Season 1: Episode 5 Hotels, Hospitality & Survival Pt 2

Small business is at the heart of the Texas Economy.

In Episode 5 we explore the other side of Hotels, Hospitality and Survival – but in Part 2 we go “micro” and look at the topic through the real life stories of Texas business owners and CEOs. These voices reflect a small slice of the gorgeous mix that is the Texas melting pot. Learn from them as they give insights into their journey.  

Episode 5 Guests:

Tiffany Hutchinson-Padilla – The Dilworth Inn, Gonzales

Brad Wuest – Natural Bridge Caverns, New Braunfels

Laurie Sprouce – Ultimate Ventures DMC & Ultimate Kits, Dallas

Tim Morrow – The San Antonio Zoo, S.A.

Bios and business information for all the guests featured in Season 1 can be found on Find out how you can work with them and support your Texas small businesses.
This episode of Emerging Texas Strong is sponsored by Texas Mutual Insurance Company, a leading worker’s comp provider in Texas, and is a production of Earnest Media.

Texas Mutual Insurance Company

If you are interested in sponsoring a heartful podcast focused on the journey of Texas business owners for a focused market audience email,


TX Mutual Comme…: 00:00 Support for the Emerging Texas Strong podcast comes from Texas Mutual Insurance Company. A Workers’ Comp provider committed to helping companies build a stronger, safer Texas.

Host, Linsey Li…: 00:10 On this episode of Emerging Texas Strong.

Tiffany Hutchin…: 00:14 The reason why somebody would want to come to Gonzales, Texas is threefold. There is so much history here. It is the birthplace of Texas independence, the first shot of the Texas revolution. So anybody who is interested in anything about Texas needs to come to Gonzalez, Texas, and find out why our motto is “come and take it”. The second reason is we have amazing antique shops here. And the third reason is because of the festivals. So whether you’re coming down for a car show, don’t forget our historic homes tour and winter Fest or the Texas independence relay, or whether it’s for our come and take it festival. We know how to throw a good party. We know what it means to be proud Texans, and we have some great antique shops.

Host, Linsey Li…: 00:58 Welcome back to Emerging Texas Strong, a growing collection of stories, lessons, and advice from small business owners in Texas, working hard to survive this pandemic economy. We follow a collection of businesses and weave their stories together. As we navigate a full season of big picture topics, like why 2021 is the time to lean into trade associations, furloughed workers and opportunities for future growth. In Episode 5, we explore the other side of hotels, hospitality, and survival. But in part two, we go micro and look at the topic through the real life stories of Texas business owners and CEOs. These voices reflect a small slice of the gorgeous mix that is the Texas melting pot. Our guests this week include small-town hotelier, Tiffany Hutchinson-Padilla in Gonzales, Texas who cherishes small town, Texas life, and has become a leader in her community, promoting tourism to the central Texas town that’s welcomed her family and made them one of their own. Legacy family business, The Natural Bridge Caverns, outside of new Braunfels, Texas, led by president and CEO, Brad Wuest. Hospitality, industry veteran, Laurie Sprouse, co-owner of Dallas DMC, Ultimate Ventures. And, local treasure, The San Antonio Zoo with its fearless leader Tim Morrow. Together, we’ll get a firsthand account of how they’ve gotten through this roller-coaster-of-a-year and how they’re positioning themselves for success in the coming recovery. Now that I’ve introduced our four guests, I’m going to do something a little different this week. We’re going to deep dive. Each owner will take you on a journey of some of the unexpected trials, tribulations and lessons that they’ve learned this year. I’ve started with the same question for each one of the guests. Like what was your typical day pre COVID? And what’s a typical day like now. And what I love about this episode is that their experiences vary so much. And to me it feels like we’re looking at a series, Norman Rockwell paintings, just business owners getting through a day in the life of pandemic, Texas, but making sure to always find gratitude, remember to help others and look for the silver linings as they keep their chin up. Our first stop is Gonzales, Texas, where Tiffany Hutchinson-Padilla is the owner of the Dilworth in co-owner of the Belle Oaks Inn, owner of the Coming & Crepe It coffee and crepe shop, as well as a few other entrepreneurial ventures. Visiting with this Texas transplant hospitality loving powerhouse of a lady is our first stop on the backyard hospitality tour of Texas. And she tells us about using gratitude throughout the pandemic to keep that positive outlook, even when it’s hard,

