Owner of the Meadowlark Motel, Joseph McElroy, grew up here in Maggie Valley. His parents ran the Meadowlark for years, and he and his siblings spent a lot of time helping out by cleaning rooms. But when he and his wife, Simone, bought the motel from his parents back in 2018, he had no idea that just a few years later, he would be right back in there, mopping floors and scrubbing toilets.

It’s a full circle moment that started with the pandemic. The last couple of years have been tough for everyone, but especially for those in the travel and hospitality business. And the Meadowlark was no exception. So, when it was safe to travel again, Joseph wanted to bring his wife and 3-year-old twins down to visit from their home in New York City. When he found out that the majority of his staff were not vaccinated, however, he faced an ethical dilemma.

“There are fundamentals in hospitality,” he says, “an ethical responsibility to be clean, to be safe, to be comfortable.” Compelled to do what he felt was right for his family, his employees, and the guests of the Meadowlark, he implemented a vaccine mandate for all staff.

And almost everybody quit.

Getting Back to His Roots

Joseph found himself right back where he started as a kid, cleaning rooms and working the front desk. Thankfully, there was some help. The front desk was covered by Simone as well as Meadowlark’s musician in residence and friend, Drummer Mike Ogeltree. And Joseph called in his sister to help clean rooms. Together, they managed to keep things running.

In the midst of the chaos, though, Joseph found that there were a couple of benefits to his situation. It allowed him to get back to his roots, grounding him in the work ethic his parents raised him and his siblings with. But it also reconnected him to every aspect of the business, especially the parts that are often overlooked.

“There’s an art to cleaning,” says McElroy. “When you walk into a room, you have to be aware of the aesthetics, but also you have to check every corner. Really good cleaners have developed both that aesthetic aspect and the process for making sure a room is clean and ready to meet the guest’s expectations.”

Moving Forward

New staff have been hired who are fully on board with the vaccine mandates. These requirements are just part of the hiring process now.

In addition to front desk and cleaning staff, Joseph hired a new general manager, Boyd Burton, who says that the vaccine mandate is no issue. He is excited to be a part of what the Meadowlark is doing and has some exciting ideas about getting involved with the motel’s Smoky Mountain Heritage Center and working together with the program’s general manager, Bob Plott. He’s also working with Joseph to expand the motel’s offerings with things like dinners that feature locally foraged ingredients.

“Everything we do,” McElroy adds, “is geared toward the comfort and safety of our employees and guests. We want to make staying at the Meadowlark not only a memorable experience but a safe one as well.”

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