Sweet Dreams

Waking Up the Bed & Breakfast Business

Operating a bed and breakfast is a daydream probably shared by many: Just imagine a cozy retreat that embodies the owner's personality and interests, serves wonderful food, and attracts a steady stream of fascinating travellers. It's a lovely notion right up to the point where the accounting starts, then it becomes apparent that a healthy alternative income or a big win in the lottery are very necessary components of the fantasy. The reality of the bed and breakfast business is that it is almost impossible to make a living off a small number of guest rooms alone. Some auxiliary attractions seem to be required to generate income. The key to survival for these quaint little inns seems to be finding an unserviced niche and then mining it successfully. Downtown Austin has two relatively new B & B's which reflect the personal styles and tastes of their respective owners. But besides functioning as alternative accommodations for out-of-towners, each has adopted a business angle that provides a unique twist on the bed and breakfast dream.

Citiview B & B and Spa sits on two tree-shaded acres high on the south bank of the Colorado, providing a view across the river from the southeast corner of Riverside Drive and I-35. Downtown Austin has changed greatly since the house was built by a local doctor in 1951, but the view from the wrap-around picture windows in the Frank Lloyd Wright-style home is still just as dramatic. "Coming from Dallas, I didn't know much about Austin neighborhoods," admits Citiview owner Carol Hayden, "but I knew a good real estate investment when I found one." The former legal recruiter and her husband, Dallas attorney/estate planner Ralph Canada, are only the third owners of the distinctive property. They renovated the house, and Hayden opened Citiview about three and a half years ago. Canada continues his business in Dallas and visits Austin on weekends. "You just can't support an operation like this with only three guest rooms," Carol Hayden admits, so she's busy developing other attractions. Recently, she hired in-house chef Linda Fox to capitalize on the potential for catering corporate events, weddings and parties in the house and on the surrounding grounds. And a full-service spa for guests and locals will come on line in early December.

Besides the view, guests at Citiview Bed & Breakfast will soon enjoy its new spa facilities
photograph by John Anderson
The view from the property is only one of Citiview's assets -- the three guest bedrooms are exceptionally roomy, each with its own private tiled bath and view of the lovely grounds. The house boasts polished hardwood floors, high-beamed ceilings, and glorious natural light which streams in from the many picture windows. Original European art deco furnishings from the Thirties, Forties and Fifties give the house a definite flair. And the surrounding grounds are beautifully landscaped. Beyond the tree-shaded patio, there is a Japanese Zen garden and a koi pond with a cascading fountain. A new organic herb and vegetable garden will eventually provide fresh produce in every season. A nature trail for strolling or jogging winds its way near an animal sanctuary.

The new spa facilities were taking shape the day we visited Citiview. The outdoor lap pool shimmers in front of the slab where a heated and air-conditioned 600-square-foot English dome conservatory is being built. Personal trainers will provide a full range of services to spa guests. The airy glass building will also easily accommodate catered nighttime events. Chef Linda Fox has developed special breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus for spa guests, emphasizing ease of preparation, flavor and fresh ingredients. She also has a full range of gourmet menu options for business luncheons, cocktail parties, and wedding receptions. A former caterer, sailboat captain, and inn-keeper, she stays busy preparing breakfast for overnight guests and discussing menus with the many brides who want to be married here. The busy chef's small, functional kitchen will really be humming when the spa begins to attract regular members for breakfast and lunch.

The Bremond House sits serenely at the corner of Seventh and San Antonio as part of 19th-century Austin's version of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Local merchant Eugene Bremond built the house at 404 W. Seventh for his family in 1873, one of six homes built for the extended family of patriarch John Bremond on the city block between Seventh and Eighth, Guadalupe, and San Antonio Streets. The area is now designated as the Bremond Block Historical District. Over the past 20 years, the charming Victorian housed such diverse businesses as a travel agency, a software company and an architectural firm. After relocating to Austin from California, Coming of Age Press publisher Connie Burton and her family purchased the home last year. A completely new life for the historic Bremond House began to emerge.

Burton credits one of her authors with the original idea behind the purchase of Bremond House. "He said it would be so great to have a quiet place for authors to stay while they were here working on book projects," she recalls, "so I asked my friend (real estate agent) Karen Kuykendall if she could find something." Native Austinite Kuykendall knew just the place. Once Burton took over the house, a multitude of uses seemed to present themselves. Authors as well as business travellers appreciate the comfortable, antique charm so near the pulse of the city, and corporate groups enjoy meetings in the homey atmosphere. Eager brides are also attracted to the grand outdoor staircase, wide veranda and tree-shaded grounds. An antique couch and table in the curved formal parlor is just the place for authors to preside during book launch parties and the walls in the main hallway and formal dining room make great gallery space for art exhibitions.

The Historic Bremond House, also a bed & breakfast, houses a cabaret in its basement
photograph by John Anderson
A proposal for developing a cooking school in the large room on the ground floor was considered, but the cost of installing a commercial demonstration kitchen in a historic home was prohibitive. When Chicago House closed down, leaving Karen Kuykendall and her musical performing partner Sterling Price-McKinney without a venue for their cabaret act, Kuykendall approached Connie Burton with the idea of turning the downstairs area into a performance space. Cafe Bremond was born. Modeled as a classy, 1920s-style cabaret, the space has been blessed with especially good acoustics and the real intimacy necessary for serious listening. The fact that it's a no-smoking room is popular with singers and many audience members alike. Cabaret performers such as Kuykendall and Price-McKinney, Karen Kohler and Larry Greenawalt plus jazz artists like Will Taylor, Glover Gill, Susanna Sharpe, and Suzy Stern play Cafe Bremond with good reception from their fans. Patrons can order champagnes and wines by the glass or bottle. Beers, sparkling waters, or sodas are also available with complementary savory tidbits such as imported olives and cheeses served with sliced french bread. Happy hour shows on Thursdays and Fridays from 4:30 until 7pm are gaining a loyal following, and regular cabaret performances are scheduled on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It's a very civilized way to spend an evening.

The Bremond House of today brings to mind the 18th- and 19th-century European cultural salons where artists, writers, musicians, and philosophers gathered to relax and share ideas. Connie Burton sees her multi-faceted venue as "a drop-in think-tank or concept clearinghouse" that could provide a springboard for a variety of multi-media projects. She plans to continue to launch books, stage readings, and present art and photo exhibits in the house. Writers' groups want to meet there and event bookings are strong. Though she has suspended bed and breakfast reservations for the next few months, Burton has not ruled out using the two bedrooms in the adjacent carriage house as accommodations in the future. She recently hired wedding consultant Kathi Thomas of Kathi Thomas Floral Design to field the calls from as many as ten brides a day. They maintain an on-call list of caterers familiar with the facilities to provide event food service. It should be a popular spot for holiday parties.

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