NYC couple opens B&B in rural Ohio
By Amy Eddings
I’ve read that real estate agents know they’ve made a sale when the woman of the household connects emotionally with a property.
The agent who showed us through the big, rambling “painted lady” Victorian on Main Street in Ada must have seen dollar signs flash before her eyes.
As she escorted us into the entryway with its big, grand oak staircase, stained glass window on the landing and graceful carved oak moldings, I burst into tears.
“I have to live here!” I said, clapping my hands to my cheeks, stunned with joy.
A bold statement, given that it meant prying myself and my husband out of our little 600 square-foot rental apartment in Brooklyn, and losing ourselves in a 117-year-old, 3,000 square-foot home. It also meant me leaving a high-profile job as a public radio host in Manhattan.
But my husband, Mark, and I were ready for a change and an adventure, one that would return us to the Midwest, where we were from, bring us closer to our families, and slow our lives down.
Change? Yes. Adventure? You bet. Slowing down? Not so much.
That’s because I saw, in that moment in the entry hall, that this house was going to be for others, and not just us. I wanted to share its beauty and history.
It led us to open our new home as a bed and breakfast.
We called it “Easter House,” a twist on “Easter egg house,” which is how old-timers referred to the place, painted, as it has been, in shades of pink, purple and, when we bought it, pistachio green.
The decision to open a B&B was an easy one. I like cooking, especially breakfasts: crème brûlée French toast, pecan pancakes, even breakfast tacos of fresh fried corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, melted Swiss cheese and avocado. Mark and I, both journalists, enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories. Ohio Northern University is in Ada, drawing visiting scholars, prospective students and their parents, all potential guests.
And there’s Ada itself, which charmed us with its small town Main Street. It’s home to the Wilson Football Factory, the sole supplier of footballs to the NFL. And Hardin County Amish country is a 30-minute drive away past farms and woodlands.
While we encourage our guests to relax, we ourselves have been going full-steam since moving into Easter House in 2014.
We renovated the kitchen first. There was precious little counter space or cupboards. I’d need a lot of both, especially for hosting large events like a bridal shower or a book club’s annual Christmas party.
For three months, as the contractors labored, we lived without an oven or a sink. A local church let me use its oven. We set up a microwave and a hot plate in the living room and carried dirty dishes down to the slop sink in the basement for washing.
We opened in January 2016. B&Bs have now come to include larger, multi-room inns but they got their start in the 1990s in people’s homes. That’s how we operate. We live in the house, not off the property. We’re small, offering two guest rooms on our second floor.
Our first guests were a lovely couple from Hudson, Ohio, who had read about our relocation in Guideposts magazine and wanted to be our first guests. They later framed a dollar bill and sent it to us, a symbol of our business’ beginnings.
Such kindness is typical. A harp maker from Illinois insisted on a visit to my sister’s home across town once she learned my brother-in-law owned a harp. She tuned it and gave an impromptu lesson to my niece. A couple from Texas helped me weed the garden. An ONU student and her mom played poker with us late into the night.
“B&B people are special people,” a former bed and breakfast owner had told me, and she is right.
When we opened, guests shared a bathroom down the hall. We knew that arrangement may have discouraged people from staying with us, so we launched a second renovation last winter to add another bathroom. Now, both guest bedrooms have their own en suite baths.
We also improved the attic, which became more of a cathedral when workers took down the 1990s-era drop ceiling. Behind the panels, a steeply-pitched ceiling soared 15 feet up. There was a massive, vintage billiards table in the attic when we moved in, and now we think we know why. The couple who built the house in 1900, Lewis and Delilah Brewer, likely used the third floor for entertaining — a Victorian’s version of a man cave.
Episodes like that make me feel like I’m living in a novel, with this old house as a main character, weathering ups and downs like the people who live and lived within its walls. Mark and I, and our guests, are adding our subplots to the story, one that we hope will be told for another 117 years.
CRÈME BRÛLÉE FRENCH TOAST
Time: 20 minutes
5 large eggs plus 2 yolks (or 6 whole eggs)
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream (or use more milk)
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 loaf challah bread, sliced 1 inch thick, preferably stale (about 1 pound) or 1 loaf Texas toast bread, again, preferably stale
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, orange juice, vanilla, nutmeg and salt.
Spread bread out in 1 layer on a large rimmed baking sheet (about 11-by-17 inches). Pour custard over bread, cover with plastic wrap, and let soak in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Flip bread slices over once while they soak. This can be halfway through the soaking, or about an hour before baking.
Heat oven to 375 F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar and butter. Pour mixture onto another large, rimmed baking sheet, using a spatula if necessary to spread into an even layer.
Transfer soaked bread to sugared baking sheet, placing slices on top of the brown sugar mixture. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and sugar is bubbling.
Serve immediately while still hot, with the crunchy, brown sugar side up. Spoon some of the pan syrup over the top.
(Recipe from Melissa Clark, The New York Times, cooking.nytimes.com.)
EASTER HOUSE BED & BREAKFAST
508 N. Main St., Ada, OH 45810
Room rates run between $125-$145 a night.
Available for parties and meetings.