One of the best parts about staying in a B&B is the personalized service and kind hospitality guests enjoy from the innkeepers. And one of the most often asked question innkeepers get is “how did you decide to take up innkeeping?” We’re here to introduce you to some of New England’s finest innkeepers. First you met Claudio and Roberta from the Camden Maine Stay Inn, then Judy and Phil Heuber from the Chesterfield Inn. Today, we’d like to give you an up-close-and-personal introduction to Dave and Sue Labrie, co-owners of the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina.
Sue and Dave were both born in Hartford, CT and grew up in East Hartford. Their mothers worked together and the two met at the young age of 14. They’ve been together ever since! Dave attended Greater Hartford Community College and Sue attended the Connecticut Institute of Hair Design with an eye on opening her own salon at one time.
After they were married, two sons were born and Sue was a stay-at-home Mom while Dave began his corporate business career working as a technology specialist in the insurance industry. Eventually Sue became an accountant at a CPA firm and then after ten years of tax preparation left there to open her own hair salon. Dave eventually moved on to become a business management consultant focusing on the healthcare industry.
Yet while they were both independent business owners they know that their hearts simply weren’t in the business world forever. The loss of some very close friends too early in life spurred a ten-year plan toward leaving the stress of the business world. As they describe it, “We were fortunate to be able to travel early on in life and would often seek bed and breakfasts and inns whenever we could. And like most inn-goers, we would often chat with innkeepers about their lives as innkeepers”. Dave credits Leslie and Brian Mulcahy of the Rabbit Hill Inn with the inspiration they needed to become innkeepers. “We had been guests at the Rabbit Hill Inn for 10 years and would welcome the insights, encouragement and advice Leslie and Brian would share each time we visited. They would always tell us we would love and be great at innkeeping,” shared Dave who considers Brian and Leslie mentors of sorts.
About eight years into their ten-year plan toward innkeeping Dave and Sue knew it was time to start looking for their dream inn, and began researching B&Bs to purchase in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, keeping them close to their family and friends. After their first choice fell through, fate landed them at the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina. “Being high school kids and sweethearts who often frequented the Connecticut and Rhode Island beaches, we couldn’t have found a better place to spend time together prior to retirement,” Dave reminisced.
Ask Dave and Sue and they’ll tell you that meeting and hosting people by far is what they enjoy most about innkeeping. Many have become very close friends. A sign hangs in in the inn’s Gathering Room that reads “Enter as Strangers ~ Leave as Friends”. Truer words could not have been written.
On their rare days off, Sue and Dave like to pack a lunch and visit one of the local beaches. “ It’s just so relaxing to sit, reflect on our lives and enjoy how beautiful our quaint New England setting really is,” shares Sue. They so love the area in which they live, they deserve an award for their dedication to helping Niantic become Connecticut’s favorite town. In fact, if with you were with them right now Dave and Sue would ask if you’ve voted for Niantic and the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina in the Fan Favorite Town Contest! Click here to cast your vote before May 15 2013.
Visiting family is also a priority for Dave and Sue, who are dedicated parents and grandparents. They have two sons (Chris & Todd). Chris lives in Tampa, FL. with two of their grandchildren (Erica and Nicholas) and Todd lives nearby in Manchester, CT with three additional grandchildren (Kaitlyn, Andrew and Lilly).
When asked to share a special innkeeping story, Dave and Sue shared this one…
“As you may or may not recall, a Blizzard hit the northeast this past February 8th & 9th whereby nearly 40” of snow fell in areas of CT. Based on predictions, we thought all our guests would call to cancel. To our surprise 8 rooms of guests still made the trip and arrived before the heavy snows began falling. Anticipating the severe impact of the snow, we had stocked up on food just in case. By late Friday afternoon, the snow really started to fall and all local restaurants, shops and grocery stores closed early allowing their employees to get home safely. So, as an inn that doesn’t serve lunch or dinner, what do we tell our guests?
As a family tradition when major snowstorms are predicted, Dave likes to get a big pot of something cooking (he LOVES to cook). Usually it’s a big pot of Chicken Soup or Chili, but this time it was a big pot of Italian Tomato Sauce. As daylight gave way to dusk, and the snows started to grow outside, we informed our guests we would be offering dinner for everyone seeing they could not get out, and even if they could, everything else was closed. We proceeded to have a wonderful Italian dinner including wines, salad, pasta, fresh baked bread and desert. It was so nice to have everyone get to know each other and share a wonderful evening. If this were the whole story, it would be like many other innkeeper stories and special times, but our took on another twist [read on}.
As dinner concluded at approx. 9:30 p.m., guests decided to go to their rooms and we began cleaning. Just as everyone began leaving, we unfortunately lost our power, and don’t have a generator. It didn’t seem like a big deal for our guests who were all going to bed for the night.. Neither did we if it was only going to be for a short period Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The next morning, we awoke to no power. The inn began getting a little cold, but guests didn’t seem to mind as many of them were staying in guestrooms that feature gas fireplaces which provided heat. So, during that Saturday, with over two feet of snow already on the ground, and the snow still falling, we asked ourselves, what do we offer the guests now? Well, we managed to make hot coffee and a warm breakfast on our gas stove, and proceeded to make a Vegetable Soup for lunch. However, based on the fact we had yet to see a snow plow down our street and knowing we would more than likely have to prepare another dinner for our guests, what next? Well, Dave brushed off the gas-grille outside, pulled out our cast iron skillets and began cooking Chicken Marsala, Rice Pilaf, Broccoli, Salad, and oh yeah, more wine. This Saturday night, in a candle-lit only dining room, we as a group again, ate, drank and shared good conversation. Another night with no power, and still no sign of snow plows (so many trees and electrical lines fell that plow trucks were unable to do their job as quickly as they would normally do).
In closing, the Feb 2013 Blizzard caused the governor to close all the roads in the state, and it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon before streets were cleared and guests we able to leave. When these guests left, many said their stay was made more special by not having power and by sharing in the experience. We couldn’t agree more.”
When You Go
Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, 60 Grand Street, Niantic, CT (860) 739-0331, www.innharborhill.com. Located close to Mystic, CT on the Connecticut Shore, just under 2 hours from Boston. For directions from Boston, click here.