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Industry Award Winners

2023 Hoteliers of the Year

Bhupen and Sandhya Patel embarked on their hospitality journey four decades ago in a Georgia hotel. They moved to Iowa in 1982 as owners/operators of the Super 8 Motel in Spencer, becoming the brand’s first Asian Indian franchise owners. They went on to build 20 additional properties and acquire dozens more. Today their portfolio includes Best Western, Choice, Marriott, and Wyndham brands. The Patels have received recognition at the state and national levels from various brands, the lodging association, AAHOA, and for their pivotal role in founding the Hindu Temple & Cultural Center of Iowa.

2023 General manager of the year

Dwight Hopfauf considers himself a steward of the historic Hotel Julien, which was built in 1836 along the banks of the Mississippi. “Dubuque considers this a jewel of the community,” says Dwight. “It’s an absolute honor to take care of it.” Dwight also says, “IDM encourages GMs at their independent properties to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.”  Dwight’s influence extends to everything from shaping employee culture to enhancing the guest experience. His team has hosted everyone from presidents and sports celebrities to Season 19 of ABC’s the Bachelor.  Dwight was also named to Hotel Management Magazine’s 2023 GM’s to Watch list.

2023 Employee of the Year

The first employee of boutique hotel developer Angela Harrington, Amelia Nickle has performed nearly every role in both The Hotel Grinnell and the Highlander. An experienced bartender and cook, Amelia focused on developing the F&B program. From there she worked the front desk, then in human resources, training, accounting, and eventually as general manager. Today, this “jill of all trades” is upgrading their technology. Amelia sees Angela as a visionary and herself as a systems person. “We balance each other,” says Amelia. “She dreams and I provide support.” Amelia was also named to the 2023 Iowa Restaurant Association’s 40 Women to Watch in the Hospitality Industry.

2023 Philanthropist of the year

Jessica seamlessly blends her profession with her passion for the community. A portion of the proceeds from every event she books with Main Event Catering, is donated to local non-profits, thanks to an initiative she proposed, and Kinseth enthusiastically endorsed. As a result, thousands of dollars have been donated to local food pantries over the past three years. Jessica serves on the Boards of the Council Bluffs Chamber and the 712 Initiative. She welcomes new businesses to the community through the Council Bluffs and Bellevue Chamber Ambassadors programs. Her philanthropic work also earned her the Ken & Cyrena Kinseth Award for community service.

2023 Innovator of the Year

Raj Patel credits his family with invaluable hands-on training having worked as a child in their 50-room hotel. After college, he joined his family’s business, contributing to the exponential growth of Hawkeye Hotels. The company’s most ambitious project came at the urging of Raj, who at age 23, recognized the importance and potential of the historic Hotel Fort Des Moines. Raj was determined to see it return to its original charm and glory. In 2021, after an extensive rehabilitation, the landmark hotel, re-opened with its two-story lobby, custom made chandeliers and grand staircase restored while offering modern luxury in its rooms and multiple restaurant concepts.

2023 Sustainability Award Winner

For Heart of America Founder Mike Whalen, sustainability isn’t just a discussion topic, it’s a corporate priority. When his company developed Hyatt Place, a 112 room property in Altoona, they proactively integrated high impact sustainability solutions. The property has insulated concrete form walls–resulting in nearly twice the R-value of conventional wood frame construction. It also leverages a community geothermal system, which captures the earth’s natural heat to heat and cool the hotel. Heart of America also implemented a flush system which eliminated the leaks and running toilets that can account for up to 85% of water waste. “Sustainability, like guest experience, is found in the details,” concludes Mike.

2023 LEgislator of the Year

Iowa District 67 Representative Craig Johnson has been a steadfast advocate for Iowa’s hospitality industry since his election to the state legislature in 2016. Johnson takes invaluable firsthand hospitality industry knowledge with him to the Capitol. He served as the Executive Director of a 450+ seat venue where he oversaw countless weddings, catered meetings, and events. Johnson has served in both the Iowa House and Senate. Last session he sponsored HF 544, a bill aimed at exempting sales tax on hotel room preparation supplies. The bill will return to the table in the upcoming session, with Johnson actively pushing for its passage.

2023 Champion of the Year

While not an owner herself, there is no greater champion for Iowa’s hotel and lodging industry than Faith Dorn. Her passion is rooted in the relationships she has formed over her 45-year career providing independent hoteliers and others with commercial insurance solutions. Today, she also serves as the director of the newly formed Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association. Says Faith, “Many of these owners are like family to me. Helping establish an organization that ensures their representation during crucial legislative decisions at the Capitol is another way I can help protect their businesses.” Her tireless efforts have grown the new professional trade association’s membership by 30+ percent.