So You Want to Run a B&B?
That holds true even when one of them is in the basement early in the morning trying to examine a hot-water heater.Having finished his inspection, Dan hustles back upstairs, where he finds Woody, with whom he has a good rapport, still regaling guests about the hot water. The inn owner flashes another smile, letting only a quick ribbing (“A good man like you shouldn’t need all that hot water to get clean”) reveal his mild irritation at Woody’s reluctance to let the issue go. Besides, he doesn’t have time to linger on it. The breakfast table needs setting, there’s a meeting with local business owners to prepare for, and because of the rain, a couple doing an inn-to-inn walking tour will have to be taxied to their next B&B.
Dan hurries over to the dining room, where Penny is putting juice glasses on the table. “How we doing, boss?” he asks.
“Doing good,” she says with a hearty smile.
It’s just a little after 7:00 a.m.
There’s a saying in the B&B world that goes like this: Walk into any inn and ask the owners whether their business is for sale, and you’ll be invited to talk numbers. For many, the pull of an idyllic Bob Newhart kind of life quickly morphs into the reality of long days, low profits, and little relief. It’s why the average B&B owner lasts just six years on the job.
Dan and Penny Cote haven’t hit that wall. They bought the Inn Victoria, set in the heart of Vermont’s Okemo Valley, in 2010. Like so many others, they came to the business by way of a dream. The Cotes, both 54 and Mainers, had first hitched onto the idea of becoming innkeepers 25 years ago, while staying at Vermont’s Quechee Inn. The lure of working together, as well as the chance for Penny and Dan, who have a heightened talent for making people feel welcome, to build a business around helping others, was also appealing.
For the next two decades, Dan and Penny lived their lives, settling into a large home outside Portland, Maine, raising three kids and assembling successful careers. Penny started her own school; Dan became an insurance executive. He earned six figures, drove nice cars, and took his family on expensive vacations.
But three decades in a pressure-packed corporate environment took their toll. In 2009, Penny watched with alarm as her husband shed 20 pounds in just two months. He was stressed, she says: “I knew that if we didn’t change our lives, I was going to lose him to a heart attack. And Dan, since I’ve known him, was and is a dreamer. We couldn’t go down the street without his talking about buying a business and fixing it up. It got to the point where if you’re going to do it, do it.”