Laid-Off Workers Trade Goodbyes as the Inn at Harvard Closes Its Doors

The Front Desk
Rebecca D. Robbins

Mustapha Jorti (right), the Inn at Harvard's front desk manager, works alongside his assistant front desk manager, Mohamed Medjahed (center), on the hotel's last day of operation. At left, a worker with an outside consulting company dismantles the front desk computers.

Nearly 22 years ago, Mustapha Jorti helped welcome the first guests to the Inn at Harvard. On Monday, the University-owned hotel’s final day of operation, he manned a quiet front desk as the Inn’s last patrons checked out of their rooms.

“This is a sad day,” Jorti said as a worker with an outside consulting company dismantled the front desk servers. “We spend more time together than [I spend] with my wife back home... You see people leaving—It’s not an easy thing.”

The Inn, a stately brick building at 1201 Mass. Ave., has long been living on borrowed time. Operated under a contract that allows Harvard to adapt it for institutional use with 12-months’ notice, the hotel kept its doors open through the tenures of four University presidents until Harvard announced last summer that its time had finally come.

The University is shutting down the hotel to convert the building into swing space housing for students displaced by construction related to House Renewal, the University’s more than $1 billion project to eventually renovate all 12 upperclassmen Houses. Over the next year, Harvard plans to transform the Inn’s guest rooms, stately atrium, and conference rooms into dorm-style bedrooms, a dining hall, and social spaces. The building is expected to be ready in time for the 2014-2015 academic year, when it will be used along with three University-owned apartment buildings to house displaced Dunster residents while their House is under construction.

With the Inn’s closure, between 50 and 60 of its 65 employees will lose their jobs, while the others will move over to the Harvard Square Hotel, according to Collegiate Hospitality CEO Richard Carbone. Collegiate Hospitality operated the Inn at Harvard and continues to manage its sister University-owned hotel, Harvard Square Hotel.

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Looking Down on a Final Day

Looking Down on a Final Day

Of the employees who are being laid off, approximately 20 have already found employment with other hotels in the area, while others are retiring or currently in the process of interviewing for new jobs, Carbone said. He said Collegiate Hospitality will issue severance packages to the laid-off employees, and though he declined to comment on their value or duration, several recipients said they thought the packages were fair.

“Everyone at Harvard’s been very supportive, very helpful in reemploying everybody, and been very sensitive to the process of closing the Inn,” Carbone said, citing, among other resources, Harvard-hosted resume-writing and interview-training workshops held for the Inn’s employees over the past several months.

Campus Services is also in the midst of interviewing “a number” of the Inn’s culinary workers for open positions with Harvard University Dining Services, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an emailed statement.

But for some, the University’s efforts cannot atone for its decision to close the hotel. Mohamed Medjahed, an assistant front desk manager who has worked at the Inn for 17 years, said he believes Harvard decision-makers gave too little thought to the livelihoods of the Inn’s longtime workers.

“You hurt us,” said Medjahed, whose wife has also worked for the Inn for 16 years. “You hurt our kids and family.... It’s not about money; it’s about the place, we love the place—we work as family here.”

And not all Inn at Harvard employees face a certain future. Though both Jorti and Medjahed said they were optimistic about their future employment prospects, they have yet to find new work. Both said they plan to go abroad to visit family before searching for new jobs.

But on this final day, they said, their thoughts were focused on the Inn. They said that they and other employees had marked their last days at the hotel by taking photos, exchanging goodbyes and email addresses, and serving their final guests. Though no one would be returning for another night, patrons were served breakfast as usual Monday morning, and housekeeping staff were instructed to tidy the rooms and make beds as they normally would.

As he worked his final shift at the operating hotel Monday, Medjahed recalled some of his fondest memories of his time at the Inn—among them, meeting Jackie Chan, Queen Latifah, Shakira, and Lionel Richie during their visits to Cambridge.

Jorti, who along with Carbone and two others was there for both the Inn’s first and final days, said wistfully: “It’s been a wonderful 22 years.”

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccadrobbins.

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