HVT Stories
September 13, 2023


Lal Pradhan carries himself with dignity. At first glance, one appreciates his crisp appearance and careful stride—an unadorned elegance complimented by the thoughtful way he moves through the halls of Hotel Vermont. And, if given a chance to engage with Pradhan—the hotel’s Housekeeping Manager since 2021—you’ll notice the distinct warmth he exudes. Pradhan radiates a kindness that’s impossible to ignore and embodies a humility that’s as earnest as it is apparent.

The soft-spoken manager has been a part of Hotel Vermont since its inception, initially as a supervisor for the department he now oversees. After a brief pause in service due to the pandemic, Pradhan returned to the organization as a manager and has been instrumental in helping craft meaningful experiences for visitors of the hotel.

“We treat our guests with respect,” Pradhan shares when asked about his philosophy toward hospitality, “so that they feel it’s a second home for them.”

For Pradhan, this notion is particularly resonant as the reality of a home eluded him for decades. Pradhan—an immigrant expelled from his homeland of Bhutan in the early nineties—spent twenty years living as a refugee in Nepal before finding his way to America. Pradhan’s story, like so many of his southern Bhutanese compatriots, is one of survival. After a state-sponsored wave of ethnic cleansing threatened the safety of Pradhan’s family, they fled to Nepal, abandoning everything they owned to escape the violence and unrest that engulfed the southern region of the country. Bhutan, hoping to erase all traces of Nepali culture, began forcibly expelling citizens of Nepali descent. Pradhan’s family—who had emigrated from Nepal several generations earlier—had no choice but to leave their home behind in the middle of the night.

Carrying what they could, Pradhan and his family walked for hours to a large truck they procured with five other families and drove for the Nepali border. After 24 hours, they made it to Jhapa, a region in eastern Nepal with newly formed camps for Bhutanese refugees. Pradhan and his family joined 10,000 other escapees and settled in the makeshift city for what would become a twenty-year stay.

Carrying what they could, Pradhan and his family walked for hours to a large truck they procured with five other families and drove for the Nepali border. After 24 hours, they made it to Jhapa, a region in eastern Nepal with newly formed camps for Bhutanese refugees. Pradhan and his family joined 10,000 other escapees and settled in the makeshift city for what would become a twenty-year stay.

The camps Pradhan and his family found themselves in were substandard conditions at best; no privacy, sparse medical services, a lack of food and essentials…a drastic shift from the life they led in Bhutan. Pradhan —who was only eleven at this time—was forced to improvise in order to survive. His family began portioning their already meager rations, saving enough to barter outside the camp for supplies they had no access to. Even firewood had to be creatively sourced, though traveling into the jungle to scrounge for kindling could often lead to violent confrontations with locals displeased with the presence of the Bhutanese refugees. It was a confusing and dangerous time for Pradhan and his people, who were not granted citizenship despite their Nepali descent, not allowed to work despite their skill sets, and not allowed to leave despite their precarious living conditions. Survival became a skill. And being treated as less-than-human became a way of life. This was the norm Pradhan was forced to accept as a refugee, a sober reality that was foundational to the values he came to embody, both personally and professionally.

As the years slowly passed, cultural conditions began to improve around the camps, and soon refugees with certain skill sets started finding work in nearby Nepalese cities. Internally, Pradhan and his siblings began studying in makeshift classrooms, eventually gaining access to a local high school. Pradhan—already teaching fellow refugees in his camp—was determined to continue his education at a university level, and enrolled in a government college though he had to keep his identity a secret. To pay for his tuition, Pradhan began moonlighting as an instructor in a private school in Dhankuta, five hours north of the camp, and spent several days a week teaching as he started his own studies. He concealed his origin as a Bhutanese immigrant, though some of his superiors suspected he was a refugee. He appeared Nepalese and was respected by his students, so his professional colleagues looked the other way. Pradhan maintained employment at the private school for eight years, which allowed him to earn his Bachelor’s in Business Studies.

“When Lal shows up, that’s when grace shows up.”

Unfortunately, life remained a brutal existence in the camps. Monsoon winds destroyed their dilapidated home seasonally, and Pradhan’s mother eventually succumbed to an illness proper medical care could have likely prevented. As some of his siblings began finding their way to America through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pradhan applied for resettlement as well. After several years, Pradhan and his family (his wife, newly born son, father, and younger brother) were allowed to emigrate to the States and landed in Burlington, where a younger sister in their family had already settled.

