Travel Channel's 'Hotel Impossible' makes over Abacrombie Inn in Baltimore

Struggling Mount Vernon B&B gets tough reviews from travel host Anthony Melchiorri

August 08, 2013|By Donna M. Owens, For The Baltimore Sun

Reality TV host Anthony Melchiorri spends his workdays circling the country and globe, on a mission to help ailing hotels and their owners resurrect themselves on the Travel Channel series "Hotel Impossible."

When the hotel fixer visited Baltimore back in the spring, he found the Abacrombie Inn — a bed-and-breakfast in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood — hardly lived up to the "charm" in Charm City.

"I couldn't believe some of the things I saw," said Melchiorri, who has 25 years of experience leading top hotels such as the famed Algonquin in New York City. "For starters, you certainly don't expect to find a crack vial littering the outside of a bed-and-breakfast."

That's just one of the provocative scenes that viewers will see in the premiere of "Hotel Impossible," which begins its third season Monday night. The producers filmed the makeover style show over a four-day period back in late March.

The fast-paced half-hour episode shines a less-than-flattering spotlight on Abacrombie Inn, a 12-room bed-and-breakfast situated inside a historic house on West Biddle Street, across from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Once hailed as a four-star B&B with an attached award-winning restaurant, the operation had changed hands in recent years. If online travel reviews can be believed, the lodging establishment's reputation suffered a dramatic decline as a result.

Comments about the Abacrombie Inn on TripAdvisor vary, but tend to skew negative. While one guest dubbed it a "wonderful inn in downtown," another described their stay as "The worst customer service experience EVER!!!!" Still another called it "horrendous."

The current owners acknowledge that their path as hoteliers hasn't always run smoothly.

"We are very hardworking, but we face many struggles," said Sarifa Vahora, 53, who jointly runs the hotel business with her husband, Hanif, 54. (The couple owns the Indian restaurant next door, but it is operated as a separate business.)

Vahora, who sat down last week for an interview, said her family emigrated from India in 1988 and began pursuing their version of the American dream.

They owned a gas station on the Eastern Shore before selling it and delving into the hospitality business. They first purchased a motel in Virginia in 2002, and other properties followed, including the Baltimore-based inn.

The Vahoras paid $1.2 million for the property in 2007 but haven't reaped the kind of profits they'd expected.

"The economy and competition from other hotels has hurt us," she said. "Our family has suffered much from all this."

Vahora said her 30-year-old son, Atiq, who's shown in the episode, called "Hotel Impossible" seeking expert help. They received assistance, but in typical reality-show fashion, it came with a dose of drama.

During the episode, Melchiorri, the "Hotel Impossible" host, isn't shy about calling out the family for what he perceives as business shortcomings. For instance, he complains during the show about the housekeeping and general lack of cleanliness at the inn.

"This is the dirtiest hotel I have ever seen," says the tough-talking host, shown running his fingers over a thick layer of dust.

To make his point, he leaves a dirty handprint on a bedspread. "I'm a businessman coming here to give assistance. I'm not a housekeeper, but I was hit in the face with filth."

The episode also illuminates other unsanitary practices — including a continental breakfast spread in the dining room that really sends Melchiorri over the edge.

What's the problem, you ask? Try several hard-boiled eggs, which the owners admit while the cameras are rolling have been left out for more than 24 hours. According to the episode, there's also spoiled milk in the refrigerator and a jar of expired horseradish.

"Killing guests is bad!" the host bellows, as the family looks on in distress.

During a recent interview, Melchiorri said that getting the owners to adhere to a new management style, accept responsibility for their actions and institute an updated marketing and maintenance plan were the biggest challenges.

He called them "absentee owners" who refused to take accountability for their shortcomings.

"To be quite honest, it was not being run well," Melchiorri said. "There was no pride, no understanding that a guest comes in here to feel safe and comfortable. The only concern was making money."

Vahora countered during the interview last week that while her husband is often away tending to their other businesses, they do care.

Dabbing away tears, she said she has put her heart and soul into running the Mount Vernon business.

"I work seven days a week and do all the customer service," she said, explaining that she drives in daily from Columbia, arriving around 6 a.m., and typically works a 12- to 14-hour day.

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