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The $2,000 breakfast

Laid off and concerned about the mortgage, she transforms her house into a B&B.

By Helen Eggers / February 10, 2010



"I'm sorry, really," my boss said, handing me a termination notice. Avoiding my eyes, he was already mulling over the next task. "Not your fault, we're all in tough times here. I'm sure you understand." I stood in disbelief, fear scrubbing at my ­middle-aged body.

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That night I couldn't sleep; single, with a big duplex house with a big mortgage (even though I'd been able to rent out half of it). Would I lose my home in addition to my employment? Dark thoughts continued for a few days. Then I remembered that asking for guidance often brought surprising results. So I bent my head and asked for the next right action.

Shortly, the astonishing thought came to me to open a bed-and-breakfast. I dismissed that idea. Home hobbies, like a B&B, were for bored housewives. I needed a reliable income. Still, I thought, I've never gone wrong by listening to the voice of guidance.

A high school dropout and single mother, in my 40s I had earned two college degrees. A fundamental tenet of my business education was to take inventory. One should list financial assets, of course, but also include physical and even emotional assets. In short, what do you have to work with?

One side of my place is a six-bedroom house, which I rent to short-stay residents. For $500, a stranger could rent a furnished room for a month. But at best, income could be sporadic, and winter intake was always shaky.

Upon completing my inventory, I found, in addition to my building, I had a reasonable savings account and a grand sense of adventure. Certain I had a deficit of common sense, I relegated that thought to the background.

I purchased a book on opening a B&B. Surprise, the business had lucrative potential – in addition to requiring an astounding amount of work. Most new businesses failed during their first year. Would I become another dark statistic?

Pushing fears aside, I followed the suggestions in my new book. I contacted pertinent city officials, my insurance agent, and other innkeepers. With an odd mixture of anticipation and dread, I closed the boardinghouse. Taking this step into the unknown, my fears were crushing at times. I now had no income to offset the large mortgage. I tried to ban "what if" questions from my mind, but with small success in the dark hours of the night. However, one benefit of growing older is learning to stay on track, even when terrified.

I enlisted the help of my willing, if doubting, adult son. We tore out old carpeting, sanded cupboards, painted doors, and hung wallpaper. I collected healthy recipes, hired a Web page designer, and ordered brochures. After researching other facilities, I set the nightly room rate at $85.

At last, the Cinnamon Inn Bed and Breakfast was ready for business. Would anyone call for a reservation? My roiling thoughts were interrupted by the phone. My first guest was calling and would arrive tomorrow.

Diane lived in a nearby village; she was visiting Juneau with her sister from New York. I gave them a discounted rate in exchange for an honest evaluation of the inn. They were encouraging and frank. I implemented several of the suggestions, including darkening the rooms and providing in-room coffee. With each sporadic arrival, I gained more confidence.

Then I welcomed my first business guest, who needed a room for an entire month. I showed John his room, gave him a breakfast schedule and a stack of towels. As advised, I requested payment in advance. Smiling, John inquired the amount he should pay.

Startled, I ran back to the office. Grabbing my trusted calculator, I entered $85 a night for 30 days. Never good at math, I disbelievingly entered the figures again. It was still $2,550. Only a few weeks ago, this very room had generated $500 a month. Wide-eyed, I collected the big check.

I vowed to make John an unforgettable breakfast; I baked my signature cinnamon rolls with orange zest, fried crispy bacon and potatoes, created a perfect three-egg omelet. Freshly squeezed orange juice and steaming gourmet coffee rounded out the menu.

John sat alone at the community breakfast table. He ate and chewed without comment. I was a bit anxious, although I knew the food was delicious. I kept his coffee cup full, tried and failed not to hover. As I cleared the table, I wished John good luck at his new job. He stood up, stretched, and said, "I don't want to get fat. Could you just serve me cornflakes for breakfast tomorrow?"

To which I agreed. Then I bowed my head once again, this time to give thanks.

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