How We Met — Modern Management/Old Soul

Many of you asked how I met each person I have interviewed for Another Door Opens, so this How We Met series is an answer to how I met the first 10 generous Another Door Opens people. Thank you for reading. Here is today’s short story.


It wasn’t that I’d driven very far so much as I was ready for a rest. That morning, I left Flagstaff, Arizona, and headed south toward Sedona, and on the sage advice of my friend Michael, I took the scenic Highway 89A. As I drove that winding stretch of road, my mind shifted back and forth between scenery-induced wonder and cliff-induced awareness.

I continued through other-worldly Sedona, over to Cottonwood then through the old copper mining town of Jerome when I decided to stop for the day in Prescott, “Everybody’s Hometown.” I picked the Hassayampa Inn, a 1920’s-era hotel near the Courthouse Square.

While checking in at the front desk, the manager, Michael Kouvelas, introduced himself and wanted to make sure I’d parked my vehicle in a spot that would not be ticketed. He walked back out with me to direct me to a better spot, helped me with my bags and told me a little about the hotel. I remember he used the word “portecochere” which I had never heard before. Due to context, I knew what he was talking about as he pointed out the narrow drive where the old Model Ts once arrived. Still, I made a mental note to look it up and figure out how it was spelled.

When he asked about my travels, I told him about the storytelling project I was working on — Another Door Opens. He lit up and said there were some wonderful doors in the hotel, including the stained-glass entrance to the Arizona Ballroom. I asked if I could interview him. He said yes.

Later that afternoon, I returned to the main lobby as planned, where we did the interview and took a few photos. Respect is the number one offering at the Hassayampa Inn, and they aim to make every guest feel like family.  Thank you, Michael.

Modern Management and an Old Soul

Step into the Hassayampa Inn and you step back in time.
Elegant music transports you, the original building structure enchants you and the comfortable sophistication of the decor charms you.
These features are grand, but the one that stands out most is a human feature: Respect.
It is very much by design, but in a most authentic way.
“There are a couple rules that are cemented in day one of orientation,” says Michael Kouvelas, who has been the General Manager here for a little more than one year.
“You will greet every single person that walks in the door. And you will say ‘absolutely’ and ‘my pleasure.’
“To me, responding with ‘absolutely, it would be my pleasure’ is the highest respect and most dignified answer that you can give somebody.”
Built in 1927 in Prescott, Arizona, the building was once flanked by diagonal rows of Ford Model T’s. It has been host to many celebrities of old Western movies. And it even has its own ghostly lore.
“Faith” is the resident ghost, and room 426 is her favorite haunt. There have been reports of clocks changing, plates flying and footsteps walking down empty hallways. As the story goes, in 1929, Faith was a newlywed, and she and her groom came to the Inn. One night, her husband ventured out to get a pack of cigarettes, and he never returned. Faith was so distraught, she killed herself on the property. To this day, ghost hunters and people who enjoy an extra chill on Halloween will seek out the Hassayampa Inn in hopes of meeting Faith.
“It was nice to get back to a historical hotel,” says Kouvelas who has a long background in resorts. “The building speaks for itself in one way. And you allow the staff to bring in their personality.
“What I tell the new hires is ‘we hire you because of your smile, because of your attitude, because of your personality. Your experience is great and we appreciate that. But if you’re not smiling and you’re not having fun at what you do, I don’t want to work with you.’
“It has to be genuine. That’s the type of people we have here. We have genuine, caring people. I want to meet everyone to make sure that they have that smile. Are they smiling? Are they bubbly? It’s a cheesy term to say bubbly, but it’s the only word that fits.
“I came to my management style by doing it. I’m not saying it’s right, wrong or indifferent. What I’m saying is it works for me, and it works for the team that I assemble as far as being the best at delivering hospitality. I want your personality.
“Most places want you to leave your personality at the door and come in and follow the handbook that we give you. And we give you an employee handbook like every other place. But I want you to bring your personality. I want you to be yourself. And one of the reasons we hired you is because we want YOU.
“I care that you’re willing to enjoy what you do. And that’s the key, because if you do that, the guests notice that, the other staff notice that, they have more fun at work. They enjoy what they do, they want to succeed, and that’s what it’s all about.
“I’m a freedom buff, and I came up through the ranks where you spend eight hours in training on day one. You were grilled, and I hated it because I felt nervous. You don’t remember anything on your first day because you’re petrified. I don’t care who you are. I’m 6’7”, 250 pounds and I’m still petrified.  I don’t care who you are — first day of a job, you’re that way.
“So your first day, you come here, you take as many breaks as you want. And you can leave whenever you want. Go home whenever you want. You do what you want for the first day because you’re not comfortable here yet. You don’t even know anyone’s name. You’re scared.
“Day 2, you’ll pick it up.”
And it’s that human approach that Kouvelas believes lends itself to the family feel of the Inn.
“That’s the best thing about boutique hotels. You welcome people into your home. They’re not a guest. They’re part of your family.”
Hassayampa is an Apache word meaning “river that loses itself” or “the upside down river”.  The management style at the Inn is a refreshing upside down river of its own — a place where a name from the past whispered a nod to the future — where there is no harm in mixing business with pleasure.