Innterview with Old Ritten House owner Jerry Phillips
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Innterview with Old Ritten House owner Jerry Phillips

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Article written by Amelia Painter for the consumer magazine "Bed & Breakfast America."

Article written by Amelia Painter for the consumer magazine "Bed & Breakfast America."

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    Innterview with Old Ritten House owner Jerry Phillips Innterview with Old Ritten House owner Jerry Phillips Document Transcript

    • Spring 200626 ponopeningtheirhomeasabedand breakfast in 1975, Mary and Jerry Phillips transformed the original two-room master suite, the guest room, nursery and governess' quarters into four guest rooms all sharing a central bath. The idea of a bed and breakfast, although tremendously popular in Europe, was just gaining acceptance in the Midwest. Thus, the Old Rittenhouse Inn was one of Wisconsin's first Bed and Breakfasts. I first met Jerry and his wife Mary last spring at a conference for the Minnesota Bed & Breakfast Association. Jerry and I were the featured instructors for a half-day session devoted to the topic of marketing. I had often heard about the dynamic innkeeping team of Mary and Jerry Phillips, but this was to be my first in-person association with them. I was not disappointed! Within five minutes of meeting them both, I felt welcomed into their “extended innkeeping family.” Jerry amazed me throughout the entire seminar. One moment he had the inn- keepers holding their sides from laughter, and the next he was explaining how to analyze Return-On-Investment (ROI) to accurately measure the effectiveness of their inn’s advertising campaigns. He was a sensational speaker, and I felt honored to be team-teaching with him; but it was his sincere love of innkeeping that impressed me the most. Before the three-day conference came to an end, it was clear why so many inn- keepers, nationwide, seek out his conferences and why so many guests re- turn to the Phillips’ family-owned bed I N T E R V I E W S W I T H I N N K E E P E R S A C R O S S A M E R I C A INNterview by Amelia Painter Interview with Jerry Phillips Old Rittenhouse Inn Bayfield, Wisconsin Photography by Don Albrecht and Michael Snider j Standing: Wendy & Mark Phillips Seated: Jerry & Mary Phillips
    • Bed & Breakfast America 27 and breakfast, the Old Rittenhouse Inn, year after year. Their 24 romantic guest rooms are located in four historic Bayfield homes ranging in décor from elegant to luxurious. Featuring comfortable beds, in-room whirlpools and fireplaces, not to mention spectacular views of Lake Supe- rior. However, it is the warm welcome and inviting hospitality of the Phillips’ family and their love of innkeeping that brings vacationers back time and again. Each time enjoying delicious regional cuisine in their restaurant and special week-end events at the inn. Jerry is an industry patriarch. But since some of you readers may not have heard of Jerry Phillips, I am going to let him tell you a little about himself in his own words before we begin the official “Innterview.” Jerry Phillips: My own “slant” for a topic on our inn and on Mary and me might be “Keeping up with the Jones…our guests!” In 30 years we have come to know that the only constant is change, and the secret is to embrace it, not deny it, not avoid it, not tolerate it. One cannot simply accept change; one must embrace it, celebrate it and even create it. Then your inn can and will rekindle itself and you. Operating an inn in northern Wisconsin with a four-month season forces one to be creative. From our first newsletter 20 years ago to the development of our special events, we work to create a reason to visit Bayfield and our inn. I know that our inn’s inclusion in the book A Thousand Things To Do Before You Die is testament to those on-going efforts. When our town was chosen by the Chicago Tribune as “The Best Little Town In The Midwest,” we celebrated the efforts of our community and staff on public relations. Amelia Painter: Jerry, you and your wife, Mary, were music teachers back in 1973 when you bought the Old Rittenhouse property. But where were you living at that time? JP:We were living in Madison, Wisconsin, where we met while attending the
    • 28 Spring 2006 University of Wisconsin. I was teaching high school music, performing and had the ubiquitous church job. Mary had her own piano studio, did professional collaborative piano and had church music jobs. As you can see, this isn’t exactly a natural handoff for a career in innkeeping. However, I came from a family of 12 and I had baked and cooked with my mother for our large family since I was 8 or 9; and Mary’s mom was a standout gardener and cook. I also put myself through the University working at a small hotel in Madison, including a stint behind the desk and the bar. But perhaps it was my part-time job as a counselor for disturbed kids at a group home that was the best preparation for innkeeping. AP: What led you and Mary to decide to become innkeepers? JP: We bought the “Inn” in 1973 for our summer cottage. The 5,000 square foot summer home in Bayfield was in dire need of resuscitation and was much less expensive than any small cottage near Madison. Then, in 1974, came the oil embargo, and just like now, gas and oil prices rose dramatically, as did our heating bills, etc. We began to organize our thoughts and make a plan. So we started to rent rooms that summer. You see, we were fortunate enough to have purchased our house fully furnished, right down to the china and silver…with