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Inn at Crystal Lake hits a high note for music lovers and locals


October 29, 2009
Both are no strangers to the Valley. Their roots go back to the 1920s when Barker's grandparents used to vacation in the Valley, then moving forward to the 1950s when Barker's mother would take the snow train from Boston and more recently to 1998, when Ostendorf and Barker purchased a cottage in Conway.

"We were weekend warriors, we only missed four weekends in four years," he says. Both were working in the Boston area and owned a condominium in Lynn, Mass.

How did they move from being weekend warriors to becoming local business owners in a town of 375 people (2000 census)? Ostendorf states that many times they would snake through Eaton to avoid Conway traffic and noticed the bed and breakfast on the hill, as they turned the corner just past Crystal Lake and the Eaton Village Store. "We were taken in by the inn," says Ostendorf.

Though there was no "For Sale" sign on the property they found out it was, in fact, for sale. Ostendorf says buying the inn more or less happened. "We had no intentions [of buying an inn]; we were in our early 30s and wanted to do this right," he says. For the first year Ostendorf telecommuted from his job and then quickly transitioned to full time. It was two years after owning the inn that the two decided to add a restaurant and pub and a signature of their own.

While both owners dabbled in the hospitality business — Barker had some experience as a line cook and Ostendorf worked as a bell-hop during his college days — none have any formal training in hospitality. They learned in the trenches, as Ostendorf says, and both love to cook. What to do to lure the guests?

"Bobby and I thought, 'What can we bring in that we know something about'"? The answer was found in music.

Ostendorf is a trained classical singer and earned a degree in voice performance from Boston University. The two introduced opera nights to the inn five years ago and it has been going strong ever since. "Just last week, [mid-October] we had the second or third busiest opera night we have ever had," says Ostendorf.

Opera nights are held on the third Thursday of the month. Ostendorf performs and illustrates the opera while chef Kim Gaythwaite pairs the four-course dinner with the setting of the opera. Ostendorf explains that the intent is to be fun, entertaining and informative. Sometimes they introduce a guest singer.

Music and arts pulls in both local and from afar guests. Their partnership with the three-year-old Stone Mountain Arts Center, located down the road in Brownfield, Maine, has helped. The inn offers packages that include dinner at the inn, concerts at the center with priority seating, and now have a complimentary shuttle bus nicknamed SMACVIP, which shuttles guests back and forth — SMAC standing for Stone Mountain Arts Center.

"This [partnership] has been so successful that we purchased a shuttle van. I am not big for vanity plates, but the SMAC van gets lots of attention," says Ostendorf. Locals and out-of-towners are drawn in by the collaboration. "The arts partnership works well, we feed off each other, we have locals who come for dinner before a show and travelers from out-of-town, most of whom are visiting from southern New Hampshire, Boston area and southern Maine."

Luck, a supportive community and lack of weather dependence has also helped business. "We have been lucky," says Ostendorf, "our business doesn't necessarily depend on the weather." A large portion of the inn's summer guests are parents who are bringing their children to nearby Camp Waukeela and guests who are coming to see the show at the arts center, explains Ostendorf. He goes on to say that even in the winter, the inn doesn't attract the die-hard skier, but does attract outlet shoppers and show-goers.

The community is supportive, too. This is the town that rescued the Eaton Village Store, just recently raised money for renovations to the Little White Church and when Ostendorf brought his high school music teacher in for a recital at the church, 90 locals attended. "This is a very supportive community; people showed up for someone who is not known," he says. Friday and Sunday evenings are when the locals come to dine at the inn and Tuesday nights are Mexican nights, says Ostendorf.

Of course, location helps too. "We are lucky and blessed, we picked a good spot tucked away in a great little village," adds Ostendorf.

For more information about the Inn at Crystal Lake, call 447-2120 or visit innatcrystallake.com

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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