Tiffany Hutchin…: 03:41 I’m Tiffany Hutchinson-Padilla and I own the Dilworth Inn, in Gonzales, Texas. We are a 14 room boutique hotel, right on the downtown square in Gonzales, Texas. My passion is in hospitality and tourism. I’ve had this passion since I was 17 years old. Life took me in a different direction and I found myself in mortgages in the 2008 housing market crash. So my husband asked, what have you always wanted to do? And I’ve always wanted to run or own and operate a bed and breakfast. Not everybody has that dream, but it’s been mine since I can remember. So I moved from Salt Lake City, Utah, with a U-Haul and my car in tow. We moved to Gonzales, Texas to start this dream that I’ve always had here. And four and a half years later, and I absolutely love Gonzalez, Texas, and I don’t want to be anywhere else. So I want to bring hospitality and tourism or bless the lives of others through hospitality, through it, and whether that’s creating new jobs so that people can feed their families in the community, or whether that’s creating an experience for somebody who is traveling from somewhere else and is looking to stay in an antebellum Greek revival type mansion. So that’s where all of, all of that started from that. Budded a desire to have a coffee shop. When we moved to Gonzalez, there just, wasn’t a place to sit and talk and have coffee. So my husband and I wanted to launch something like that for Gonzales. We weren’t sure that Gonzales was ready for that. It’s not like it’s Austin or anything, but we’d had plans together. We’d looked at different locations, nothing seemed to fit. But I’m a pretty strong Christian woman and my motto is faith over fear. I believe that if it’s going to happen, it will happen in it’s time. And even though it was a pandemic, we were able to launch a new copy and crepe shop just over a month and a half ago. So in, I believe November 7th was our opening date in hospitality and tourism. When COVID hit was a huge blow. I think of all industries, hospitality and tourism probably has been hit. The hardest a typical day in 2019 would have included managing a staff of five to 10 people having a hotel that’s at 70 to 80% occupancy. Whereas now in December, 2020, I have a staff of one plus myself in my hotel is less than 14% occupancy. Cleanliness has always been important to me, but I think that raising the bar bar with cleaning the rooms, we utilize a new sanitation system. That’s actually a fogging system, which adheres to surfaces to create a barrier for any sorts of bacterias and viruses. And I think that those steps, I couldn’t imagine them last year, but it creates a safer environment, a much safer feel for our guests, knowing that our knobs are wiped down every two hours, the buttons in the hotel elevator. These things that I would have never thought of before, I can’t tell you how much hand sanitizer I’ve bought, get it by the gallon. So it’s not something I had bought last year by the gallon. When you have an economy that has crumbled in such a way that the hospitality and tourism economy has seen in the past 10 months and could be an additional six to seven months, I think it will take at least 24 for it to recover to a point where it was, most of us are all just hanging on by our fingernails, hoping that we’re going to see those people come back and people travel. I think that I am fortunate in that because it’s a small town ready and we have oil business because of the Eagleford oil shale. We are not totally dependent on the tourism, but it’s enough that when it comes back, kind of add those to our gratitude items every day. My husband has been the biggest support for positive thinking for me. Every morning, my husband and I count our blessings. And then at night, as we close down, we talk about what went right and what we can improve on. And sometimes it takes an entire mindset change. We can all make ourselves crazy with the fear that is out there. And instead of focusing on that fear, if we can focus on the lesson or how we might be able to give back or bless somebody else’s lives. I think that even just finding one thing every day to be grateful for it multiplies itself, and then you realize many more things, you have to be grateful for find the lessons and the opportunities that are going to be there. They’re like a little golden nugget. You just got to mine them out and find them.

Host, Linsey Li…: 09:07 Take I-10 due West and zip up by 35 a spell from Gonzalez and you’ll be in the right area for a trip toThe Natural Bridge Caverns, where we visit with longtime Texan, president, CEO, and super-friendly guy, Brad Wuest, who reminds us that we’re fortunate to live in Texas in a time like this and that our teams are like families in good times and in bad.

