My first visit to The Inn at Huntingfield Creek took place a few years ago and involved a field of gorgeous sunflowers. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down again with Joanne Rich to learn about how she and her husband, Jim, came to own the Inn. Based on their qualifications as well as their life and work experience, you would think that owning a B&B was always in their plans. But, you would be mistaken.
Jim grew up in Ithaca, NY while Joanne was raised in California. They met each other in 1968, working at Disney Land. Jim was one of 6 people that made up Disney’s first college intern group. With a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Michigan State, Jim came in as a supervisor at the restaurant where Joanne was a hostess. It was clear from the beginning that he was someone who jumped right in with his employees to get the job done.
It was the middle of the Vietnam War and it was a time of great uncertainty. Jim didn’t know if he would go into a graduate program or be drafted. When he was accepted to a graduate program, they decided the best thing to do would be to get married since, back then, each of their monthly phone bills exceeded $200. This year marks their 45th wedding anniversary.
Fast-forward many years to when Joanne and Jim moved their family from Luxembourg to Chadd’s Ford, PA. Jim went from working at a big corporation to a smaller one. At the time, their son was in college and their two teenage daughters had been in private school for a number of years while they lived in Europe. In order to help them adjust to being back in the States, in the public school system, Joanne was looking to do something that was more flexible than a 9 to 5 job. By then, after living and traveling around the world, Joanne had picked up quite a bit of cooking experience and had been exposed to many different types of cuisine. So she started a small, private catering company, and it ended up being far more successful than they had anticipated. She was much busier than the part-time job they had envisioned, but it still provided the home base they wanted to provide their children.
When it looked like Jim’s smaller company was going to go through some difficult times with a reorganization and possibly a bankruptcy, they felt like it was a good point in time for him to bow out. However, after 35 years of marriage at that point in time, it was clear to Joanne that her husband would make a terrible retiree. Joanne felt that Jim has far too much talent and energy to have enjoyed a full-time retiree lifestyle at that point.
At first, they talked about owning an event venue, a place where they could live as well as hold events. They couldn’t find anything in the Chester County/Dupont area that fit their pocketbook or their mental picture of what they envisioned. In 2004, Joanne saw the sale listing for The Inn at Huntingfield Creek in a B&B association publication. At the time, Joanne and Jim had never heard of Rock Hall, but after mentioning the listing to some friends who had visited the small fishing town on the Chesapeake, Joanne was encouraged to check it out.
Shortly after, Joanne and Jim sat down with the then-owners of The Inn at Huntingfield Creek on a Sunday afternoon to ask questions and find out what it’s like to own and operate a B&B. They sat in the kitchen of a house that looks very different than it does today. They had experienced a fire in 2001 and the house had just been rebuilt. On one hand, with no foundation plantings, it was just an austere, white façade with no curb appeal. On the other hand, it was a newly renovated property that still retained its historic charm. Joanne was excited about the possibilities.
That ended up being their only conversation with anyone about owning a B&B. They loved the idea of a big piece of land. They knew that they would have to build additional cottages to make it more viable, but no one was able to give them a definitive answer about whether or not they would be allowed to expand the septic system. So when they bought the inn for a large amount of money at the height of the real estate market, it truly was on a whim and a prayer.
But now, looking back on all that has taken place in their history, it’s clear that the two of them were on a collision course to do this venture whether they knew it or not.
It’s been a ten-year process of coming up with what they think people would love to visit for the first time and come back to over and over again. Even though they’re the instruments at which change takes place at the Inn, they feel that the property itself sort of speaks to them in terms of what they should do and Joanne has mostly let that happen. In walking around the property, Joanne may stop and think “Wow, a field of lavender would be perfect here” and then it just becomes a practical matter of what they need to do to make it happen. Jim jokes that Joanne is lucky to have two husbands and likes to tell her“go ask your 2nd husband”– referring to their property manager who also helps execute Joanne’s ideas.
When Joanne and Jim initially purchased the Inn, it had a much more traditional feel to it. The previous innkeepers were in their seventies and the guests that felt right at home in the Inn at that time were either retirees or seniors.
Over the years, Joanne and Jim have given the Inn a much more contemporary feeling and have developed more of the meditative aspect of the property, and in doing so, the demographic of the typical visitor has shifted tremendously. The age group has shifted by 20 years, and the average inn-goer is now between 35 and 50 years old. Many of them are young couples seeking a getaway weekend without the kids and desiring to settle down and settle in. Washington, D.C. is now their biggest draw as many Washingtonians have decided to come over the bridge and turn left instead of right. Joanne thinks one of the biggest reasons for this change is because they think of the Inn as a place to unplug. While there are many activities available, one of the best things about the Inn is not having to do anything, if you choose.
The Inn at Huntingfield Creek is a spa for your mind. Everything that Joanne and Jim do, consciously or not, is in pursuit of providing that. Their food is comfort food. Their beds are as comfortable as they can make them. The environment is maintained and manicured in a beautiful and non-fussy way. The Inn at Huntingfield Creek offers relaxed elegance.