KODAK, Tenn. (WATE) — For the second time in the five-year history of the award, Reader’s Digest has named an East Tennessee business the “Nicest Place in America.”
Since 2017, Reader’s Digest has recognized places across America that, “believe in kindness, civility, and each other, neighbors help each other out, and strangers are welcomed as friends,” according to their website. This year, Nicest Place in America is the Quality Inn in Kodak and its owner Sean Patel.
Patel welcomed locals who had nowhere else to turn when snow and heavy winds left thousands of Sevier County residents without power on Christmas Day 2020, putting a heated roof over their heads and food in their bellies for the lowest price corporate regulations would allow when many other hotels in the area turned them away or charged highly-inflated holiday rates.
“Hello neighbors! If you are affected by the power outages, please call us at Quality Inn in Kodak, right off Exit 407. We will take care of you,” Patel wrote on Facebook. “We are not charging the usual holiday or weekend rates. We had a few cancellations and have allocated those rooms to help out.”
As power outages extended into the next week, he continued to welcome those in need of a warm room, hot shower or just a friendly face. “Bring your towels,” Patel wrote on Facebook. “And guess what, it’s free!”
According to Readers Digest, Patel extended the same warm welcome to Texans impacted by the widespread power outages earlier this year at his hotel near San Antonio. Guests stayed and ate for free all week.
Patel told Reader’s Digest he was drawn to the reputation of southern hospitality when he immigrated to Tennessee from India in 2004. After staying with an aunt who cared for him while he acclimated to his new home, Patel earned a degree from the University of Tennessee and began running hotels to support his family.
Knoxville restaurant Yassin’s Falafel House was named the Nicest Place in America in 2018. After fleeing a war-torn Syria in 2011, owner Yassin Terou sold sandwiches outside a local mosque before eventually opening his first restaurant in 2014 and a second in 2017. From offering free food to those impacted by natural disasters or the 2019 government shutdown to hosting fundraisers for local nonprofits, Terou has always paid it forward.
With the city of Gallatin taking home the first-ever ‘Nicest Place in America’ award in 2017, the Volunteer state is now home to three of the five winners all-time.