Brad Wuest, Nat…: 09:29 I’m Brad Wuest, president of Natural Bridge Caverns, and we are Texas’ largest and most spectacular underground adventure located between San Antonio and New Braunfels. What do I love most about my job? And by the way, I’m a caveman, so, uh… So what I love about my job is leading this organization and providing a place for people to come enjoy and experience nature and adventure and discovery. And then it’s really a honor and a blessing to be able to carry on a family legacy. My family has been here since 1883, but the cavern was not discovered until 1960 and my grandparents and father decided to diversify beyond the ranching business, into tourism and develop the caverns and opened it to the public. In 1964, we were having a wonderful season. I was off to a great start and everything seemed to happen so fast. Right. You know, the next thing you know, we’re closing March the 17th, not knowing, you know, how long that closure is going to be and what are we going to do? You know, we got a lot of employees that mean a lot to us that care about their jobs and we care about them. And, you know, having to, having to make a lot of hard decisions and a lot of uncertainty at the time, the longest time period, natural bridge caverns had ever been closed was simply a matter of a few days. And last year was our 60th anniversary. So we’ve been around for a long time. Uh, so we kept all of our employees on who wanted to continue to earn a paycheck, kept them on to do, uh, projects, uh, here, uh, repairs and maintenance and things like that. And, uh, we did that for several weeks and then we started realizing, Oh, you know, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be opening back up very soon. And you know, we’ve got to, you know, in addition to wanting to take care of our employees, we know that it’s imperative that we preserve the business and take care of the business. So they have a job ultimately, and so we had to make a really, really tough decision and had to furlough 95 pecent of our staff. And during the peak season, we’ve got about 250 employees here at Natural Bridge Caverns. We kept on some essential staff and had to furlough team members. And that was tough. It was a hard decision. We personally made a lot of those phone calls to let team members know that we’re going to have to have to furlough them. And I’ll tell you, it was really humbling to have those conversations and just hear from them, their understanding, their appreciation, you know for what we had done so far and the faith they had in us that, you know, we were, we were going to do whatever was necessary to ultimately keep the business going and make sure they had a job to come back to. All of the businesses that are survived through this, I think are now so much more resilient. You know, adversity either breaks you or it makes you stronger. And so I think that, you know, we are, we are stronger as a result of that and more resilient. And then we were fortunate and got a Payroll Protection Program (PPP). And as soon as we got that, we were able to bring all of our team members back on. It was really wonderful, you know, to be able to do that. We were not allowed to open yet. So we put them to work on projects, painting and cleaning, and, you know, trying to think of jobs for people to do. We had tour guides as ranch hands helping out on the ranch, they got to do some things they normally don’t get to do, but they were, and they were earning a paycheck and, and happy about that. And we were happy to have them back. We were finally able to open back up to the public on may the eighth. And that was, that was wonderful too, to get back open attractions like us, you know, we’re underground, so we can be overlooked, right? So we were in constant communication with our Texas Travel Association and they were doing a wonderful job of representing the industry and staying in communication with the governor’s strike force. And so through them, we were able to make sure that showcases were considered in the governor’s reopening plans. We wanted to make sure that we were thought about, and, and that we had clear direction of when it was okay for us to open back up. But then also we were able to pass along that information and share the health and safety protocols and measures that we were putting into place to make sure that when we were allowed to open back up we’re ready, we’ve put in sanitisation stations and here’s how we’re disinfecting everything and here’s all of the measures that we’re taking. So when we can open back up we will be able to keep our employees and guests healthy and safe. And so we’re ready to go, just, you know, let us let us open up, cause we’re ready. As we’re going through this COVID journey we’re in constant communication with our peers in the showcave industry, you know, across the United States. And I do feel so blessed that we’re in Texas and a lot of the other show we’re getting much more, you know, resistance from their state and local government of requirements and not being able to open knowing what was going to be required of them and so a lot of uncertainty. And so I’ve definitely felt blessed to be here. You know, there’s a lot of showcaves in Europe and in other areas where they’re still struggling to be able to reopen their businesses or being, you know, being allowed to reopen and then being forced to close down again. We live in the most incredible place on earth. God bless Texas

TX Mutual Comme…: 15:29 Support for this program comes from Texas Mutual Insurance Company, a safety-focused Workers’ Comp provider, supplying information and resources that can help Texas employers stop accidents before they happen more at

Host, Linsey Li…: 15:45 And now back to our show hop on I 35 going North. And when it splits North of Hillsboro, make sure that you’re going on East 35 through Dallas. Our next hospitality stop is a visit with Laurie Sprouse, a long time event planner and co-owner of Ultimate Ventures, DMC as well as a spinoff of COVID-inspired sister-company, Ultimate Kits. Laurie is a heavy hitter in the industry, and she has some great perspective on the situation as well as some changes in mind for the industry, once we return to business as usual.

