ASHLAND — Operating a bed-and-breakfast inn, say Michael and Laurie Gibbs, requires creativity, flexibility and tenacity.
And it helps if your establishment is large enough to have a reliable team of employees who can help you avoid the burn-out syndrome.
For nearly 30 years — since July 1983 — the Gibbses have been the proprietors of the Winchester Inn. That’s a long time in this category of the hospitality industry.
They have succeeded in part because of location. Their inn is only a couple of blocks from the theaters of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and it’s a very short walk from the shops and restaurants of Ashland’s main street.
But it takes more than location to guarantee success.
“Many bed-and-breakfast owners suffer," Laurie Gibbs acknowledged. “That’s especially true when a couple get into the B&B business as a second career, and they haven’t done their homework to see what a demanding career it is."
“It’s like having your relatives come to visit and never go home," her husband added. “But when you are paying, the expectations are a lot different than a dinner party."
‘A different beast’
Michael Gibbs said he and Laurie, who had previous experience in the restaurant business in Carmel, Calif., bought the Winchester with another couple. “We were so naive," he lamented. “This was the only place on the West Coast that offered what we wanted. But we were the eighth inn to open in Ashland, and we were worried there might be too much competition."
When their partners became “disenchanted" with the business, he said, “we bought them out and started looking at expansion concepts. That meant growing the inn’s initial seven rooms to nine, then doubling the number to 18 with the purchase of a second house next door to the first. They will soon add a two-bedroom, two-bath family suite in an adjacent cottage.
“We’re a different beast," Michael Gibbs said. “Most B&Bs may have only three rooms, up to six or seven. But we’re more like a full-service East Coast inn with a restaurant. We consider ourselves a boutique inn. In our high periods, we have 35 employees."
Among them is their son, Drew. Now 28, he grew up in the family business, as did his sister, Cate, who now lives in Seattle. Today he is a trained sommelier as well as the general manager of the Winchester Inn.
As such, he is overseeing the redevelopment of the property’s restaurant and wine bar. The soon-to-open Alchemy Restaurant & Bar — its tagline is “cuisine transformed" — will feature the farm-to-fork culinary slants of chef Billy Buscher.
“You have to reinvent yourself every so often," said Michael Gibbs. “Ashland locals tend to think of us as either a lodging or a restaurant, but not often both. We want to establish an identity that will draw locals to dine with us, not just place their out-of-town guests here."
Striving to build upon their own success continues to drive the Gibbs family.
“In three decades, the traveling public has changed," Michael acknowledged. “The old ideas aren’t acceptable any more. Travelers are more sophisticated in the food and amenities they expect. Tastes change in the decor that makes guests comfortable."
To that end, said Laurie Gibbs, “I have started to redo each room, one at a time, from flowery wallpaper to relaxing colors. Each room is unique, but we’re trying to make them a little more sleek and contemporary."
Change of pace
I enjoy bed-and-breakfast stays as a change of pace from hotels and motels in many towns and cities around the state.
Few have a full-service restaurant, but every one serves a breakfast that is often memorable. Although I have occasionally been presented a continental breakfast worthy of a Days Inn, more often they are of the variety served at the Winchester.
At this Ashland inn, guests have a morning choice of three different meals — for example, eggs Winchester, a Benedict served upon spinach and artichoke and topped with bearnaise sauce; French toast flavored with rum and coconut, stuffed with fresh mango and semi-sweet chocolate; and crepes filled with pear and mascarpone cheese, then glazed with vanilla-bean champagne and hazelnut brittle.
During my most recent stay at the Winchester, I stayed in a second-story studio suite with a private entrance. In addition to a separate bedroom with a full queen-sized bed, my spacious room had a working desk and a cozy sofa positioned to watch a 50-inch flat-screen television.
Suites are the exception rather than the rule in B&Bs. So, too, are private entries; most often guests share a front-door entry, climb stairs to their individual rooms, and gather together at shared breakfast tables or, sometimes, for late-afternoon wine tastings.
If you haven’t yet experienced a bed-and-breakfast stay, a good starting point is the Oregon Bed and Breakfast Guild website, www.obbg.org. While this reference does not feature a complete listing of B&Bs around the state, it offers a taste of what is available.
In all, there are more than 200 B&B inns in Oregon. The largest number are in Portland (nearly 30) and Ashland (more than 20), but coastal towns (especially Lincoln City, Newport, Astoria, Cannon Beach and Seaside) total more than 40 as a group. The Oregon wine country (Newberg, Carlton, McMinnville, Dundee) isn’t far behind.
These are some of my favorite bed-and-breakfast inns around the state of Oregon:
Portland and wine country
Located within walking distance of shopping at the Lloyd Center in northeast Portland’s Irvington Historic District, Portland’s White House is a Greek Revival-style mansion that does, indeed, bear some resemblance to the home of the American President. Fourteen Ionic columns overlook a circular drive before a structure that lumber baron Robert Lytle built in 1911 as a summer residence. Today the lavishly decorated inn has eight elegant rooms and a main floor whose adornments include a grand piano and 18th- and 19th-century European porcelains.
