Imagine opening your home, your sanctuary, to strangers, allowing them to stay a night or two and what’s more, you serve them breakfast in the morning. That’s the chosen lifestyle for thousands of people who run a Bed and Breakfast. It’s not for everyone but it’s a choice that many make with no regrets. Dieter Gerhard was bitten by the B and B bug while watching reruns of Newhart, the sitcom in which Bob Newhart as Dick Loudon, and his wife Joanna, ran an inn in Vermont. Loudon, the straight man, was surrounded by quirky characters including backwoods brothers Larry, Darryl and Darryl. “I used to daydream about running my own place but I knew I didn’t need any Darryls”, says Dieter. In 1997 he and partner Ashley Abraham purchased a beautiful waterfront property in a spectacular location on protected land in Victoria BC and opened it as Birds of a Feather B and B. It underwent a complete renovation in 2006. For the first few years they did have guests almost underfoot but the reno included completely separate quarters for the proprietors.
“We have three units on the upper level and the bottom floor to ourselves. It’s purpose-built, all sound-proofed. We have people passing through all the time from different corners of the earth. The lifestyle that comes with it is really neat. And from an income-tax point of view, I can write off a significant portion of my operating costs against my income.”
Vicci and Jon Coughlin operate Telegraph House, a gorgeous two-story B and B in the small fishing village of Port Stanley, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Erie. With years of successful restaurant operation in their background, the Coughlins pride themselves on their homemade jams, pies, bread, soups and other fare.
“We like to travel too, so it is nice to hear about other parts of the world and our own country from guests. The best part is when they say, ‘This is the best breakfast I have ever had in my life’, or, ‘We have stayed at B&B’s all over the country and this is the best one yet’. Comments and feedback give us the encouragement to try and give the best experience we can.”
The Coughlins say they haven’t had any nasty customers but it puzzles them when the occasional guest prefers to sleep through breakfast time. Says Vicci, “We think it’s (breakfast) one of the best parts of staying with us.”
Dieter has seen competitors and colleagues burn out from the virtually non-stop hours of running a B and B so he has adopted a different attitude.
“It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. As soon as you think of it as a job, you’re done. But if you enjoy the lifestyle that goes with showing guests around and making them comfortable, you’re really getting paid to visit with people.”
Vacationers have their pick of online forums on which they can praise and criticize the places where they’ve bedded down but for owners, it’s mostly limited to credit card approvals and gut feelings about their guests. Dieter estimates they’ve had one thousand customers in each of the 14 years Birds of a Feather has been operating and made lots of friends from around the world. Only one experience ranks as truly terrible.
“We were just starting out and didn’t know any better. The first question was, ‘Do you have a hot tub?’ We took the cheque and at 8:30 in the morning when it was time for breakfast I went to the room and they were gone. The room was trashed from top to bottom, there was red wine all over everything, the hot tub was still bubbling and the cheque was no good. But one out of 14-thousand? That’s pretty good.”
Birds of a Feather offers shopping excursions, whale-watching tours, dining experiences and soon, cooking classes.
“In the off-season, students come for the in-class portion of the business courses at the University next door and now we’re busy year-round”, says Dieter. “It’s a nice, easy-going lifestyle. We love it.”
(photo (c) Dieter Gerhard)