Laurie Sprouce,…: 16:16 Hi, I’m Lauie Sprouce. I’m president & co-owner of Ultimate Ventures. We are an events and destination management company in Dallas, Texas. COVID-19 was devastating. I have been in business through 9/11 and through the Great Recession of, you know, 2008, 2009, 2010, and thought I was so traumatized for the next decade after ’08, ’09, and ’10, and have found myself many times in the past year, longing for the good old days; that the Great Recession that was nothing compared to this. It’s been quite a ride. I haven’t worked this hard for no money since I was a startup 28 years ago. So it has been, I have not experienced that gift of time that people talked about through all of those, you know, the first four months I’ll say were spent dealing with client cancellation after cancellation, after cancellation and working through all of that and applying for PPP loan and talking with all of my industry colleagues continuously about how we were going to survive. And then it was founding the Texas Live Events Coalition. And in there we started a new company and contributing to my industry and trying to help the industry come out the other side and trying to keep one company alive and start a new one. It has been a really, really busy year, not making a lot of money. So I’ve very busy. There has not been lack of things to do what the destination management companies have gotten very clear on in the past year is that we have not valued ourselves and our time appropriately as the hospitality industry. We’re so used to giving and giving to be hospitable and not thinking about what we need to actually be charging a recouping for that time. And it took an event such as this where all of a sudden, all of that evaporates to change the thinking on that, we have had bias that rescheduled. We were happy to push their event forward and push their deposits forward. And we were of that same mindset that they were that as long as it pushed forward and happened, then it was all okay. And we came to realize that we needed to make sure we were covering for our time because every event that gets moved, there’s all this time and energy in undoing the current time, and then replanting that event. Once again, in the future and our time, we can never get back. Our time is valuable and it’s got to be covered. And we were the worst about giving our time away for free, as long as there was event out there that we were going to get paid for. And when all of that evaporated and we realized that we still had to pay for time, we had to pay for our staff’s time. We had to pay for all of our overhead expenses that get covered by the selling of that time. So to just keep pushing things out doesn’t mean that we don’t have to still recoup for the time and energy that we’ve invested to get to this point. And we’re all really grappling with how we’re going to shift that now that we’ve shifted it in our brains, how we’re going to help our clients shift with that understanding as well.

Host, Linsey Li…: 19:48 Our last stop is the Alamo City where I-10 and I-35 converge and the people miss Fiesta during COVID like they miss rain in summer. But our new friend, Tim Morrow at the San Antonio Zoo gave us a lot to be optimistic about and ideas for how to use social media and local friends to make the best out of a terrible situation.