Only a few blocks away, the Lion and the Rose, which dubs itself a “Victorian Bed & Breakfast Inn," occupies a 1906 Queen Anne-style mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eight unique guest rooms, all with private baths, are impeccably furnished in period style — yet each one has cable TV, high-speed Wi-Fi and air conditioning.
In the nearby wine country, the Carlton Inn is a farmhouse-style home located just a few blocks’ walk from the impressive Carlton Winemakers Studio. Built in 1915 by the owner of an area lumber mill, and a B&B since 2005, it still features the original fir floors, decorative crown molding and butler’s pantry true to the time of its origin. American and European antiques, many of them family heirlooms, adorn the four rooms and the dining and living areas.
The inn at Youngberg Hill is an integral part of a working organic vineyard of pinot-noir and pinot-gris grapes planted in 1989 when the B&B was established. Four king suites and four rooms with queen beds, all of them beautifully appointed, feature covered decks from which guests may behold a panoramic view that stretches across the wine country from Mount Hood to the Coast Range. In-suite baths offer private relaxation; guests who choose to mingle enjoy a library, lounge and large dining room on the first floor.
The Willamette Valley
Built in 1865 in the heart of the historic French Prairie, the Feller House has been restored and converted into a two-room bed-and-breakfast inn. Surrounded by fields of commercial hops and adjoined by an extensive community vegetable garden, it is a short drive from Champoeg State Heritage Area, which preserves the first (1843) seat of government in Oregon. Rooms are tastefully decorated with antiques and handmade quilts.
Seven blocks from the State Capitol is the Century House of Salem, a house not coincidentally about 100 years old; it was built in 1912. With just three rooms, owner Jean Brougher is able to pay special attention to guests’ requests — including preparing full traditional, vegetarian or even ethnic breakfasts. I like the ground-floor East Room, which has a private entrance through a backyard garden.
The Pfeiffer Cottage Inn is a 1908 craftsman bungalow in downtown Albany’s Monteith Historic District, a short walk from one of Oregon’s best restaurants, Matt Bennett’s Sybaris. Its two guest rooms include the Sisters Suite (sleeping four guests, with a private bath) and the Mount Bachelor Room (with a queen bed and a European-style bath across the hall). The Pfeiffer has become a standard stop for cyclists plying the Willamette River Bicycling Trail.
Eugene’s Campbell House Inn has much in common with Ashland’s Winchester Inn, as both are larger boutique properties with in-house fine-dining restaurants. Built in 1892 and fully restored, the Campbell House sits on a full acre of landscaped grounds on the side of Skinners Butte, above the Fifth Street Market.
It has 13 main-house rooms, restored in Victorian style, and a half-dozen elegant suites (with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs) in its Carriage House. Guests who enjoy a full gourmet breakfast often return for an evening meal that may be served tapas style or as full entrees.
Around the state
A few years back, I had the opportunity to enjoy July 4 fireworks bursting over Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge from the deck of an old riverboat. That boat, the Newport Belle, remains moored in the marina near the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center. A floating bed-and-breakfast that will reopen in mid-February after a three-month winter break, it offers lodging in five staterooms filled with nautical decor. They all have private baths and free Wi-Fi; a buffet breakfast is served each morning, and one room will even welcome your dog.
A couple of miles north of Lincoln City on beautiful Devil’s Lake, the Lake House offers lodging in two intimate rooms (which can be combined as a suite) and a lakeside cottage. The spacious cedar home has a private deck with views across the lake, where guests may swim and fish. Few lodgings can top the Lakeside Room for romance: It features a secluded balcony with a hot tub built for two, where couples can enjoy marvelous sunset views.
The Sisters-sized town of Joseph, in the heart of Wallowa mountain country, is as far as you can get from the coast and still be in Oregon. Syd Montgomery and Lisa Allen have geared Chandlers’ Inn as a great staging area for adventurers — before and after rafting trips through nearby Hells Canyon or pack trips into the lofty Wallowas. There are 10 rooms; six have private baths, four others share, and all can enjoy a beautiful sun deck and home-cooked breakfasts.
My baker’s dozen list of favorite Oregon B&Bs concludes in Southern Oregon — in the historic gold-rush village of Jacksonville, fewer than 20 miles northwest of Ashland. The Elan Guest Suites and Gallery boasts three modern and luxurious suites balanced atop a contemporary fine-art gallery, whose select oil paintings hang in each guest room. Each suite features the latest in technology, from an iPod-adapted stereo system with ceiling speakers to a flat-screen television, a fully equipped kitchen to a private parking garage with a luggage elevator.