What happens when a couple of Idaho innkeepers invite a British chef named Gordon Ramsay to come stay a few nights at their hotel?
All hell breaks loose.
Innkeepers John and Tina Hough weren’t entirely unaware of Ramsay’s penchant for profanity and confrontational demeanor, but let’s say they weren’t exactly fans. When John Hough filled out the application to subject himself and his wife to a week of filming and Ramsay’s rants, neither he nor Tina Hough had seen the celebrity chef’s shows, which include “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Master Chef.”
“I found out when John is bored he does some pretty wacky things,” said Tina Hough. “He can be a major QVC shopper … So, I normally take his credit card when I leave town and he no longer can shop online. One night, I was our visiting our daughter in Texas. … I was on the phone with John and he said, ‘Just so you know, probably nothing will come of this, but I filled out an application for us to be on TV.’ “
That’s how Ramsay and producers for his new Fox show, “Hotel Hell” descended upon Coeur d’Alene’s struggling Roosevelt Inn in February. The episode filmed at the inn debuts on Fox on Monday at 8 p.m.
“I figured I was in the Navy for six years. I went through boot camp. I went through some pretty hellacious stuff in Nicaragua and El Salvador, not to mention a few places in Africa. I figured if I could go through all that stuff I could certainly deal with Gordon Ramsay for four or five days,” John Hough said.
When it became clear the Houghs and their small hotel in the historic Roosevelt School had made the first cut, their grown children urged them to watch a few shows so they would know what they were facing. Tina Hough could only watch one.
“We could have backed out any time until the contract was signed,” John Hough said. “The truth is I am not averse to getting publicity of any kind, any time I can get it — if somebody else can pay for that publicity, all the better. That was really the primary reason for doing this — to get television exposure… .We need it.”
The couple said they were also told by Ramsay’s production company that “Hotel Hell” wouldn’t be like the other shows.
“They said, ‘This isn’t like his other shows. This is a totally different tack. This show is to help build your business,” Tina Hough said.
But the show is called “Hotel HELL,” so they must’ve guessed that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of hand holding. Right?
“You’re right,” John Hough said. “I should have seen that coming.”
John and Tina Hough purchased the Roosevelt Inn in 1999. The Victorian-styled bed and breakfast has 14 rooms, a peek-a-boo lake view and is filled with antiques.
They ran the inn and lived in the lower level with their children — two were in high school and two in college at the time. Things were going well until Sept. 11, 2001. More than 100 people canceled their reservations in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. After that, despite their efforts to boost business with murder mystery theme nights and high teas, the bookings at the hotel began a slow painful decline.
The full force of the recession hit the Roosevelt Inn in October 2008. “We kind of joke around, here we are trying to run a business and the two worst economic disasters to hit this country in 50 years have happened,” Tina Hough said.
They squeaked by for the next two years and by the winter of 2010 it was very bleak. They had pinned their hopes of catching up on bills on the arrival of the busy summer season. That’s when the real trouble began.
An Avista Utilities worker came to shut off the power for the inn over unpaid bills totaling $3,132.14 in May 2010 just as the tourist season was arriving. John Hough confronted the worker, making threatening statements including a reference to a gun, and police were called. He was taken into protective custody by officers.
Tina Hough said family members stepped in to help the couple save their hotel, giving them money and loans to catch up on bills and make needed renovations. John Hough said the hidden blessing was that their family began helping with money and advice for updates and ways to appeal to a broader range of guests.
“It was a double-edged sword … we had so many people call us after that happened to support us. I had a gentleman, I still to this day I wish I knew who he was, he walked in here and … put a $100 bill in my hand and walked out the door. He just said I understand what you’re going through and I want to help. That was amazing to me. We had people dropping by with $20 bills. We received almost $600, a lot of it from total strangers. What an amazing community.”
John Hough said his only regret is that he didn’t sue Avista and the city officers over the way he was treated.
With the help, the couple caught up on bills (including an additional $2,000 deposit to Avista and a $3,000 hospital bill for John Hough’s trip to the mental health facility) and started to look ahead.
