Dee Patel was born and raised in Coventry, England, attended high school in Mississippi and graduated at age 16. From there, she headed to Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, and spent time working for The Jefferson in Richmond, Virginia, after graduation. In 2003, she made her way to Nashville, joined the The Hermitage Hotel and has been there ever since.
Sixteen years and many roles later, Dee serves as the first female Managing Director of the hotel, a fact made even more interesting as nearly 100 years ago, it was The Hermitage Hotel that served as the headquarters for suffragists and anti-suffragists alike as legislators contemplated the passage of the 19th Amendment, which would give women the right to vote.
Today this impressive, passionate woman is running the show at The Hermitage Hotel, and Dee’s love for Nashville still runs deep. Her optimistic view of what’s in store for Nashville and her special reverence for the history The Hermitage holds is both contagious and inspiring. We’re excited to introduce Dee Patel as our newest FACE of Nashville!
What is your role at The Hermitage Hotel, and how has it changed in your time there?
I’m currently the Managing Director of The Hermitage Hotel and am responsible for running all facets of the company including Capitol Grille, Oak Bar, Rachel’s Boutique, the Garden at Glen Leven and various real estate properties in the downtown corridor.
When I first came to the property in 2003, I had intimate oversight of our day-to-day room operations as the Housekeeping Director and then as the Rooms Executive. After several years in this role, I was promoted to Assistant General Manager to begin working across the property as a whole. Most recently, I was named General Manager in 2014 and then Managing Director at the beginning of this year. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be the first female in both of these leadership roles.
As my role has evolved over the years, it has mainly been a shift in focus from the micro to the macro. While I’m still very involved in managing the day-to-day operations, my role today is more focused on how we can continue our 109-year legacy and play a key role in preserving our community and culture. One of my most important responsibilities has been helping the hotel raise almost $1 million for the protection of the region’s natural landscapes through our partnership with the Land Trust for Tennessee.
You’ve been in Nashville’s tourism and hospitality industries for a while. What is different between now and when you started?
Nashville is a booming town, and we seem to get busier and busier by the day. We’ve always been Music City, but now we are Music City 2.0. We have everything from music and entertainment on wheels including the newest concept, a hot tub on wheels, to swanky rooftop bars. Of course, there’s a lot more music venues and neon signs down on Broadway. The line at Pancake Pantry is nothing compared to the lines to wait for a picture with the murals now! I have to chuckle at the number of people anxiously waiting to snap a picture to upload to Instagram. It’s a level of tourism you can’t get anywhere other than Nashville.
I would say our tourism industry today is centered on unique experiences and people with a greater desire to know the story behind them. Our hospitality industry as a whole is a prime example of this. Chefs from all over have come to our city to go back to the root of Southern heritage and incorporate the culture into a “food story,” so to speak. I think this unique variety of experiences continues to skyrocket us on the map. What’s not to love … well, except the hot tub concept — I’m still not so sure about that!
Is there anything in particular that excites you about the future of Nashville tourism?
The energy and constant evolution of our Nashville tourism community is a compliment to our city’s rich history and culture. We have always been a place of historical significance, but in recent years we’ve been put on the map in a major way thanks to our tourism industry. I’m most looking forward to welcoming a national audience to Nashville for the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment next year — even more exciting and drawing bigger crowds, I hope, than the NFL Draft. What an exciting time for our city to celebrate our role in women’s history, especially as our culture and society continue to create more opportunities for women and minorities. The ratification of women’s right to vote was one of the first stepping stones on our collective journey as women today, and I can’t wait to welcome our city’s largest celebration yet for this monumental anniversary.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I treasure the long-lasting relationships I’ve built with my team and continue to build as we grow. These relationships build trust, character, integrity and ultimately are the key to a healthy, long-term successful team. As I’ve been a part of The Hermitage Hotel for 16 years now, the guests and community that we’ve welcomed over the years have come to feel like family. Our annual holiday brunch celebrations are equally exciting for my own family as they are for our guests and community.
What challenges have you faced as Managing Director of one of Nashville’s most beloved hotels?
I’m very proud to be the leader of one of Nashville’s most important historical sites — one that is physically and metaphorically in the shadow of the Capitol. An integral part of our mission, as well as a personal value of my own, is to preserve and promote our community’s history and culture. It’s always challenging to do this, of course, but especially in a city that’s as rapidly changing and growing as Nashville. I would love to see a strong commitment from our city as a whole to preserve and promote these areas for educational and cultural purposes.
What was it like to be the very first female General Manager/Managing Director? That’s amazing!
I am truly honored and grateful to be associated with a company that continues to aspire to greater heights after 109 years of remarkable history. It’s a daily accomplishment and reminder of hard work and perseverance. I always say, “If these walls could talk, what stories would they tell?” The Hermitage Hotel was the headquartered hotel during the passage of the 19th Amendment right here in Tennessee, so my present-day position feels even more meaningful as we prepare to celebrate the 100th year anniversary next year. There is a sense of personal fulfillment when your work, your passions and your values all align to become your life’s purpose.
Where are some of your favorite downtown hidden gems?
I’m loving the new Tennessee State Museum and the beautiful, impressive experience the folks there have created. I always enjoy a stop at the Nashville Farmers Market and having the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the farmers. We couldn’t be Nashville as we are today without our farmers, and I think it’s especially important to cultivate and support the relationship between our downtown community and the farming community. Plus, the chef demonstrations are always a tasty treat.
When I’m downtown with my family, I love to stop in the Public Library for both its beautiful architecture and the fun kids programming. It was designed to mirror the style of our state capitol and is truly a staple in our downtown corridor. Of course, we can hardly resist a pastry from D’Andrews Bakery or a meal at Capitol Grille afterward!
What does your ideal day in Nashville look like?
My ideal day in Nashville could go a couple of ways, but the one I enjoy most is when I can spend quality time with my family. This might be spending time at home playing my kids’ favorite game (Monopoly is the newest hit) or enjoying time outdoors at Percy Warner Park. We also love to head downtown to feed the ducks at Centennial Park and a walk over to the Suffragette’s monument — it’s a great reminder for our future generations of how far we’ve come, and where we still have to go. There are so many activities, whether it’s a day at the Nashville Zoo, one of Cheekwood’s holiday events, or a stop in Parnassus Bookstore. We’d likely end our day by trying out a new place to eat or stopping at a favorite like Plaza Mariachi.
What is the best advice you’ve been given and from whom?
We all get lots of advice from parents, peers and mentors. I’ve gotten, “Be confident, be yourself and speak up,” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” My best advice comes from conversations I have with my kids — Elissa, who is 8, and Evan, who is 6.
Children have a powerful voice with sound, simple advice. Kids are funny little creatures, as they are not afraid to express themselves, speak their minds or ask for help. We can learn a lot before the “real world” burdened us with perfectionism and day jobs. My kids always seem to put things into perspective for me and take it down to the granular with what matters most. They say the darnedest things, but often they are spot on.
Asides from faith, family and friends, what are three things you could not live without?
Oh boy, I could list so many things. I’ll say … my mom’s Indian cooking, my phone and ramen noodles!
Thank you, Dee, for sharing with us, and thank you to Leila Grossman for these beautiful photos!
She heads up the TriStar Spring Hill ER, and she absolutely loves her job! Find out why and get to know our newest FACE of TriStar better. Click HERE to meet Keri McKamey.