Tim Morrow, San…: 20:06 My name is Tim Morrow. I’m the president and CEO of San Antonio Zoo. We’re a nonprofit located in San Antonio. We’ve been here for 107 years. It’s such a local treasurer that the community really truly has a love affair with this zoo. And we have 700 employees, 600 volunteers, and really a mission of conservation education that we spread around the world COVID was particularly impactful to San Antonio Zoo because we are not funded by the city. We depend 100% on visitors and ticket donations to operate. So when we were forced to close our gates, we lost 100% of our income with a cost of about half a million dollars a week to operate the zoo, regardless if someone’s coming or not. You know, there’s a lot of fixed costs with taking care of thousands of animals. There was so much information coming from the federal government, the state government, city, and County, local governments, and different guidelines and different restrictions that it was almost a full-time job just to keep up with those regulations and restrictions and information; much less they changed a lot of times daily. So there was a lot of pivoting. Pivoting was our word for 2020. And so, I mean, down to our signage, we probably blew our sign budget out of the water in a year that we were mostly closed because we were having to change signage and to make adjustments to operating the whole time. But, but when you’re operating a facility like this, we have also fall under the guidelines of zoos from the state restaurants, merchandise shops, events, schools, and theme parks. So we’re operating under, you know, five, six different directions for each segment of our, of our business operation. And so it was interesting and challenging, but we have a great leadership team here that was really focused on their department and following the rules of their department. And then at my level, and some of the other senior leadership we focused on what was the information coming in and then distributing that out to the teams, you know, as a non-profit, it was an interesting time and a challenging time because so many people were giving to human needs, which they should be. I mean, in San Antonio, the picture of our food bank of the cars line up, went viral around the world. So people were donating to food bank first and to other human causes, which we totally understand. So we really had to really get our voice out there. And so a lot of what we did was social into people’s homes. Everyone’s stuck at home. Their kids are stuck at home. So we’ve had a lot of fun things out. We had the Stay Paw-sitive Campaign, paw/positive, little play on a zoo word there. We just had a lot of animal chats with keepers and behind the scenes tours and things like that. We did yoga every morning. We had yoga, Zen Zoo, Yoga, where they did yoga in front of animal habitats. And we just did a lot of fun videos. Our teachers at the school made crafts for kids to make at home. And so, we went from maybe 3 social posts a day up to eight or 10, and just really getting our message out into the community and staying top-of-mind, because we also knew when it was time to re-open, we had seen data that zoos, parks & botanical gardens, are going to be one of the first places people want to go back because they feel comfortable there. One of the things I like about Texas and San Antonio is the hospitality industry is pretty close knit. I’ve worked and lived in Florida where the theme park world is, and it’s not that way. So it’s much more comforting to have these connections like we have in Texas and in San Antonio with the entire industry, from the drivers of Uber and Lyft and those companies to hotels, to attractions, to theme parks, there was an overwhelming amount of communication between those industries. It’s comforting because sometimes you get tunnel vision, like how are we going to get through this? And then you start getting ideas from other people and talking to other people you realize you’re not alone and we’re all in this together. So some of the things we did during that time was we partnered with the museum of art. We took animals over to, to view their art. And we did a viral video that went really huge. So both of us get PR out of that, we had animal defense league across the street, they do pet adoptions. And so we had them bring kittens and puppies over. I think it was over 20 million views on ABC. And so we had the symphony come out and play music for the animals. And so we worked with a lot of different organizations to lift all of us up with each other. And that’s what happens to San Antonio. I think in general in Texas, is Texans take care of Texans. And so that was happening industry-wide, I think. But we’re hoping to be back at 2019 or beating 2019 numbers in 2021. We’re just excited about our future in every way. And we’re hoping to get past COVID this year and back to normal. I don’t believe in the new normal, I think things will go back to normal. And we’re really excited about that. We think we’ll see some really good numbers. I think we’ve already seen that we’re coming out of it stronger and better. And I think that that just gives us more gusto going in the future; that look what we did. We talk about it all the time, our leadership team, that there’s, a lot of people are gonna be like, “2020 was the worst year of my life” or “2020 was the worst year for my company’s life”. And we were like, wow, we had an amazing year. The things we were able to do, fundraising the things we were able to do, like drive-thru zoo and this new online store we have now, and the things that we created and the team that we built has got us really excited about the future of San Antonio Zoo.

Host, Linsey Li…: 24:35 Thank you for joining us on this episode of Emerging Texas Strong. If you’re a longtime listener, you know, I finish up every episode with a recap of tips and advice you may have missed in this episode. I sprinkled some hints in what you might be listening for throughout, but today for our ending credits, I throw it over to our business owners. After all, they’re the experts! I asked each one, “What advice would you give to another business owner right now?” Here is their strategy and advice to you. Brad Wuest, Natural Bridge Caverns:

Brad Wuest, Nat…: 25:09 You gotta be quick on your feet in this day and age right now, and able to make decisions quickly and move, move quickly, uh, that, uh, I think is, is really important. And then, you know, take advantage of all of the recovery programs that are out there. We’ve gotten the, you know, the PPP second draw and are utilizing that. That’s great. We’re taking advantage of the employee retention credits as well. And, uh, so I, I encourage businesses to really, really look into all of those kinds of opportunities that can help help you get through this and be ready, you know, for, for that recovery time period,

