If it was Newhart that inspired Bill Kennedy to become an innkeeper, it was his love of German food that brought him and his wife, Linda, to Danbury where they are reopening the former Inn at Danbury after making some necessary renovations.
Bill said that Bob Newhart’s show, in which his character operated a fictional inn in a small, rural Vermont town, appealed to him because of the way the innkeeper interacted with the local people. Bill said he knew he would enjoy that social aspect, even though he also understood that operating an inn takes a big commitment.
Even more daunting was the reality of taking over an inn that had suffered from neglect as it went through foreclosure and therefore needed a lot of work to bring it back. The owners’ residence also had sustained damage from a fire and, while the underlying structure had been repaired, it remained unfinished.
However, the purchase price was right. Bill said he had started searching the Internet for an inn that was for sale while he was serving as a commissioned officer in the US Air Force, stationed in Vogelweh, Germany. He came across the Inn at Danbury because of the authentic German food it served. The initial asking price, while quite reasonable for an 8,000-square-foot inn on 5.1 acres, was too high for someone on a military salary. Over the subsequent years, when he was deployed to Afghanistan to help train the Afghan State Police in Adraskan, he watched as the asking price for the inn kept dropping, from $895,000 to $600,000, to $495,000, then $440,000. Yet there were no buyers and it eventually went to foreclosure.
Bill said he had lost track of the inn until he retired from the military in 2011 and saw in a week-old newspaper that the inn had gone to auction. When he called the auctioneer to find out who had bought it, he learned that the sole bidder had failed to offer enough to satisfy the bank. The auctioneer encouraged him to contact the bank with an offer and, to his surprise, the bank accepted it. Bill and Linda at last found themselves owning their own inn.
They hoped to reopen what is now known as the Patriot Inn at Danbury by November 2012, but there was more work than they anticipated, so they pushed the opening back to September 2013.
In the meantime, Bill made an unsuccessful bid for New Hampshire governor. While he says he never expected to win, he enjoyed the campaign and felt he had brought forward some issues that needed to be addressed.
Linda, meanwhile, set her sights on another passion: She wanted to open a gift shop where she could sell new and used gifts and clothing. She says she had been collecting clothes since she was 18-years-old. The Kennedys also had previously operated a 2,000-square-foot collectibles store known as Sports Fanatics LLC, and they continue to make a lot of sales online. They figured that opening a gift shop on the premises would provide additional funds to help get the rooms ready for rental. The third step would be to get the kitchen operational for meals and the fourth would be to reopen the bar.
Linda said she previously had some experience at an inn, having worked at Howe’s Hotel on Long Sands in York ME when she was 15-years-old. Like Bill, she had dreamed of owning an inn of her own.
“I’m a work-a-holic,” she says, noting that she grew up in Newmarket and Exeter as part of a family of seven girls and three boys, and she went to work at age 12, doing babysitting. She would hold other jobs, such as a waitress in a soda shop, with her first “real job” coming at age 16, working at Pease Air Force Base, typing orders for the transport of household goods.
Linda said that, with the opening date for the Patriot Inn set for Labor Day Weekend, she has been concentrating on getting rooms ready for rental, but she still hopes to open the gift shop in the near future. She is accepting limited consignments for the gift shop and she hopes to use a percentage of the shop’s sales to fund a scholarship for local students. She also wants to offer a monthly suit service to students who are seeking a job and is seeking donations in order to offer the suits on a loan/gift basis.
The inn, originally a roadside farmhouse built in 1850, currently offers six rooms with private baths, each with its own theme, such as the Rose Room and the Africa Room. Plans call for offering four additional rooms in the back section and one in front as the renovations continue.
Many of the furnishings at the inn are antiques that the Kennedys shipped back from Europe, many of them Art Deco pieces, and some antiques dating back to 1850. They have been pondering a theme for the dining room which currently holds an eclectic collection ranging from trains and railroad lanterns to knick-knacks, as well as some period decorations, including arms.
The deck area outside the dining room offers seating for breakfast which Linda said will be European-style, with fresh eggs from a local farm, French toast, rolls, bagels, and croissants, with cheese and crackers and cold cuts as well. There will be coffee and orange juice, cereal, yogurt, and fresh fruit to round out the offerings.
Their idea for the menu, once the kitchen is open, is to offer one or two entrées per day as daily specials, one of them being the German food for which the inn had become famous. The focus will be on “common man” food. They also plan to offer special menus for groups that might like to rent the inn for wedding parties, family reunions, or other private parties. Linda said they already have reservations for two weddings.
With his interest in history, Bill said there also may be theme weeks where the inn focuses on Revolutionary or Civil War reenactments, period balls, etc.
Going through their checklist of things to be done before their Labor Day opening, the Kennedys acknowledge that, even after the inn opens, there remains plenty of work ahead. They will be renovating the barn for their own residence after addressing cosmetic needs such as repainting the exterior and redoing the roofing.
And, Bill admits, he has other ambitions, such as teaching and coaching. “I’m not sure what my calling is,” he said.
Another run for governor? He doesn’t rule it out, but thinks his future lies in other directions. “I love animals, and I love people. I’m waiting to see what my calling is.”