Danielle and Michael Hanscom in Chestertown, Maryland own the historic plantation named the Brampton Bed and Breakfast Inn. Danielle shared great inn keeping tips as she spoke about the definite ideas one needs to establish to own a bed and breakfast. Many changes have occurred in the industry since they began their long lasting business and their perfectly timeless inn has created lasting memories for each guest.
Q: How long have you been in business?
Twenty seven years. It was a private residence when we bought it. We started our bed and breakfast with two rooms. Now, we have thirteen rooms.
Q: Why did you decide to go into innkeeping?
We were living in San Francisco and as I am Swiss, I needed to be closer to Europe. We had a one and half year old child and a teenager and started looking around on the east coast. My in-laws were still alive and living outside of Washington DC. We were looking around the area they were though we didn’t want to be in the big city. We stayed in a bed and breakfast for the first time while visiting their area and decided we wanted to run a bed and breakfast. The one we stayed had small rooms. My husband said, “Wherever we do, we are not going to have a house with small rooms.” He found the Brampton house that we turned into a bed and breakfast and the rooms are huge.
Q: What is your signature breakfast?
We do seasonal items. Right now, we have caramelized onions, rosemary and smoked gouda. We always have choices from a savory to a sweet breakfast. We always have eggs on our menu which allows our guests to tell us how to prepare their eggs. We have somewhat of an a-la-carte breakfast with fruits, granola, greek yogurt, oatmeal and more. We have a staff which prepares their breakfasts. Also, I am part of Eight Broads in the Kitchen and we have a cook book on the market.
Q: Where are the majority of your guests from?
Many guests come in from around the big areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC. Also, people come in from northern Virginia.
Internationally we have people come from the United Kingdom, Iceland, Germany, and Switzerland.
Q: What’s the best thing you have done for your business?
A killer website! Investment in wonderful photography. We have great photography done by Jumping Rocks Photography on our website.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
It is a 24/7 business. It is a challenge to find time for yourself and your family. We have four children. We recruited all our children to help in the business. I would say that we had a lot of “teenage labor” with our children. At this point, our children range in age from 23 to 43. Our oldest child has joined us in the business.
Q: Biggest lesson learned in the industry?
Going for quality over fancy in the rooms. There is a difference between quality and fancy. Good materials, not the flashy ones. Nice, solid beds and good, quality mattresses. Not necessarily the biggest pillow top mattress on the bed .
This is an old plantation house. We directed some of our decor to this style but we keep the surfaces cleaned off, no knick knacks, so guests have a place to put their things.
Q: What motto do you live by?
Be kind to people. I have something on my refrigerator that says, “Be Kind to Unkind People, They Need It The Most.”
Q: What is unique about your inn?
The plantation house was built beginning in 1830 and ended in 1860. Different parts of the place were built on during those years. It is on the historic national registry. Almost everything is original except the bathrooms. Not much has been altered in our place. Anything we do with the house, we need to get permission. The house has the walnut doors which are very heavy. It has walnut window frames with the original glass. The floors are all original.
All the rooms have fireplaces. Eleven of the rooms have wood burning fireplaces. We prepare the wood in the fireplace for our guests. We have decorated in the plantation home style.
Q: What would you do all over again if you had a time machine?
We didn’t probably choose the best location, business wise. Chestertown is a gorgeous little working town but it is not like a big tourist town. We have to get our name out there to create this place as a destination for people to come to us. When we started in 1987 there were no websites. Years ago people had to look for us in guide books or the Washington Post.
In the 90’s we got the website and reservation system when they were made available. Now, we have White Stone Marketing which helps us with our website and our marketing.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
We like to visit our grandchildren in California. I get together with my group of friends in Eight Broads in the Kitchen. The way it started out was Kathryn White and Debbie Mosimann were on a road trip together and thought wouldn’t it be great to have a food blog. Several others including myself were asked to join them. We get together and go on vacation once a year to discuss our business. We have gone to the south of France, Santa Fe, and more. It is a great support group. I, also like to read and I like to garden.
Q: Any little known facts about your town?
Chestertown has the tenth oldest college in the country. It is the only one George Washington gave his name to it. It has the second largest collections of restored 18th century homes. It is a gorgeous town. At one time, Chestertown was the biggest port in Baltimore.
Q: Any fun guest stories you want to share? Such as unique guests, crazy situations or celebrity guests.
We had a dog named Molly as a brides maid which had a really pretty hat. We have many guests who come here to propose marriage. We had a man who wanted to have the ring come on a muffin at breakfast time. We were prepared for him and he didn’t show up for breakfast. Later, he called and told us that he lost his nerve and asked her yesterday. He couldn’t wait anymore. We will have a guest who can not eat many different kinds of foods and certain ingredients.
Q: Do you have helpful innkeeping tips you would like to share?
Invest in great photography and a good website. Look after your guests. Be as gracious, accommodating and welcoming as you can possible be to them. Be available by phone to your guests.
Did You Know?
In Chestertown, Washington College was founded in 1782. George Washington not only gave fifty guineas to start the college but it is the one college he gave permission to use his name. In 1789, he accepted an honorary degree from the college which was the same year, he became president of the United States.
Throughout the years, Washington College had its share of ups and downs. In the early years, tuition was known to be paid in bushels of oysters and other commodities. Citizens gave more than double of the five thousand pounds asked for by the state to grant a college charter. The college suffered through two fires which occurred in 1827 and in 1916.
Today, the college with its waterfront campus on the Chester River has new buildings. Renovations have been done on older buildings. George Washington is considered the patron so the core values are ones that he exemplified such as leadership, moral courage, determination, integrity and more.