When Burges Jokhi was about 13 years old, he got his first job in the housekeeping department at a hotel in Hong Kong, where he grew up. After moving to the United States in high school, he went on to study hotel administration in the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s when his focus shifted to the culinary world. He worked part time in a kitchen for two years until he transferred to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. With cooking experience under his belt, he got a job in the dorm cafeteria and later at a local Mexican restaurant. “Going through my degree, I thought, maybe I don’t want to be in the hotel business, because I had a little problem with authority,” Jokhi says.
So he packed his bags for Johnson & Wales culinary school. After graduating, he joined the F&B team at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. He worked there for about 12 years and had his own catering company on the side. The hours were grueling.
Jokhi never imagined becoming a hotel owner, but that changed in 1995 when he had a chance to move to Atlanta and buy a Shoney’s Inn. “I had an opportunity to start using my head instead of my back,” he says. “The caveat now is instead of a backache every morning, I have a headache.” But those pains didn’t stop him from building his own hotel. When Jokhi heard about the Wingate brand, he was one of the first ones to sign a franchise agreement. He started building the property in Buckhead in 1997 and opened during the week of the Super Bowl in 2000, in the middle of an ice storm.
At his Wingate property, Jokhi still handles catering for meetings and has a full crew to oversee breakfast. Other than that, he says the roles of chef and hotel owner are two very different things. In the kitchen, he never had much interaction with front-of-house operations, whereas running a hotel is a 24-hour business that involves constant interaction with customers. “When you cook, people eat your food, they love it, it’s instant gratification, and then you go home,” he explains. “The hotel business is different. You’re dealing with guests and employees constantly. We’re very fortunate to have an awesome crew.”
Despite the challenges associated with running a hotel, Jokhi has been quite successful at it. On the basis of TripAdvisor rankings, he has the No. 3 hotel in Atlanta, received a Certificate of Excellence in 2014, and achieved silver-level GreenLeader status. He also boasts one of the top locations in the Southeast. But the most exciting part for him so far has been the experience of building something from the ground up. “I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d ever be able to own and build a hotel,” he says. “But I did.”