For nearly 10 years, Kenny Mehta has been buying and building hotels in Central Pennsylvania and Central Virginia — all under the radar.
Google searches turn up very little about the 31-year-old Franklin County hotel investor and his brother-in-law — 28-year-old Aman Parekh of Hampden Township — other than that each has managed or is the listed general manager of various hospitality properties.
A different limited liability corporation and new set of partners on each property has helped them avoid much attention. They've remained busy growing their hospitality portfolio.
Together, the two are the sole partners in Rising Seven's Hospitality LLC, a Chambersburg-based hospitality-management company with about 85 employees that was created to manage their properties.
Mehta and Parekh own eight hotels and are building a $6.2 million Candlewood Suites in the TecPort Business Center in Swatara Township. A groundbreaking ceremony was held last week for the 44,000-square-foot, four-story structure.
There are six others in Carlisle, Chambersburg, New Cumberland and Shippensburg, and two more in Virginia near the Kings Dominion amusement park, Mehta said.
"We'll get this one started and then concentrate on the next project," said Mehta, who bought his first hotel in 2002 — the Best Western in Shippensburg — at age 22.
Mehta graduated from Shippensburg University with a degree in computer science.
However, having grown up in the hotel industry — his family owned hotels in Pennsylvania and Virginia — he said he knew the business and opted to take that path.
When Parekh graduated from Emory University in 2006, he chose the hotel business over a career in law and joined forces with Mehta. He also has family ties to the industry.
Mehta and Parekh said they decided to build a Candlewood hotel in the Harrisburg area to serve the extended-stay corporate base that travels to the capital city as well as to Hershey for business.
The Candlewood property, which is slated for a late June completion, also expects to cash in on leisure travelers heading to Hersheypark in the summer.
"It's centrally located between Harrisburg and Hershey," Mehta said.
The existing hotels on the business campus are reportedly doing well, and demand is there for another, he said.
Candlewood, a product of InterContinental Hotels Group, a British company with a U.S. office in Atlanta, offers studio and one-bedroom suites that feature fully equipped kitchens, large workspaces and comfortable living areas.
The partners completed a Candlewood hotel in Chambersburg last December and wanted to do another one.
The Swatara Township project is backed by a $4.6 million loan guarantee through Swatara Township-based Metro Bank from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office.
The loan guarantee helps give financial institutions more security when financing projects.
"We feel this will be a very successful project and hopefully we'll do more in the future," Parekh said at the groundbreaking, which included USDA officials and U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, whose district include parts of Dauphin, Lebanon and Perry counties.
This is the fourth build the two have done, Mehta said.
In addition to TecPort, Mehta and Parekh have submitted preliminary plans to Shippensburg Township for another hotel property just off Interstate 81's King Street exit.
Both said the proposal is very early in the process and that the Candlewood is their only current project.
A new Shippensburg-area hotel could benefit from Volvo Construction Equipment North America, which is spending $100 million to move its operations from North Carolina to the former Ingersoll Rand factory in Southampton Township, Franklin County.
"The township has showed us confidence," Mehta said of the preliminary idea.
The plan calls for a 12,442-square-foot hotel and three small lots at 120 and 122 Walnut Bottom Road in the township. The 7-acre site could have a fast food restaurant, convenience store and bank out front, according to the plans.
When it comes to new construction, the focus is on Pennsylvania because of the convenience for both in travel, Mehta said. Their management company oversees about 500 rooms right now.
"The hotel industry in Pennsylvania has not gotten bad," he said. "There is still an opportunity."
There are several areas with older hotels that have a monopoly over the hospitality market, Mehta said. The duo is looking to create a higher level of service and create more rate competition with its new hotels, he said.
Both said now is the time to build, with the economy turning around and construction firms still hungry for work, meaning better pricing.
"We wouldn't have invested otherwise," Parekh said.
Franklin County-based Brechbill & Helman Construction Co. is the contractor on the TecPort project.
31 and 28: Ages of Kenny Mehta and Aman Parekh, partners in Rising Seven's Hospitality LLC.
22: Mehta's age when he bought his first hotel.
8: Number of hotels the two own in Central Pennsylvania and Central Virginia.
500: Estimated number of rooms Mehta and Parekh's management company oversees right now.
$6.2 million: Cost of the Candlewood Suites hotel being built in the TecPort Business Center in Swatara Township, Dauphin County.
$4.6 million: Loan guarantee from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office for TecPort project.