To introduce you to innkeepers across America, this recurring column reveals how ordinary people turned their dream into a reality; how the innkeepers' lifestyle compares with their fantasies; and what they do to make their inn so special. In this feature you’ll meet Deborah Gold who, with her partner Myrta Defendini, owns and operates the Hoyt House in Fernandina Beach, Florida, an inn with ten bedrooms – and a yacht.
What sparked your interest in running a bed and breakfast?
We really wanted to become own bosses and we thought the lifestyle would really accommodate us. Plus the fact that we would meet people from all over the world was appealing.
What did you do prior to becoming an innkeeper?
Myrta was teacher, and I was a homecare nurse and before that I was a caterer. For me it all came together as an innkeeper in the sense that instead of me going to someone’s house, they are coming to mine.
How did you envision life as an innkeeper?
I guess my expectation was that it was going to be a lot of fun. Truly. I envisioned meeting people and hanging out and all of that yummy stuff, but actually it is a lot of work as you know.
So that’s how the fantasy compares with the reality?
Actually, there were pretty close because 99 percent of time we spend with our guests is good, quality time. We enjoy our cocktail hours and hanging out with guests. But as far as reality, there’s not a whole lot of us time outside of the house. You are married to the house.
What is the most pleasing aspect of running a bed and breakfast?
Exceeding our guests’ expectations. We are an atypical B&B in regard to what we offer which exceeds expectations and leads to the accolades we receive.
So with all of the demands on your time, how do you find time for yourself?
That’s a good question. Sometimes downtime has to be part of your weekly schedule where you check out singularly and get a massage or go to the chiropractor or whatever. When it’s a little bit quieter we take advantage of it and go out and have dinner -- and we don’t talk business.
What do you find most challenging?
One was laundry. The other was new technology. That was a learning process. You can’t open the door and expect people to come. They have to know you exist, and how they know is through the Internet.
So you had to come up to speed on laundry – and the Internet?
Always the ultimate advertising source for us was, first and foremost, the website. It has to be professional. It can’t be a mom and pop kind of website because if the quality is not in the website, then the quality will not be in the inn and people are savvy enough and smart enough to understand that.
We spent a lot on our website so it’d be user friendly to the 65-80 age group and attractive to the 20-50 age group who are not calling us but are booking online based on what they see. So you have to be high tech and have some flip-through pages and pictures and slideshows and video, but simple enough to showcase practical information. It took about four months to get it up and running, but right after that the percentage of online bookings tripled.
Considering your backgrounds, what do you do to make your bed and breakfast different from others?
Well, we’re a one-stop shop. At breakfast we start with warm, scented lavender towels and serve homemade sticky buns before you place your order which includes four kinds of juices, three types of meat, a frittata and griddle cake of the day, warm appetizers and seven entrees.
Then we have the heated pool and spa, private off-street parking, wheelchair accessibility, an afternoon meet and greet, a a full liquor license and bar and pub. And our rooms are outfitted with high-end amenities such as Gilchrist and Soames, 600-thread count sheets, amazing towels, new fiber beds, and flat screen televisions in every room. The old and the new. Historic charm and high-tech amenities.
And if you’re looking for an atypical experience with a B&B, you can stay on our yacht but come over in the morning for breakfast and then use all the amenities of the B&B. Actually we’re a B&B&B – bed and breakfast and boat.
It’s one-stop shopping. You can pretty much get it all under one roof.
I’m worn out already… Finally, what qualities should aspiring innkeepers have?
A lot of time, it takes two. Working with a partner or as a husband and wife team, you really have to have the ying-yang. In other words, what you are really good at, do it. And what your partner is good at, let them do it. Don’t micromanage each other. You both have separate jobs, although you work for same company, so to speak. You also have to understand that it’s not a 9 to 5 job. If you think it’s an eight-hour day, then you shouldn’t be an innkeeper.
The Hoyt House is a AAA 3-Diamond Award-Winning property in Fernandina Beach, Florida. Located within easy walking distance of the shopping village, the Hoyt House features a private pool, spa, free use of bicycles, and the option to sleep aboard the inn’s yacht..