Suite it Is...Carolina
Native Opens Family-Owned Hotel in Leland
Story By Steph Medeiros
Photography By Megan Deitz
It was her “ta-da”moment. All the work and preparation had finally paid off. It was the grand opening of Leland’s newest hotel, Best Western Westgate Inn & Suites, and Corey Gooden was proudly celebrating her new business. But it was more than just a new business, it was a family accomplishment. Like all Best Westerns, Best Western Westgate Inn & Suites at 1120 Towne Lake Drive, is independently owned and operated. It is also a local, family- owned hotel, which, Gooden says, is what makes her property so unique.
The grand opening gave Gooden and her family a chance to showcase their unique style and local, family-run operation to more than 100 people. She describes the feeling of success as her most memorable moment working in the hospitality industry.
“We had a great turnout,” says Gooden, adding that it was nice to see so many people in the community attend. “To have so many people show up and tell you how great [the hotel] looks, it makes you feel accomplished.”
Gooden’s father, Riley Evans Jr., along with the rest of the current owners, first recognized a need for accommodations in the rapidly growing community of Leland about three years ago. Up until then, the family had mostly been involved in the ownership and operation of assisted living and nursing home establishments. This is the family’s first hotel.
“They saw a need for it,” says Gooden. “They were looking for something different and thought this was a great opportunity.”
Gooden’s father and his four siblings — Florence Ann Johnson, Debbie Sherrill, Rosemary Miller and Robert Evans — make up Sankey Properties, LLC, the ownership company for Best Western Westgate. Gooden, the general manager, oversees all aspects and operations of Best Western Westgate and heads a staff of about nine people. Although this is the first property for which Gooden has been general manager, she is definitely no stranger to the hotel industry.
Originally from Clarkton, N.C., Gooden got prepared for her current role as general manager by working at another Best Western Inn. For three years she was an executive assistant, absorbing every aspect of the hotel, from working in housekeeping to learning about budgets and office duties.
“I did everything the owner asked me to do,” says Gooden. “I wore many hats, to say the least.”
It was a lot of work, but the total immersion into hospitality paid off. “It taught me everything I know about managing a property,” she says.
With such a rich bank of experience, along with the support of her family, Gooden feels confident her hotel will succeed. With any new business comes new challenges, and according to Gooden, that is definitely true for a family business as well. The main challenge of working in a family business, she explains, is that you have more at stake emotionally. “You really want to see it succeed, because it’s yours,” Gooden says. But when it does succeed, the success is that much sweeter.
The Best Western Westgate Inn & Suites is the second hotel to open in the town of Leland. It’s a five-story, Mediterranean-style building right off U.S. Highway 17 across from Magnolia Greens Golf Plantation. The luxurious yet comfortable lobby is clad with granite counter tops and rich cherry wood fixtures. Grand, Roman-style columns line the hallway leading to a cozy sitting area, complete with a stone fireplace.
Just a few steps lead to the breakfast area, where guests can enjoy complimentary hot breakfast in the morning. In the evening, guests as well as the general public are welcome at Monk’s Lounge (named after Gooden’s grandfather) for drinks, appetizers, sandwiches and desserts.
The property has 100 guest rooms, some of which are mini-suites, along with an outdoor pool and spa, a fitness center, a business center and much more. A few special touches can be found in the lobby and lounge areas as well. Local photography by Toni Evans, Gooden’s mother, decorates the walls, and beautiful floral arrangements made by Gooden’s grandmother accent the front desk.
According to Gooden, because each Best Western is independently owned and operated, each one has the opportunity to offer unique touches help the hotel stand out. “It’s not cookie- cutter,” says Gooden. She also is enthusiastic about her employees. “I have a great staff,” she says. “They care for the customers and go above and beyond to meet their needs.”
Gooden hopes the local, family- operated background along with the convenient location and comfortable atmosphere will draw guests to her property this summer.
“In the [short time] we’ve been open, we’ve seen higher weekday occupancy, but I expect weekends to be busier as the weather gets warmer,” she says.
With the tremendous growth Leland has been seeing, Gooden anticipates that more leisure travelers will stay in Leland when they want to visit Wilmington or the nearby beaches. Also, for those who are relocating to Leland or the surrounding areas, they are no longer restricted to stay in Wilmington during their transition. Even residents of Leland are finding less need to go into Wilmington, as Leland is becoming more self- sufficient. “I never have to go into Wilmington anymore,” says Gooden. “Everything is right here now, and it’s so convenient.”
The hotel also has discounts worked out with some of the local neighborhoods, such as Brunswick Forest and Magnolia Greens, as a way of getting the word out to the community and showing appreciation for the locals.
It’s an exciting time, both for Gooden and for Leland. The growth of the community and the local economy looks promising, and for people like Gooden, it’s a golden opportunity.
“I love it,” she says. “I love meeting the people and seeing the community and the business grow.”
Although the work is far from over, for Corey Gooden and her family, this marks a major milestone in their success story.
Best Western Westgate Inn & Suites, 1120 Towne Lake Drive, Leland, (910) 371-2858; http://bestwesternnorthcarolina.com/leland-hotels Monk’s lounge is located in the lobby of Best Western Westgate Inn & suites and is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 pm; Friday from 4 pm to midnight; and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 11 pm.