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February 2007

Our Members Speak Out

Speedwell Forge B&B, Lititz, PA

Question for March: Do you think attending innkeeper conferences is worthwhile? Why or why not?

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You were asked: Do you remember your “first time?” We'd love to hear stories about your very first guests. What was most memorable about the first time you hosted people at your inn?

“We were new not only to innkeeping but also to the small Southern town and hosting a weekend Bible study retreat. We were concerned that our ‘Yankee big city ways’ might not be what our first ‘reserved Southern Christian group’ would be expecting. As the first couples arrived early, they requested access to the other rooms their group would be occupying. A little odd perhaps, but we agreed, and each couple that arrived made the same request. They were booby-trapping rooms and hiding scary Halloween surprises for each other – a bloody dissected arm, spiders, cobwebs, etc.

“As the last couple arrived, the men joined each other outdoors. One sat in an antique Victorian bistro chair that collapsed underneath him. Another, curious to see what was behind a cupboard door above the commode in his bathroom, wound up knocking the toilet lid closed mid-business and peeing on the floor, which he found so funny he shared it with the group over that night's dinner. I had lovingly prepared dinner, but it apparently gave one of the 20 guests repeated bouts of noisy gas which he felt no need to attempt to curtail, even as they couples were in the midst of a lovely wedding vows renewal ceremony! Needless to say, we realized we were more than refined and cultured enough to handle this and many less overt guests. As long as we keep a sense of humor, I think we'll be all right!” – Pam Matthews, Montgomery Inn, Versailles, KY

“We are located 23 miles to the gate to Yosemite on Highway 120. We purchased an 1849 Adobe and 1914 Queen Anne property out of a foreclosure. Both buildings were just about ready for demolition, but we needed cash flow prior to the big restoration project. With the help of our sons and their friends and families, we spent five days repairing, cleaning, painting and installing ceiling fans, carpet, etc. to get 14 guest rooms with eight bathrooms operating. We had also determined we would be a 100% non-smoking property, with signage posted appropriately around the buildings, as well as in each room.

“Our planned opening was June 15, 1990, with no reservations. We barely had the linens in the rooms when there was a very major snowstorm in Yosemite on June 14, causing travelers without snow chains to be turned back at the gate. Four young ladies from Ireland showed up looking for lodging. My husband, Grover, and I looked at each other, and said ‘Why not?'

“So these were our first guests, but the most memorable event was when we began to smell this odor; our wonderful guests were smoking ‘pot' in their room! What to do? I really wasn't ready to deal with this, but I knew it was 'now or never'. I went to the room with my most professional, stern voice and reminded them we were a non-smoking property and that 'pot' is illegal in this country. They apologized profusely and promised to discontinue their smoking and to air out the room. This was my introduction to innkeeping.

“A few years later, with the restoration completed and 17 guest rooms, including three two-room suites, all private baths, a restaurant and saloon, two of these original guests returned for a very nice visit. What a pleasure to have them return.” – Peg Mosley, The Groveland Hotel at Yosemite National Park, Groveland, CA

“Twenty-five years ago we hosted our first guests, a young couple from England. They were to stay 18 days, and to say that we were nervous was an understatement.

“Wendy and Peter arrived, and we fell in love with them right away. They went to the ‘Big Apple’ every day and one night decided to stay over with some people that they met. They called us so we would not worry.

“On the last evening on their stay, Wendy cooked us a traditional English dinner: roast beef, cauliflower, Yorkshire pudding, peas and for dessert, trifle. It was wonderful and we all cried at the end – even my husband! We became ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ to our ‘kids.’

“A few years later we visited them in England and had a terrific time. Then, giving us two years notice, they invited us to the renewal of their wedding vows for their 25th anniversary. It was to be at the Queen's private chapel at Windsor Castle (Peter was a guide there and was loved by the Queen) with a large dinner for 200 afterward. Only 26 people were invited to the renewal of the vows. How very honored we were to be among them.

“At the end of that trip, Peter and Wendy flew back to New York with us and stayed with us at our new B&B in Saratoga Springs. They then left for their ‘honeymoon’ to Vancouver.

