Going back to 1789, the Applewood Manor Bed and Breakfast found in Castleton, Vermont is a historic colonial house which has only exchanged owners four times since it was built. Nancy & Ralph Hirschfeld are the fourth set of owners, who have kept many of the original qualities of the house when they turned it into a bed and breakfast. Inspiring tips were given by Nancy about their welcoming bed and breakfast including how to make things comfortable and inviting in the hospitality business.
Q: How long have you been in business?
We started from “scratch” nine years ago. The house was a residence when we bought it.
Q: Why did you decide to go into innkeeping?
My husband and I had both worked in corporation jobs. We wanted a change in lifestyle. Before we retired from the corporate world, we wanted to start a way to continue making a living.
Q: What is your signature breakfast?
My husband does the cooking. He does a fantastic Eggs Benedict and wonderful blueberry pancakes.
Q: Where are the majority of your guests from?
The northeast area such as New York, Connenticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.
We have a nearby local college. Often, the parents will drop off their children than stop by to stay with us.
In the summer and fall, we get more international guests. They are from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Q: What’s the best thing you have done for your business?
We focus on a warm welcome and developing relationships. We gauge what our guests are looking for and make sure they are comfortable. It is quite a psychological endeavor. Sometimes, what is forgotten is developing a personal, comfortable relationship so people feel welcome and want to come back again.
We keep things simple and try to concentrate on the needs of our guests.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Balancing the business time with some personal time. We close down at times to take time for ourselves. Our business model is very simple which is what we wanted in our business. It took a couple of years to come up with our business model. We realized in the first two years that we did not want to employ people nor do events. My husband and I can manage all of the five bedrooms. Still, we do need to take time for ourselves to refresh. We need to close down as we have no employees.
Q: Biggest lesson learned in the industry?
When I look back I wish we would have discussed a division of labor before we started the business. I had not thought how I would be in charge of all the cleaning. Identifying skills and communication is very important about these things. As there is only the two of us, we need to be able to talk things out with each other.
Q: What motto do you live by?
Keep it simple and let it go. In moments of stress, I often am in the kitchen singing “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.
Q: What is unique about your inn?
The inn has historic features. The dining room is the original kitchen with the big, brick heathen and beehive oven. We, also have the original hardwood floors. Some of them are oak and other floors are pine. There is also a wonderful marble fireplace.
We have thirty three acres of woodland hills and river trails on the property. Often, our guests enjoy going for walks through the woods before breakfast.
And, we have an in ground swimming pool which is unusual for Vermont.
Q: What would you do all over again if you had a time machine?
Being honest, I wouldn’t do it. We have made many friends with those who have stayed with us. Yet, it is not an easy way to make a living. As a business, I would have researched more about the business side in determining what our rates were going to be. I have always charged rates that I was comfortable with. The pricing model and discounts that can be offered are some things I didn’t understand very well when we opened. I would liked to have talked to more innkeepers about running a bed and breakfast.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
Outdoor activities. My husband loves fishing even ice fishing. We ski and enjoy going for hikes.
Q: Any unique facts you know about your town?
The village of Castleton is a historic village with great architecture.
Locally, we have the only battle site in Vermont; the Hubbardton Battlefield. It is the only battle ever fought in Vermont for the revolutionary war.
Q: Any fun guest stories you want to share? Such as unique guests, delightful situations or celebrity guests.
Early on, a couple who has been here several times, came one time because their son was getting married in the area. They had their new stepdaughter with them, who was going stay with them, and I forgot to put the roll away out for her. They rang the bell and we didn’t hear it. Our dog, Samson heard the bell and helped them by taking them to the storeroom where we keep the roll away.
Our pets are important to us. We joke that some of our guests come only to see them. They will bring treats to our pets. Often, the guests will take our dog, Samson for walks with them in the woods.
Q: Do you have helpful innkeeping tips you would like to share?
Find out more about the business itself, visit other innkeepers, talk with them, and welcome your guests. It is important to know what hospitality really means and develop more consistency and better standards.
We focus on why our guests are here and what their needs are as very important part of being successful in the business.