Valley Innkeepers And Visitors Share Their Recipes For Life At The B&B
By Nicole Barbano
As the leaves start to turn from green to shades of yellow and orange, another season of travel begins.
Hotels and motels may seem like the only accommodations available, but in this valley of fall foliage and festivals, another option exists for the autumnal traveler — the bed and breakfast.
According to innkeepers and travelers alike, a bed and breakfast, also referred to as a B&B or inn, offers an intimacy and sense of home that few forms of conventional accommodation are able to match.
“There is a mystique about bed and breakfasts that hotels and motels cannot duplicate,” says Kay Payne, who, with her husband Jim, owns the Strathmore House Bed and Breakfast in Mount Jackson.
And since many of these so-called homes-away-from-home lie nestled quietly in the heart of the countryside, the secret recipe of that mystique stays guarded by the innkeepers like a family heirloom. But that doesn’t mean they won’t share some of the ingredients.
To Each His Own
Innkeepers in the Shenandoah Valley agree to disagree. To them, all bed and breakfasts are not created equal, but still strive for the same end result, or what Dianna Chandler calls “the B&B feel.”
“Every bed and breakfast is different,” says Chandler, who owns Grandma’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast in Port Republic with her husband, Bob. “There’s some that are really fancy with the ‘Gone With the Wind’ type of style and then there are some that are very rustic. We’re very country, family- and friend-oriented.”
Janice Fitzgerald, who owns By the Side of the Road Bed and Breakfast with her husband, Dennis, says that since each B&B is independently owned, the variety is endless.
“Each one is offering the special style of each individual owner,” says Fitzgerald, who doesn’t like to categorize, but says the atmosphere of her bed and breakfast is “posh, but comfortable.”
“It’s not so fuzzy that he’s gonna bump into anything and break it, but it’s not so plain that she’s gonna be disappointed,” she explains.
From the time the property is purchased, innkeepers are already making decisions as to what sort of style their inn will take. Wall colors, furnishings, linens and artwork are just a few of the things an innkeeper has in mind while putting together a home away from home.
“We just decorated with what I like,” says Sandy Inabinet, who, with her husband Alan, owns the Inn at Keezletown Road in Weyers Cave.
“We wanted comfort and nice-looking things,” she says of the 1896 Victorian home she has filled with Shenandoah Valley and what she calls “American antique” furniture.
Inabinet also has a chicken coop stocked with hens in her back yard, which causes many of her visitors to say that they feel like they’re back at their grandmother’s house.
“A lot of them used to collect eggs, or their grandparents had chickens,” she explains, saying that the personal touches make the stay worthwhile for guests. “Here, you can go walk in the gardens and visit the chickens or rock on the porch,” things she says you just can’t do at the average hotel.
The Chef and The Naked Cowboy
Visiting a bed and breakfast is like returning home in many ways. A family holds down the fort, building and renovating, maintaining, cooking, cleaning and working as a team.
But as homey as it all might be, the B&B is still a business. “Any innkeeper will really tell you that you have to operate your business as a business,” says Fitzgerald.
“Because it’s a romantic business, people approach it with a romantic attitude,” she says. But couples all over the globe can agree with Fitzgerald when she asserts that it takes more than romance to run a house.
The training that an innkeeper receives before opening varies from person to person. Some stumble into the profession with no previous experience at all. Others attend seminars held by various innkeeper organizations. Some read books on the subject.
But considering that breakfast is one of the most important features of a B&B, many attend culinary school.
“I’m the chef,” says Fitzgerald, “and I love that.”
She says that cooking and presenting food is something like being in show business.
“Very much we are in the entertainment business,” she explains. “We have one chance to perform. If [a guest] finds a dirty anything, you failed. It’s like singing off key.”
Fitzgerald focuses on presentation when it comes to her menu, using herbs from her garden to flavor and garnish the dishes that come out of her kitchen.