“We are still in touch and love them very much. We hope to see them again in the near future. Without a B&B, we would never have met this wonderful young couple.” – Wendy and Richard Duvall, Country Life, Greenwich, NY

“We closed on Annabelle (operating for 12 years) on Friday, moved in on Saturday, and had 10 guests for Sunday morning breakfast. I felt I had made a tragic mistake becoming a B&B owner. So I just closed my eyes, pretended that the guest were family members, relaxed and prepared breakfast. I received rave reviews. The guests were amazed to learn that we had just moved in. One couple gave us a nice bottle of wine from their stash to celebrate the beginning of our new life. Those first guests set the tone for us. Each new guest is welcomed as a family member. We now know we did not make a tragic error and have enjoyed each guest who visits.” – Carolyn & Paul, Annabelle Bed & Breakfast, Vicksburg, MS

“Our first guests were a lovely couple from Carson City, Nevada, and their check-in date was the same day we moved into the inn. (We bought an existing inn.) We called them about two weeks prior and said that we were the new owners and would be moving in that date and if they wanted to go someplace else we would understand. They said no way. So they checked in and stayed for four nights. I remember saying to my boyfriend, ‘Oh no, we have to fix breakfast in the morning –find the box labeled ‘pots and pans.’’ We were grocery shopping at midnight. The guests felt right at home when they even helped carry a few boxes upstairs. They were delightful, and we will always remember our first!” – Diane & Jim Sokolowski, Battle Island Inn Bed & Breakfast, Fulton, NY

“One of my first guests was Susan from Brooklyn. When she first called she asked if I had bed-boyds. I asked her what a boyd was. She said, ‘You know, the boyd that goes between the mattress and the box spring.’ I said, ‘You mean board.’

She then asked what I made for breakfast. I told her that that morning I had made baked German pancakes. She asked, ‘What's that?’ I told her it was like a soufflé filled with apples and brown sugar. She said, ‘That sounds great - I don't eat eggs but I eat soufflés.’ I took that to mean she didn't eat ordinary eggs (scrambled) or eggs that look up at you.

She then made a reservation in a room that had a view of the lake. The reservation was for late November, and she and her husband arrived after 6 p.m. I showed her the room. She soon came downstairs and complained that she couldn't see the lake. I told her it was dark outside and she'd see the lake in the morning when the sun came up.

She came down for breakfast. Thinking the baked German pancake was a safe entrée, I served her. She then said, ‘I told you I don't eat eggs,’ asked if I had French toast. I said ‘No, but would you like cereal?’ She was indignant and asked if I had an English muffin with cheese on it. When I brought her the English muffin I just couldn't help myself; I said, ‘I didn't realize you didn't know soufflés are made with eggs.’ She said ‘Oh no, soufflés are made with chocolate.’ Well, I thought the other guests were going to lose whatever was in their mouths. Thank goodness Susan was one of a kind or I wouldn't still be doing this after 11 years.” – Sandy Rademacher, 1899 Lady of the Lake, Skaneateles, NY

“Gosh, did I get lucky with my first B&B guests. I was scheduled to open in a fortnight with guests booked in the rooms. This was almost 20 years ago. All I had to help was a book I'd read on operating a B&B and experience I'd had as a concierge at the Ritz Carlton when I was in graduate school 10 years previously.

“To say I was winging it was an understatement. I was terrified and was trying to work out all the details when I got a call from an artist who was traveling through the area. The artist had heard about the property's views and wanted to spend the afternoon sketching on the deck.

“I invited the artist over for the afternoon. I found him and his wife to be delightful people and invited them to stay as guests. I got to ‘practice’ on the couple and they, in turn, were able to spend several days on artwork. I wound up purchasing a large number of Southwest-inspired pieces from the artist to replace the artworks I had brought from my beach house.

