Ever since she was a six-year-old managing the cherry pickers on her grandparents’ farm, Rita Santillanes and her family have known she was “a natural born boss.”
Now, Rita and her husband John are the owners of four Peppertree Inns – a part of the Best Western Plus franchise – in Spokane, Liberty Lake, Omak and Auburn. The hotels collectively employ approximately 85 people in Washington state including their oldest son, daughter-in-law and John’s sister.
“I love coming to work. This business is always exciting to me. Each day is different and I enjoy working with our employees and seeing them learn, grow and improve their lives.” Rita said. “We have focused on keeping and growing our own talent and have several long-term employees who are key to running a successful multi-location business.”
Following her early cherry picking days on her family farm, Rita had her first experience in the hospitality industry working in her mother’s restaurant. When Rita’s mother transitioned into the hotel business, she followed. After working there several years, she and John purchased the two hotel locations from her mother.
During the past 30 years, Rita and John have worked side by side starting as restaurateurs and more recently growing Peppertree Inns from two to four locations, overcoming several obstacles along the way.
When the Liberty Lake area in Eastern Washington was beginning to boom, the couple saw an opportunity to build a hotel there which opened in 2001. They worked with the SBA and Zion Bank on an SBA guaranteed loan to secure the funds for the project.
In 2013, with continued growth in mind, Rita and John were able to use the SBA 504 loan program to refinance existing loans plus add an additional $1.5 million to remodel the Spokane airport location. The package was created through the SBA, Northwest Business Development Association in Spokane and Spokane Teachers Credit Union. The final 504 loan provided more than $6 million the company needed to successfully grow.
“The remodel in Spokane was much needed and has resulted in improved occupancy,” Rita said. Business in the Liberty Lake area is picking up and they are now adding an additional 40 rooms to their Omak location through the USDA Rural Development program and United First Bank.
Rita and John take great pride knowing their friends and relatives are proud to say they “know the owners” of Peppertree Inns.
“If you are going into business for yourself, know in advance that it takes many long hours of hard work; success does not happen overnight,” Rita said. Having co-owned the Peppertree Inns for more than 20 years, she also advises entrepreneurs to keep values in the forefront of everything they do, to share plans and goals with employees, and show employees how they can benefit along with the company as it grows.
For more information about Peppertree Inns of Washington, visit www.peppertreeinns.com.