinary arts program’s Advanced Line Prep and Cookery course and was hosted at Devil’s Kitchen. “It was hectic,” she said.

She quickly had to learn all the different stations in the kitchen. There were so many recipes and she needed to memorize what had to be done. “It’s not like it’s laid out for you on a chart” like it is at a fast food job, Wyckoff said.

The pace and the work were sometimes overwhelming, she said, but it gave her the chance to actually be on the line in real time in a real restaurant kitchen, directly applying what she learned in the classroom.

“It definitely teaches that you need to have a tougher skin to deal with the rushes,” she said.

Getting an advance reservation for dinner at Devil’s Kitchen was something both Anderson and Della Ratta recommended as they’ve watched the popularity of restaurant stay steady with both hotel guests and the local community.

“Sometimes it will slow down, but the only constant is that you’re going to get slammed,” Wyckoff said. “You’d think Tuesday would be a slow day, but we keep getting hit pretty hard.”

Wyckoff now works at Devil’s Kitchen as the sauté cook and is in her sophomore year at CMU working toward a degree in business management with an emphasis in culinary arts.

“Way down the line I’d like to have my own place, my own restaurant,” she said.

But before that and after she graduates, she’s considering applying for a position as a cook on a cruise line where the work is constant and it’s a good way to save money for later, Wyckoff said.

Likewise, Della Ratta has international goals for using his degree and hospitality experience. He would like to work in the hospitality industry in Sweden, a country where he has family and dual citizenship.

His internship at Hotel Maverick has completely confirmed his career choice for him. “I absolutely love it,” he said. “You’re not here for the credits. You’re here to work.”

He likes talking with guests, getting to know who they are and where they are from and being able to offer personalized service when he can.

One thing nearly all guests like is the lavender infused fudge that is placed in every room, he said. “It’s the extra mile.”

Guests nearly always ask, “who made the fudge?” he said. And then he gets to tell them about the culinary program, the students who handmade the fudge and that the lavender was grown in Colorado.