“One of the pieces is an original entitled ‘View from Saddlerock Ranch’ and was painted on the property. To this day, the works grace the walls and are much commented on and enjoyed by our guests. After almost 20 years and thousands of guests, I still love the artwork They are a living reminder of the delightful artist and his wife who were my very first guests.” – Fran Jackson Bruno, B&B @ Saddlerock Ranch, Sedona, AZ

”After five years of planning, 18 months of renovation, moving cross-country, and just finishing an 'open house' with over 500 visitors, our first guests happened across our website and booked on Thursday for Friday night. They had no idea we had just gotten our occupancy permit the day before, that we didn't have a credit card reader yet, or that we had given them our alarm clock because I forgot to buy one for the room. Fortunately the only thing that happened was the whirlpool bath broke on its first use, but they were good sports. Our second guests were even more memorable because they became our first repeat guests two months later.” – Gregg Hesling, Speedwell Forge B&B, Lititz, PA

“My first guests were memorable, but only because of what I found after they left: A woman called to reserve our cabin (behind our house) for her daughter's honeymoon (one night). I explained that they would be our first guests and asked if I could give the couple a bottle of bubbly to celebrate that, and their wedding. She exclaimed "Oh no, they are both in rehab! Please don't have any temptations like that in the cabin.” I agreed to leave a bottle of sparkling cider, and she thought that was fine.

“When the young couple arrived, they were very friendly and seemed so excited to stay in a B&B for their first time. I think I was more excited than they were! I showed them around, and they asked about a good restaurant for dinner. I provided them with my book of menus and directions and arranged to bring their breakfast in the morning. I pointed out the cider as a small gift from me.

“The next morning, I brought their meal at the pre-arranged time, and they were still asleep. The young man got up and let me in, and I placed the food and left, asking him to stop by my house before they departed so I could thank them.

“I hadn't seen them by noon, so I went over to check on them. They had left without saying a word, and I hadn't heard their car leave. But I found 10 empty beer bottles, a half-empty bottle of Chivas, and some small airline-sized bottles of rum, also empty. I was so surprised! Of course, there sat the sparkling cider, untouched, as was most of the breakfast I had prepared, so nervous and wanting to please my first guests.

“They wrote in my guest book that my cabin held a special place in their hearts, and bestowed blessings upon me, and that they would return for every anniversary. When the next year rolled around, I didn't hear a peep from them, and I decided not to write and invite them back. I was afraid I might hit a sad nerve.” – Bonnie Rames, Brightwood Guest House Bed & Breakfast, Brightwood, OR

“You bet I remember our first guests! We had just closed on the inn and returned from our attorney's office. Boxes and furniture were wall-to-wall. Former guests from Canada knocked on our door seeking a room for the night. My answer: "Yes, we can give you a room, but we cannot serve breakfast. Step in and you will see why.” They stayed, and we have been friends ever since. What a wonderful, engaging vocation this is! – Alyce Mundy, Dunscroft By-The-Sea, Cape Cod, MA

“Brenda called us in March 2002 (three months before we officially opened for business). She wanted to come by and see Moss Point Oaks with her Great Aunt Louisa. Kim, of course, invited them to stop by. Brenda had been traveling from Houston to Pascagoula on a regular basis to care for her aging father. She was seeking accommodations beyond what the local motels and hotels could offer; she wanted warmth and coziness.

“She and her aunt toured our home and gardens (which were and remain a work in progress) and fell in love with Moss Point Oaks. She really wouldn’t take no for answer and moved her bags in as soon as she took her aunt home. Brenda stayed with us for four weeks before returning to Houston. Over the next six months, she returned for two additional four-week stays.

“During her visits, she joined us for supper as well as breakfast and fast became part of our family. She helped Kim clean her guest room and helped me clean up after supper. We would sit and talk for hours on end in the evenings. It wasn’t hard to convert her to a ‘porch sitter’. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to her father; his health, living standards, when to move him to assisted living, etc. Our hearts were knitted together forever. Kim and I started wondering what we could do to help.

“Brenda finally managed to organize her father’s care, and her visits became less frequent. She would call from time to time, and often our emails would be frequent. We shared with Brenda how we wanted to do something for her and her family if her father were to pass away. That desire became reality last week when she called to report that the doctors had advised her to gather the family, for his time was growing very near.

“Brenda and her family interred her father last Wednesday and then met at Moss Point Oaks, where we prepared an afternoon tea for them. They spent several hours reminiscing and helping each other start the healing process. Our joy in becoming part of her family came full circle that day.

“Innkeeping allows us to share our lives but also to share the lives of our guests. Being a host or hostess and not a manager or clerk affords us the opportunity to be friends as well. There are many other stories we could share in just the two years we have been open, but Brenda’s story truly exemplifies the spirit of innkeeping.” – Dan Brooks, Moss Point Oaks Bed & Breakfast, Moss Point, MS

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