By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
Everything landed on Ramola Motwani’s shoulders in 1994.
She and her husband, Ramesh “Bob” Motwani, had bought a couple of hotels on Fort Lauderdale beach just months before the city started cracking down on Spring Break, crushing the value of the properties. Then her husband passed away from a brain hemorrhage, leaving her to manage the businesses alone.
Maybe more importantly, she also had to raise their two sons. Nitin and Dev, then 15 and 14, stepped in to do whatever they could, washing dishes, cleaning pools, working as busboys, moving hotel rooms when they needed to rent out the one they were sleeping in.
“We stepped up in every capacity,” Nitin Motwani recalls. “We helped out any way we could, and then my mom had to figure out how it all worked.”
It took decades of learning along the way, but Bob Motwani’s initial investment into the hotel business would pay off big for the family, now among South Florida’s most significant developers.
To recognize the family patriarch, the Motwanis recently gave what has been described as a “significant” donation to Broward College to name a hospitality school in Bob Motwani’s honor. They also held a sold-out gala in November that’ll become a yearly event, with the first one raising $300,000 for the R. Motwani Family Academy of Hospitality & Tourism Management.
The academy offers three certificate programs and three associate degrees, preparing students for careers including hotel management, hospitality law and food service. Those who complete the certificate and degree programs can also transfer to Florida International University’s hospitality school for other bachelor’s and master’s programs.
Every year since the death of Bob Motwani, the family has donated money in his honor, including supporting orphanages in India, Nitin Motwani says. The family picked Broward College in part because of its new president, Gregory Haile. “The leadership under Greg Haile is taking Broward College to the next level, so we wanted to be a part of it,” Nitin Motwani says.
The company Bob and Ramesh Motwani founded, Merrimac Ventures, is now involved in more than $3 billion in projects. They include the 25-acre Miami WorldCenter, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Fort Lauderdale, The Gale Boutique Hotel and Residences and the Flagler Village Hotel. Dev Motwani recently opened The Wharf, an outdoor entertainment venue that quickly became one of the biggest openings in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Finding that success required a lot of trial and error by Bob and Ramola along the way, Nitin Motwani says; and the family donated the money to the hospitality school to help others get the training they need to be better prepared for the industry.
“My parents rolled up their sleeves and got to work figuring out the hotel industry,” he says. “We hope the students at this academy will have it a little easier.”
PHOTO: Dev, Ramola and Nitin Motwani. (Joe Cavaretta)