“We finished out this winter in the best shape we’ve been. So, honestly if we had not signed up for the Gordon Ramsay show before that had happened, we might have said, ‘Never mind guys, we don’t need ya,'” Tina Hough said.
But they decided to go through with it.
Things got hellacious before they were even picked for the show, the couple said. They went through several rounds of Skype interviews by different production companies. Ramsay’s company flew 14 people in to taste the food at the inn and check things out. They called on Feb. 7 to say filming crews and Gordon Ramsay would be at the Roosevelt Inn in 10 days.
The hotel was booked for the President’s Day holiday weekend and the Houghs had to cancel every reservation. Only two people who weren’t picked by the show producers stayed that weekend, and only because they threatened to sue.
It wasn’t until the Roosevelt Inn had been wired up for filming and it was too late to back out that it became clear that “Hotel Hell” wasn’t going to be a fair fight.
Tina Hough said she was frustrated by the way producers set them up for failure. “I have a whole new take on reality TV because it is so staged … they definitely manipulate you to where they want you to be.”
One night producers asked them to have dinner ready for 16 people by 6 p.m., but guests arrived early. Then Ramsay yelled while they tried to will the chicken and salmon to cook faster. The next night, the 6 p.m. dinner guests the Houghs were expecting came an hour late. “So, now everything was dry, everything was overcooked. My salad was wilty.”
The guests were all pre-screened and Tina Hough is convinced they only picked people who said they were confrontational, critical and demanding. “They had some real doozies in here. If I would have been the Queen of Sheba and Julia Child and it wouldn’t have been good enough.”
Tina Hough added: “They set us up. Absolutely nothing we could do could be right or we would not have any need for Gordon Ramsay to come save us. I hope people understand that a lot of what they are going to see was scripted in that sense.”
She’s terrified of what the finished show will portray, but she expects them to touch on everything from marital problems to criticism from former employees. “I’m going to look like such a crybaby.”
John Hough said he was also surprised by the way things unfolded during filming. He expected to be Ramsay’s “whipping boy” but the level of abuse surprised him.
“We expected them to be very critical of what we did but to have them throw wrenches into the works intentionally that was kind of frustrating to us … of course, now we understand that is what they wanted to see was the frustration of things not going right.”
Was Ramsay nice at all?
“He hated everything,” John Hough said.
High teas? “Absolute effing rubbish, every bit of it,” said John Hough, in his best impersonation of Ramsay.
Murder mystery dinners? “Absolute total effing rubbish,” John Hough said, still imitating Ramsay. “You’re prancing around like a complete idiot. You’re a moron, John. You’re a joke. When are you going to man up?”
Even the dogs were not spared. “Are you running a hotel or a kennel, John?”
Despite five hellacious days of filming, the couple is grateful for the changes, renovations and suggestions Ramsay and his crew made at the Roosevelt Inn.
Ramsay designed a new breakfast buffet that has been a hit and is much easier for the Houghs to make in the inn’s small kitchen. They renovated a former two-bedroom suite into an executive suite they’ve named after the chef who hazed them. A second room was also renovated and decorated in a more contemporary style.
Producers hired workers to repaint and remodel the Roosevelt’s basement meeting room. “They did the most phenomenal wedding downstairs it was fairy tale it was just so stunning,” Tina Hough said.
The Houghs are still planning to follow through on some of Ramsay’s other suggestions. They are slowly taking down prints and have started hanging paintings from local artists. The show producers also paid for improvements to the Roosevelt Inn website to make sure they were connected to a large database of inns, which has already improved online bookings.
After the “Hotel Hell” premiere, the Houghs will begin serving dinner to hotel guests only four nights a week. The menu was designed for them by Ramsay, who worked with them in the kitchen to teach them how to cook things properly. They will also add an evening beer and wine service when guests can relax with the Roosevelt owners and managers and ask any questions they have about the inn or the community.
“It really made us re-evaluate how we’re running and operating our business,” John Hough said.
Would they do it all over again?
Tina Hough doesn’t hesitate. Her “no” is out before the question is finished.
Her husband is just as quick with his answer. “I’m a publicity hound. I would do it again.” He quickly added that he would probably find a way to do it when Tina was out of town because it was so traumatizing for her. ___
(c)2012 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.