Monday, March 16, 2015

Innkeeping as a Retirement Pastime


We often have guests ask us if we enjoy what we do and if being an innkeeper is what we thought it would be.  Others ask if this is our retirement (ha!).

First of all, yes I enjoy being an innkeeper and it is what I thought it would be.  Our primary goal in building and operating a bed and breakfast inn was to have the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, geographical locales, professions and avocations.  In that respect, innkeeping has exceeded my expectations.  Our guests are interesting and friendly folks.  They come to our area to enjoy themselves, be it wine tasting, hiking, exploring the Gold Country, or just relaxing at the inn. My job is to help them in any way I can.

Retirement?  I don’t think so.  This endeavor was more to redirect our lives from a “9 to 5” job to another career, and to live in a beautiful environment. Innkeeping is not glamorous; it is a lot of hard work.  But it is infinitely interesting and ultimately extremely enjoyable.  We live in a beautiful part of the Sierra Foothills.  Daryl and I have been visiting this area since we were teenagers—long before there were any wineries.  We thought Fair Play was beautiful and fantasized about living here.  But what would we do for a living?  The area was cattle ranching and walnut orchards.  We knew nothing about farming or livestock.  We thought Sacramento was too far to commute (although we later found out that a high school classmate of ours had been commuting from Fair Play to the Valley, about 60 miles one way, for 35 years).  So, oh well, Fair Play was a nice place to visit but we probably needed to live closer to civilization (i.e., Sacramento).

Fast forward a couple of decades.  We raised our family in Elk Grove when it was a very small town.  After our children went out on their own, I had the opportunity to relocate to Southern California to work at the South Coast Air Quality Management District in the Technology Advancement Office.  Daryl was working for Franchise Tax Board and was able to transfer to a district office in Santa Ana.  We were working and enjoying our jobs, the weather and the beaches.  But after several years we started thinking about the next phase of our lives.  We knew we wanted to return to Northern California.  We could keep working for the government.  (I already had 30+ years in state and local government.)  That really didn’t sound like much fun.  We wanted to change our lives and do something completely different.  On a wine tasting/buying trip to Amador and El Dorado Counties, we noticed quite a few “for sale” signs on some beautiful pieces of property.  When we returned home to Orange County, we started talking in earnest about plans for the future.  We both had jobs where we met a wide range of people in different professions.  We enjoyed that part of our jobs immensely.  So, what could we do that would continue to give us the opportunity to meet new people from different backgrounds, professions and geographical locations?  Somehow, through hours of discussions and calculations, we decided that innkeeping was the answer.

We didn’t know anything about innkeeping and knew we needed a lot more information before making the leap.  We went to several “aspiring innkeeper” seminars and learned lot about the industry and the job of innkeeper.  We started carrying a notebook and tape measure every time we were away on vacation or business.  Every hotel, motel and B&B room was scrutinized and measured.  We measured dining rooms, sitting areas, and living rooms. We had an ongoing list of the good and bad of overnight accommodations.  And we started a list of what we thought would be important to guests in a B&B. We found that B&Bs are endlessly variable—in size, amenities, furnishings and style. 

We started looking for property in the Foothills, both Amador and El Dorado Counties.  We didn’t see any “historical” or significantly interesting existing houses or other buildings.  That led us to the decision to build our bed & breakfast.  It would be exactly the style we wanted, and we could build a contemporary, durable and energy efficient house. 

It took us four years to find a piece of property that fit our criteria—on a public road, 10+ acres, bare land, hopefully an existing well--in the Fair Play or Amador wine areas.  During that time, we searched through home building magazines, looking for a plan we could use as a basis for our bed and breakfast.  We purchased our property, and spent the next couple of years cleaning it up and establishing some amenities (a picnic area and a place to pitch a tent; a makeshift solar shower).  We came up from Southern California every opportunity we had to work on the property.  Although our property did have a well, we had no electricity and no way to use it.  We brought water with us in several gallon milk jugs.  On Saturday afternoons, after trimming trees, clearing walking paths, etc., we would take a shower and then visit area wineries.  We spent a lot of time at Granite Springs Winery, where Karen or Sheri would let us fill our water jugs.  We went to the other existing wineries (6 at the time) as well, establishing friendships that continue today.

In September 2000, we relocated to El Dorado County from Orange County and started the County approval process for building and operating a bed and breakfast.  We commuted to work in Sacramento until 2002, when we retired from our State jobs to pursue our dream full time.  Our decision to retire and pursue the project full time was a wise one.  Going through the bureaucratic building approval and Special Use Permit process was excruciating and was a full time job in itself.  We were very familiar with local government in Southern California.  Both of us had attended many City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings there, representing our employers.  But the “good ole boy” rural government is very different.  (And that’s all I am going to say about that!)  We finally broke ground in July 2003.   Construction activity at that time was very active and we could not find a local contractor to take on our project.  So, with the help of a retired contractor friend, and the willingness of our son to join us, we became owner-builders and put together a rag-tag crew.  Amazingly, we were able to complete construction of the “big house” in a little over a year, and received final approval from the County September 4, 2004.

There were a few “minor” things to complete—floor coverings, baseboards, the B&B kitchen sink.  We opened with one room complete—the Vineyard Suite.  We worked our way through each room over the next six months, and completed the Fair Play Cottage a year after that.  And we have continued to improve the buildings and property since then.

Innkeeping is a wonderful career.  Our commute is very short—walk through the door from our private quarters into the inn.  We enjoy living in a small, rural community.  There is never a lack of chores—cleaning, laundry, and gardening.  But the best experience is meeting and getting to know our wonderful guests.  We enjoy hearing about their families and travels and getting to know them as friends.  An important part of the B&B experience is food.  We plan our breakfast menu very carefully.  I like to cook and bake.  I am always looking for new and interesting recipes to prepare for our guests.  I am happy to share the recipes I use, and sometimes our guests give us new recipes.

Innkeeping as a retirement pastime?  No way.  But as a second or third career, it is wonderful.  If you are thinking you might want to be an innkeeper, do as much research as possible.  Hospitality 24-7 is not for everyone.  But if you enjoy meeting people and entertaining, ironing napkins (whoops, maybe that’s not part of the fun), you too might have a B&B in your future.

Think about it.


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