What’s it like to run a Northern Michigan B&B? We asked Holly Wilson, innkeeper of the charming (Red Hot Best winning!) Bellaire B+B.

Find this article and more in the June 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.

Tell us about you!

I was born and raised in West Virginia. Moved to Florida in high school. Was a military spouse for 18 years. That gave me the opportunity to live all across the country and the world.

I’ve known for at least 10 years that I wanted to run a B+B. I have a hospitality and culinary background and I was always taking care of my own home maintenance. So I thought, I should make money doing this. I started looking for B+B’s all around the country. I didn’t have a specific location in mind. I hadn’t even been to Bellaire until 2016. I saw Torch Lake, the cherry orchards, the vineyards (I’m a winosaur) and I thought “who has been hiding Northern Michigan?” It’s so gorgeous and has so much to offer. I started the conversation with the prior owners in December 2016 about purchasing the inn. It took three years. But we finally figured it out!

What do you love about the job?

So, I am a huge “Gilmore Girls” fan. Living overseas, it was one of the shows on military TV that I watched and got completely addicted to. I related so much to the characters. I think that was the first time I thought, ‘This is what I should be doing.’ Everything in my life has led me to this. In 2014 I gave myself a 10-year goal to own my own B+B. Nailed it.

I don’t believe the statement “find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I work my butt off. This is the hardest work I’ve ever done. But, in almost two years, it’s never felt like a job. I think that’s the difference.

For all the “Gilmore Girl” fans out there (me included), is running a B&B/inn as romantic and quirky as it seems?

Ummm no. Quirky—yes. It definitely can be. My team and I have a pretty good time. Kitchen dance parties are a thing. And guests can bring their own level of ornery. They like to play practical jokes on me. Some of them rearrange random things. **You know who you are.** Groups are usually really fun. One group kept accidentally breaking things so the next morning I served their breakfast on paper plates and plasticware. Fortunately, they found it as funny as I did. It’s important to have a sense of humor. I have found, though, that people are completely intrigued by B+B owners. I think a lot of people dream of doing this. And I get to do it! Crazy!

I’m trying to bring a younger generation of guests to the B+B world. I get a kick out of it when they say they didn’t think B+B’s were really a thing, just something they saw on a Hallmark Christmas movie. By the way, I wouldn’t be opposed to Hallmark filming here, so if anyone from Hallmark is reading this, slide in my DMs hee hee.

Photo by Dave Speckman

You purchased the B&B in July 2019, correct?

Yes! We closed on July 26, 2019.

So, you had eight months and then the pandemic hit. How did you adapt?

There were a very scary couple of weeks in March and April. We run a BOGO special every April that is really popular. So, losing those reservations and revenue was disheartening. But we had a great summer and were able to begin recovery.

We started serving two breakfasts to ensure social distancing. I’ve come to love it. During the summer, most people eat breakfast outside on one of our many porches or seating areas around the 2.5-acre property.  We also had an in-duct air purifier/UV light system installed. That gives us a little peace of mind. 

Tell us about the history of the home.

The main house was built in 1878 by William and Emma Nixon. He owned a grocery store in town. Emma was an avid gardener and grew vegetables and flowers to sell downtown. She did this to send her daughter to school as William didn’t believe in higher education for women. Quite progressive for the time. There is a charming ally in downtown Bellaire that is beautifully landscaped and lighted. It’s called “Emma’s way,” named after Emma Nixon. This is the route she took to sell her homegrown goods. I like to think she would be proud that a strong, independent woman takes care of her home. I feel a close connection with her.

Did you renovate any rooms after purchasing it?

I’ve been ripping out carpet and staining 143-year-old floors for a year. Four of the five guest rooms in the main house have had a complete remodel. Dining areas, the library and the entry have also had makeovers. The Stay at Home order last year had me busy with projects. I don’t think I’ll ever be “done.” That’s half the fun. The rooms kind of talk to me and tell me what they want to be. I swear the hardware store would send a search party out for me if they didn’t see me at least three times a week.

Your Bellaire B+B website is so fun (I love the innkeeper descriptions about you and your sons!). Also a fan of your slogan “be lazy but don’t miss breakfast.” So, tell us about breakfast! What can guests look forward to?

I have a couple of tag lines: “shoes optional, relaxation required,” “where foodies stay,” “take a nap, we give you permission.”

It’s so hard to answer the question of what guests can expect for breakfast. I never know about breakfast myself until about 24 hours ahead of time. I have to wait for inspiration. I think the most consistent thing is that it will be very fresh, hyper-local, seasonal, a combination of flavors and textures and equally beautiful and delicious. Most vegetables, fruits and breakfast meats are from our local Torch Lake Co-op, King Orchards, Providence Organic Farm or Oryana Co-op. My goal is to make this a food destination. I want people to look at our Instagram and Facebook page and make a reservation just for the breakfasts alone. My charm and quick wit are just a bonus (haha!).

I see photos of chickens on Facebook. I’m guessing you serve farm-fresh eggs with breakfast!

Oh yes, those are my babies. And breakfast eggs do come from them. They also get breakfast leftovers. So, it’s a win/win. We feed them and they feed us. They’re also good for hours of entertainment. I have a table and chairs as well as a bench out by the coop so guests can sit and converse with the girls. They’re pretty good listeners. Although they do bawk back.

What are some things guests love about the B&B? Amenities, location …

I’m very fortunate that we’ve had a lot of return guests as well as new guests. I adore the guests that have been coming for years. But it’s also nice to build my own reputation. We have a prime location. We’re walkable to downtown, but because we’re set back from the road on 2.5 acres, it’s extremely peaceful. We can have, and most often do, up to 18 guests. But there’s so much room to spread out, you never really have to occupy the same space. Unless you want to. I think guests appreciate that I try to be as elusive as possible. That way they don’t feel like I’m hovering. I want them to feel at home. They love talking to the chickens, eating breakfast outside, enjoying a complimentary glass of wine at night, sitting on the balcony (attached to two different rooms), swinging on the hammock.

Any other news/summer updates you want to share with our readers?

Yes! After being a squeaky wheel for almost a year, we were finally given the go-ahead to have dwarf goats! We have a custom-built goat and chicken house coming in the next couple of weeks. And the goats will follow not long after. So not only will you be able to hang with the chicks, but you’ll also have goats as well.

Find this article and more in the June 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.