Unlikely Innkeepers: Three Teams that Gave it All Up to Open Hotels
Who among us hasn’t thought, “wouldn’t it be great to get away from it all, open a little hotel somewhere and live the dream?” These three teams of unlikely innkeepers took the plunge. Each group varies in their backgrounds, locales and motivations, but they share a genuine sense of hospitality, and an undeniable love for what they do.
Growing up on a farm in Minnesota with seven siblings and 60 first cousins, Kate Hennen was used to entertaining guests. “Coming from a big family, there is a sense of camaraderie. You’re always hosting, cooking, baking and entertaining,” she explains. When she bought a four-plex apartment building and the adjacent dirt lot in Scottsdale, AZ in 2007, she originally intended to use it as an office for her publishing business, but she couldn’t escape her ingrained love for hospitality. In 2012, Hennen and her partner Rob Taynton began construction on what would later be Bespoke Inn, Café & Bicycles. As its name implies, this unique spot is at once a cozy, four-room inn; a restaurant helmed by a James Beard Award nominee; and an artisan boutique bicycle shop. Guests often spend most of their time on property in the sunny outdoor spots, like the second-floor chef’s garden and the ground-floor patio adorned with olive trees and manganese stones shipped over from Italy. “Even though we’ve only been here a few years, when guests walk into the courtyard, most people say they feel like they’ve stepped back in time to Old World Europe,” Hennen says. “It feels like we’ve been here forever.”
From the reclaimed wood rafters to the massive canoe that decorates the spacious dining room, every element of West Coast Wilderness Lodge has a story, and owners Paul and Patti Hansen are more than happy to share each and every piece of history with their guests. When they purchased the seven-acre waterfront property in Egmont, BC in 1997, it was a raw piece of land, overwrought with trees, shrubbery and wildlife. “My father-in-law was a psychologist, but he came up laid the pipes and all of the plumbing,” Paul recounts with a beaming smile. “And we had great friends that helped us build everything by hand.” The Hansens had no hospitality experience, but their backgrounds in wilderness education and outdoor recreation made them well-equipped to survive the elements; the rest they learned on the job. They originally opened as a rustic retreat for school groups and corporate off-sites but eventually transformed the property into West Coast Wilderness Lodge, an upscale yet authentic oasis, where tourists from all over the world come to enjoy the hidden treasures of the vast region that is Canada’s Sunshine Coast.
Before beginning the process of creating the soon-to-open Society Hotel in Portland, OR, the project’s four partners had never managed a hotel. Their experience in renovating homes and businesses, however, made the transition viable. “The common theme is transformation, taking something and reimagining it, putting something back together” explains Jonathan Cohen, who owns the project along with his wife Jessie Burke and their partners Matt Siegel and Gabe Genauer. For the new venture, the group wanted to create something that they could stay involved with long after construction ceased. When they came across a vacant building downtown, the site’s rich history as a 1880’s sailors’ hotel naturally lent itself to becoming a guesthouse of sorts. Together, the team returned the property to an affordable boarding house, repurposing nearly 95% of the materials from original building and using found relics like old switchblades and medical equipment as decor. The hotel offers 38 private rooms and suites, as well as a hostel-style bedroom laden with eight tri-level bunkbeds. “We love sharing Portland with people, and it’s so exciting to bring a new idea of hospitality to this city,” says Cohen. “We can do whatever we want. It’s a lot of freedom, and that’s a lot of fun.”