Sugar Hill Inn The Art of Innkeeping by Steven Allen
Imagine, as so many burned-out suburbanites do, leaving the corporate rat race behind to renovate and run a charming inn or bed-and-breakfast in the countryside. Widower Steve Allen did just that when his only daughter headed off to college. He sold their large family home and his business, bought a run-down inn in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire (pop. approximately 500), and learned by doing. He spent the next decade mastering the art of innkeeping.
In this engaging memoir of following one’s dream, readers will follow Steve’s journey as he attempts to bring his “rustic luxury” aesthetic to the secluded White Mountains of New Hampshire. In a seemingly counterintuitive move, he turns a faded property and faltering business into a successful Select Registry- Distinguished Inns of North America by catering to a previously underserved market. Travelers seeking a premium high-end room at the inn appreciate the fine French/Refined American dining, Wine Spectator Award–winning cellar, and other special amenities Steve provides.
The extensive remodel included the bold step of creating the Dream Cottage, Steve’s personal idea of the perfect romantic getaway suite and light-years away from a grandmother’s fussy, Victorian-style room so common at other B&Bs. The epitome of relaxed, timeless chic, the sexy Dream Cottage was lovingly constructed by local craftsmen and features every creature comfort in an idyllic natural setting. In a perfect fairy-tale ending, Steve finds true love along the way after hosting numerous proposal weekends, weddings, and honeymoons, culminating in a fairy-tale wedding for Karen and Steve at the Sugar Hill Inn.
What Family and Friends Say
The very idea of leaving New Jersey, my home of the past two decades, was unthinkable to most of the people I knew. My late wife’s parents, Sara’s grandparents, were particularly concerned. We had remained close in the decade since I’d been widowed. They liked having both Sara and me nearby. But amazing as it seemed to us that she could be so grown up, Sara was heading off to college out of state. And I had a grand plan of my own. My announcement appeared to be a rash, completely out-of-the-blue decision. In truth, I was acting on a long-held desire. It had been deeply buried for years, as I ran a small business close to home and raised Sara in our split-level home in a lovely New Jersey town. As she made plans to depart for art school in Savannah, I had no desire to live alone in a big house in this fam- ily-friendly suburban area.
I have always been a big believer in second acts. At the age of fifty, I had two big life goals I still wanted to achieve. This was my chance, and I meant to make the most of it. One, become proficient and knowledgeable about fine food and wine. I sold my business and enrolled in New York’s famed French Culinary Institute. This was a full-immersion, life-enriching experience that was as enjoyable as it was difficult. My graduation was an achievement I will always proudly remember. The French Culinary education was an amazing ride but only step one. Set firmly on the hospitality path, I was now on to the next goal. I was going to buy an inn.
I am an unlikely innkeeper. I am an introvert, an avid traveler, and an inveterate daydreamer. None of these traits lend themselves to the realities of the hospitality business and day-to-day running of a country inn. Like many introverts, I am sensitive to my surround- ings—strongly affected by view, temperature, aroma, and noise lev- els. Over the years, certain moments struck me powerfully, lingering in my memory bank as I went about my regular daily life as husband, father, and businessman.
The first seed may have been planted on a trip to Antigua shortly after I married. My wife and I left our resort and headed for a restaurant high up on a hill. The place was very simple. The floor was crusted stones, and the menu was basic—calling it Italian would be an overstatement. The food wasn’t particularly memorable, but the views were spectacular and the ambiance warm and peace- ful. The young American owner visited our table after dessert. He told us about how he gave up a successful investment-banking career in Chicago to run this spaghetti joint after falling in love with the island. I thought what he was doing was so cool. How great would it be to live in a place where most people, at best, can only vacation a week or so every year? To actually live in your own version of paradise and share your dream with others? (I also learned that his “simple” restaurant had no telephone when I asked him if he could call a taxi to take us back down the steep hillside in the dark, but that’s another story.)
Every traveler lives for those perfect moments, and I enjoyed many over the years. I lingered over a perfect espresso in Rome. It was served in a perfect china cup with matching saucer and silver spoon, by a waiter in impeccable white jacket, on a sunlit patio on a terrazzo surrounded by some of the most beautiful buildings on earth. I dis- embarked a train in Monterossa al Mare, where a beachside café with bright-yellow umbrellas against the blue sea beckoned. The mostly Italian patrons were beautiful and happy, the beach gorgeous, the mood festive. It seemed, as I sat there, that I was in the happiest place on earth. I once bought the most delicious apple tart ever from a
small patisserie in Paris that I happened to duck into. Try as I might, I could never find that place, or a tart that delicious, again. For years, I searched fruitlessly for that perfect tart—only to rediscover it in chef school in New York. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Looking all the way back, perhaps becoming an innkeeper wasn’t such a stretch. As a child I was fascinated by hotels; I remem- ber reading biographies of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton while my friends were reading comic books and trading baseball cards. In high school, I briefly considered applying to Cornell University’s famous School of Hotel Administration. I was also interested in design and considered studying architecture. These were both ideas my father quickly shot down. “With a good liberal arts degree followed by an MBA, you can do anything,” he advised.
I took his advice and earned my MBA at the College of William and Mary, then entered the work world as a business analyst for a chemical manufacturer in New York. Soon enough I married, Sara was born, and our little family settled in the suburbs. When Sara’s mother became gravely ill, I started my own small mail-and-par- cel business just a couple of miles from home so I could always be nearby. After she passed away, raising our daughter and staying close to home were my priorities. But the past ten years had flown by, and now it was time for a very different challenge.