Sandy Inabinet, who went to culinary school in Washington, D.C., garnishes her dishes too, but she also attaches strange names to her signature dishes. From “Aracuana Jacks” (an egg dish made from the green-shelled eggs of her Aracuana hens) to the “Naked Cowboy,” (a warm fruit dish) guests at Inabinet’s Inn at Keezletown Road can expect to recall the name of their breakfast dish long after the fruit and eggs have been eaten.
Wayne and Roger Engel, a father-son team and owners of the Stonewall Jackson Inn and Bed and Breakfast in Harrisonburg, call a stay at their inn, “A night’s delight and a breakfast to remember.” They’ve even printed it on the B&B’s main sign out front.
“We’re both experts in making breakfasts to remember,” says Wayne Engel. “Roger is the cook, and when he goes on vacation, I cook.”
The “breakfast to remember” can include anything from Eggs Nova Scotia to Brie Breakfast Souffle, which according to their Web site, is an egg casserole with Brie and assorted cheeses, locally produced bacon or sausage and sautéed potatoes seasoned with fresh rosemary.
As with the décor, each bed and breakfast offers its own twist.
The Innkeeper and the Adventurer
Most innkeepers have retired from office jobs of one kind or another, and have a penchant for collecting antiques and remodeling houses. Some wanted to move from the city to the country and some were just looking to settle down.
“My husband and I wanted to be a little more independent,” explains Dianna Chandler, who previously worked as a paramedic for the Harrisonburg Fire Department. She says that she enjoys the freedom that running her own business has given her.
Her B&B’s motto is, “Step back in time and enjoy the slow pace of days gone by,” and it’s one that Chandler says applies to her as well as the guests. “If [my husband and I] want to sit on the rocking chair on the porch, we do.”
Wayne Engel, who took emeritus status at JMU after 30 years of teaching psychology, says that the quality of life at a B&B is great. And he thinks that innkeepers are special people.
“The hosts of bed and breakfasts are usually well-educated, well-read people who can engage a wide variety of people,” he says.
And as for the travelers who stay at bed and breakfasts, Engel says they’re “adventurers.”
Ed and Cathy Williams, of Tullytown, Pa., were guests of the Stonewall Jackson Inn Bed and Breakfast while they dropped off their youngest daughter at JMU. It was their first experience with a B&B in Virginia.
“I don’t want to feel like a tourist,” says Cathy Williams.
She says that staying at the bed and breakfast gives her the feeling of community that she wants when she travels. Also, she always has the inside information on what’s good to do in the area.
“[Innkeepers] act as expert concierges,” says her husband, Ed Williams. “Whatever you want, they have connections.”
Engel books reservations for his guests at restaurants all over town and has the ability to partner with outside businesses to provide his guests with a wide option of activities. “We always refer people to the local flavor,” he says. “That’s what people want who come to Harrisonburg.”
There’s a strange dichotomy at the bed and breakfast.
“It’s a business but it’s not a business. It’s your home but it’s not your home,” says Engel as he sits on his inn’s front porch.
Kay Payne of the Strathmore house says owning and living in her B&B has been wonderful, but adds that innkeepers can experience a loss of privacy when they decide to open up their homes.
But Payne doesn’t mind. “We certainly enjoy meeting all the people,” she says.
Payne says that sometimes, people will see the sign in front of her house, stop their cars and ring her bell just to take a peek into the big yellow home behind Meems Bottom covered bridge — even if they aren’t planning to stay.
Perhaps it’s that “mystique” she mentioned earlier. That secret ingredient behind the bed and breakfast that draws people out of their busy lives and back into home, where the smell of coffee creeps through the halls at 7 a.m. and the sound of frying bacon on the stove bubbles up over the conversation at the breakfast table.
Or maybe it’s just all those blissfully wasted hours of sitting on a front porch, rocking the day away.
Whatever it is, this fall bed and breakfasts are getting ready for the busy season. And travelers across the valley just might find themselves experiencing a pinch of that special ingredient first-hand.