Host, Linsey Li…: 25:51 Laurie Sprouce, Ultimate Ventures, DMC:

Laurie Sprouce,…: 25:55 I would say to any business owner that they, especially in this time of COVID, shouldn’t be trying to go this on their own and that they need the larger group to be part of. And that I’m actually a member of several different trade associations. There has been so much knowledge to be gained and summit sharing and from webinars to conferences, to best practices, to the sharing of so much information that has been so helpful, but more than anything, it’s been the relationships, you know, sharing information with each other. And my accountant told me this will mindset this, and here’s this form. And here’s this webinar where I learned this and helping each other. And we’re continuing do that, you know, to know where to turn and how to get support and to help each other to do that and through this.

Host, Linsey Li…: 26:50 Tiffany Hutchinson-Padilla, The Dilworth Inn:

Tiffany Hutchin…: 26:55 I think that the advice that I would give is to be able to tap into your creativity. So many times we get stuck in this is how it should be. And we forget that it doesn’t have to be the same as it’s always been. If you can tap into what else can I do? What other things can I do to change my circumstance or my surroundings? It doesn’t have to be the same thing that’s happening to you rather than having something happen to you. What can you do to create a positive experience for somebody else? I find that when you step out of yourself or your own mind set and think about your community, or think about your customers and how you might be able to serve or add value to them, things don’t seem as bleak

Host, Linsey Li…: 27:45 Tim Morrow, San Antonio Zoo:

Tim Morrow, San…: 27:48 I think it’s really comes down to what Texas is all about, which is relationships and resources, and really talking to people and getting ideas from people. And, you know, I have friends that run restaurants and we were giving them ideas and they were giving us ideas. And I think it works across industries, especially in a time like this. COVID made people realize they may have taken the zoo for planet or the museums or the theme parks that they could just always go to when they want it to and instead they’re going to Cancun or something. Well, now they’re not. They’re staying here and really falling in love with these attractions again. So people want to support local and help their local community. And I think if the local business people all come together, don’t just think about in your little box. If I’m a restaurant, so I only talk to restaurant people… Just talk to whoever you know about ideas and hear what people are doing and what people want you to do. And I think everyone’s going to come out stronger,

Host, Linsey Li…: 28:31 Join us next week when our topic is Groundhog’s Day. It’s a full episode of advice on how to keep your head up on the days when it’s hard. And it just feels like this thing is never going to end podcast production, interviews, edits, sound, design, and office snacks for the Emerging Texas Strong podcast are done by Linsey Lindberg. If you want to connect with the guests in today’s show or learn more about the Ultimate Kits from Laurie Sprouce, bios and business information for all guests featured in season one can be found on Find out how you can work with them and support your Texas small businesses to share the hope, the journey, the struggles, and the advice. Be sure to follow, like rate and subscribe to emerging Texas strong on the web. So you can get all the latest episodes directly to your phone. And if you’re enjoying the show and you want to show some love, leave me a five-star review. It will help more people find the show. Follow us on Facebook @EmergingTexasStrong or Twitter @Texas StrongPod, where I’ll be sharing some special treats from Episode 5 like the history of Gonzalez, Texas, and why their motto is “come and take it”, underground adventures and cave tours that are available from Brad and his team at the Natural Bridge Caverns and videos of the San Antonio Zoo’s best viral videos of 2020 and 2021 – all mentioned in today’s show. And if you’d like to be interviewed, please reach out Emerging Texas strong is a production of Earnest Media. If you are interested in sponsoring a heartful podcast, focused on the journey of Texas business owners for a focused market audience, we’d love that. Email Remember, you’ve got a friend somewhere in Texas, who’s rooting for you. I’m your host, Linsey Lindberg. Join us next time for more stories of Texas small business on Emerging Texas Strong.

Host, Linsey Li…: 30:31 Um, is there anything I’ve missed that you wanted to talk about?

Brad Wuest, Nat…: 30:35 Linsey, I think you nailed it. I think you’ve asked all the right questions.

TX Mutual  Insu…: 30:40 Support for the Emerging Texas Strong podcast comes from Texas Mutual Insurance Company, a Workers’ Comp provider committed to helping companies build a stronger, safer Texas.

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