a bottle of Champagne in the fridge. We hung a shingle and were gifted by many wonderful folks in our $8, $10 and $12 rooms! After two such delightful summers, we took a sabbatical from our Madison jobs … and the rest is history. We moved in 1976 and started the restaurant. Mary was the chef and I did the baking and ran the dining room. AP: Did you train for this type of work, or take classes? JP: Other than the already-mentioned experiences, we had also done a good deal of entertaining and even some catering while in Madison. You must understand, of course, that there was no bed and breakfast industry – not even the term. AP: Today, you are a family owned operation. What are the roles of the family members? JP: One of the wonderful things about a bed and breakfast inn is that there are so many different required duties with so many different necessary skill sets, that there is plenty to go around. Mary and I quickly gravitated to those areas of our strength and then fought over the ones neither liked. As we grew, so did the ability to hire people with skills we need- ed. We feel strongly that our staff is simply an extension of ourselves, and we consider all of them to be part of our family. Tonightweheldadinnerpartytocelebrate an employee’s 20 year mark with the Inn. And we also feted another employee who has been tobacco-free for one year. We presented her with a $1000 check for her personal triumph over her long-standing addiction. As for our biological family, my sister, Julie, has been a key player at the Inn for 24 years and is now our sommelier and manager of the dining room. Our son, Mark,anddaughter-in-law,Wendy,joined us last year (along with Kyra June, our granddaughter) and are developing their own spaces and responsibilities from web site work and new software introduction to staff training and supervision. This is an exciting new chapter at the Inn. Because of serious health problems, Mary is no longer behind the stove at the inn, but j Jerry serving the figi pudding j The Rittenhouse Choir entertains the guests
    • 29Bed & Breakfast America she remains very involved in the business and is always by my side at conferences. Right now she is collaborating with the inn’s new chef de Cuisine, David Miller, on a cookbook planned for release in the spring of 2007. AP: I know you contribute on a regular basis to the education of aspiring innkeepers nationwide. Why is this act of sharing knowledge so important to you? JP: Mary and I have always believed in service – in giving of the gifts you were fortunate to have – and teaching is one of our natural gifts and loves. We had committed every mistake one can think of, so it was natural to hope we could spare someone else the pain. AP: Jerry, you are often referred to as the patriarch of the bed and breakfast community. Can you give me some background information on yourself that prompted your peers to accord you this respectful title? JP: I suppose some of this is due to our years in harness; for there aren’t many 32 year vets out there still trying to be successful. We have also been quite visible, having been fortunate to get some good press. We were early members of Country Inns and Back Roads (now Se- lect Registry) with 400 of the best inns in North America. I served three terms as President at a critical time for our fledg- ling industry, and then moved to Santa Barbara to head PAII, the Professional Association of Innkeepers International. I do a good deal of public speaking to many state associations and started a consulting and speaking business. AP: Your inn features 24 guest rooms in two Queen Anne mansions, a guest- house and a cottage: all appear to be decorated with highly-prized antiques and collectibles. The rooms have a clean, homey, yet elegant feel to them – simplified traditional designs. Can you give our readers a few guidelines on how to achieve this type of consistent design? JP: We owned an antique business for 12 years and were fortunate to find some beautiful things to use in our inn. Mary has a highly refined color sense, and I love to decorate. Some advice might be to always try to be yourself, but decorate and operate your inn with style, flair and class. While your property should reflect your interests and tastes, it cannot be amateurish. Today’s guest is sophisticated, so your property must be and look “professional.” Hire professionals and use the very best you can afford. AP: What is the most important advice you would give to an aspiring innkeeper? JP: Do your homework, know yourself (selves), enlist all the help you can, and visit many properties with a questioning posture. AP: Jerry, as always, it has been a great pleasure. Thank you for sharing with our readers. JP: Thank you. Old Rittenhouse Inn Lodging & Dining 301 Rittenhouse Avenue Bayfield, WI 54814  Information: 715-779-5111 Reservations: 800-779-2129 Fax: 715-779-5887 www.rittenhouseinn.com AREA ATTRACTIONS Old Rittenhouse Inn is close to many great outdoor activities as well as down town attractions. Outdoor activities include sea kayaking, sport fishing, sailing, and much more. Below are just a few of the most popular visitor destinations. • Squaw Bay Sea Caves • Big Bay State Park • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore • Apple Hill Orchard • Mt. Ashwabay Ski Hill • Big Top Chautauqua • Isle Vista Casino • Eckels Pottery • Bayfield Maritime Museum • Madeline Island Historical Museum • South Shore Brewery SPRING PACKAGE Stay Wednesday night and get Thursday night’s stay for FREE. Valid from April 5 through June 15. Simply mention Wed-Thurs Free Promotion when making your reservation.