It was a dream come true to be in America, and even though transitioning into a new culture was a distinct concern, a substantial Bhutanese community was already established in Vermont. It was a soft landing, all things considered, and Pradhan already spoke English at this point. With nominal funds procured from the refugee resettlement program and a newly minted Employment Authorization Card, Pradhan began looking for work with the help of an employment officer in Burlington. His first job was a humbling one, cleaning bathrooms as a public area attendant in a local hotel, which prompted flashbacks to the disrespect he witnessed janitors experiencing in Nepal. Pradhan began questioning whether they made the right choice coming to America when a chance encounter with upper management at the hotel rekindled his belief in the path his family had taken. A supervisor expressed gratitude for Pradhan’s efforts in the hotel and left Pradhan feeling valued. It was this simple showing of respect that recentered Pradhan’s priorities and became the lodestar in how he approaches his work—whatever shape it may take.

From that moment on, Pradhan was focused and clear, working his way through the ranks of local institutions as a dishwasher, a food packer, and numerous entry-level positions until he landed at Hotel Vermont as a supervisor in the housekeeping department. He spent his weekends and nights at the hotel, even as he worked as a translator for Nepali children in a local school. And—after a short, pandemic-related pause in Hotel Vermont’s services, he returned as the Housekeeping Manager, a position he holds today.

For a man who had never stepped foot in a hotel before coming to America, to whom the notion of travel as luxury was a foreign concept, Lal Pradhan’s journey is remarkable. After decades of constant adaptation, improvisation, and sheer survival, Pradhan established himself in an entirely foreign world. He found himself as a leader in a renowned Vermont establishment, a leader that has quietly earned the respect of those he works with.

“Lal can solve problems,” observes Joe Carton, Hotel Vermont’s CEO. “He makes it look easy, like everything is always running smoothly. He’s really created a safe space where all of us trust that he’s doing the right thing, and his team members really trust in him as well. It’s pretty special.”

For Pradhan, there is no hierarchy between himself and his staff of twenty, an ideology he demonstrates every day as noon approaches. At lunchtime, regardless of what’s going on, everyone on his team stops what they’re doing and congregates. They sit as a community, sharing stories and food, and connect before returning to work. It’s a practice uncommon in the industry and can partially be attributed to the radically low attrition rate his department encounters. Most of his staff (a majority of them Bhutanese immigrants like himself) have remained in the hotel’s employment since its inception. It’s one of the many aspects of Pradhan’s approach that has earned the respect of Hotel Vermont’s management, especially as it pertains to engaging with visitors of the hotel. Michell Langlais, the hotel’s Vice President of Sales, is quick to point this out:

“He just gets it. He understands that you make all your decisions based upon the guests’ needs and everything else is going to flow. That’s really the golden rule.”

If there’s one quality at the core of Pradhan’s being—whether it was always present or instilled through decades of struggle—it’s the notion of respect, and the deep, embodied conviction that everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy and honor. It’s central to his management style, and— more importantly—a foundational aspect of his nature. It’s why a moment in his presence fills one with a sense of ease and acceptance, a field Pradhan effortlessly generates, elevating all he encounters. Tim Brahmstedt—the Director of Facilities for Hotel Vermont—has known Pradhan from the start of his tenure at the organization and sums it up well:

“He cares to a point where it makes a difference. He cares about his team, he cares about his coworkers, and that trickles down naturally to the guests. Everyone is held in such high regard by Lal, which just exemplifies what we’re all here supposed to be doing as employees, and as human beings…caring for each other in a very equal way. That sounds idealistic, but when you get enough people to believe in it, it actually happens. And we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it here at Hotel Vermont. I’ve worked in a lot of businesses and it is a very unique situation. And that’s what Lal exemplifies day in, day out.”

Pradhan is predictably humble when asked to reflect on his life’s journey, showering his adopted home with praise and appreciation.

“I am very grateful to be here. And I’m very thankful to all Americans who welcome people from other parts of the world with an open heart. It really doesn’t matter what your background is; it’s just the human treatment that you get…” Pradhan trails off for a moment, and a wistfulness in his eyes slowly settles into a soft smile. “I would like to thank all the people in this country who have welcomed immigrants.”

The warmth and generosity Pradhan exudes is palpable; a force as gentle as it is inspiring and one that changes the chemistry of a room. Or a relationship. Or, as Joe Carton succinctly puts it:

“When Lal shows up, that’s when grace shows up.”