Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Breakfast! The second "B"


In the winter of 1981, when we were starting our career with Minolta, the camera company, we moved from Springfield, Missouri to Chicago. Wow! our first big city. What a change! Country boy and girl go to the big city! For some reason, we both took to it like pond fish dropped in a clear stream. Paula found a job downtown just off State Street, and I found the office and the airport. If I wasn’t at one, or out of town, I was at the other.

O’Hare Airport, way back then, was the busiest airport in the US, and I didn’t mind at all. It all was so new and fascinating to me I enjoyed every minute of the travel and the game of getting in and out of airports and hotels around the US.

This is when my interest in the hospitality industry started developing, and coincidentally, my interest in food. During those 15 years with Minolta, I got to eat at some of the best restaurants in the US and Canada, plus a bunch in Europe, South America, the Caribbean Islands, and Japan. I tried everything. Nothing was off limits. Some foods I loved, and some I didn’t, but the experience was amazing.

While in Chicago, we started watching the Frugal Gourmet with Jeff Smith on PBS. That summer he was doing a lot of omelets, so we got the pans and cooked right along with him. Who would know those omelets would lead me to the Walnut Street Inn and the second “B” in Bed & Breakfast?

Now, don’t get the wrong impression. My job is to hang around during breakfast until someone needs me, not to prepare it. We are lucky to have a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) chef who plans our menus and makes our breakfasts. Her name is Rita, and she is a bit publicity-shy, so I won’t go any further than to say we are very, very lucky to have her (and so are our guests.) People come to the Walnut Street Inn for many reasons, but many of our guests come back for the breakfasts. We have about 40 menu items we rotate through, according to season and availability.

We started this winter with a push to buy locally (see the blog about our organic, free-range chicken eggs!), so I’m certain our chef will get even more creative as spring crops start coming in. Sausage Strudel, Oatmeal Walnut Pancakes, Florentine Egg Ramekins, Dutch Babies, Lemon Buttercream Blueberry Pancakes, Ham & Cheese Puffs, Spring Veggie Quiche (often out of Rita’s garden!) -- the list keeps growing and changing. I’m getting hungry just writing it!

We have found we can’t move too far from center when cooking for our guests as a whole. Individually, some guests are adventurous eaters, but as a population (and what a population! about 4,000 plates a year) we can’t get too far afield, or we get “that sounds wonderful! But could I get scrambled eggs and bacon?”

Generally, vegetarians aside, our guests don’t want fish, beef, or chicken for breakfast, but there had better be pork in there somewhere. I give my dad credit for saying, “It ain’t breakfast if a pig don’t die,” but in fact, I think that is my line.

Fruit can be a garnish, but shouldn’t be an entree unless it is covered with brown sugar and baked (as in grapefruit). Eggs can be served almost any way, except don’t overdo the Mexican style of anything. Homemade Granola is appreciated, but it had better be on the side, or over the fruit garnish, or in a bowl with some yogurt, so there is room for a protein of some kind (see pork and eggs above). Potatoes have to show up at least every 3 days, or folks will wander off to Cracker Barrel for lunch.

If we stick to these basic guidelines, we keep em’ happy and coming back. Rita sneaks in a little culture now and then (I see crepes are on the menu for tomorrow. Yay!). But sometimes I have to sneak out for a bowl of frosted mini wheats or a pop tart, just to see how others live…

Breakfast at the Walnut Street Inn! So good you'll wanna slap yo momma!

Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Friday, January 22, 2010

Frustrations of Innkeeping!


Whew! Is it January 22nd already? Things have been both slow AND busy here at the inn. When occupancy slows down, one has to work more hours, being both owner and manager, and do anything that needs to be done, because there is not enough income to justify calling in employees. So that’s the slow and busy part.

I’m here seven days a week when business is this slow. This being an urban inn, we always have guests. Somebody is always coming and going. But some nights there are only one or two rooms booked, so it gets pretty quiet around here. I call off Rita, our chef, and play chef myself, roll rooms (wait a day before cleaning), or clean them myself, and be here for check-in and check-out.

When it is busy and all the rooms are full, I need to be here for crowd control, to help everybody with whatever needs to be done. So the innkeeper’s life is very busy then. And it is bunches of fun.
Only when business is “in the middle,” not slow or busy, when all the staff is needed and here, that the innkeeper can take a breath, take a day off, or schedule projects that allow time away from the property. Luckily, we have a lot of middle ground, but it is not found in January!

Frustrations! Yes! We have them. Today, I’m spitting mad! This morning, a “nice” couple checked out of the Finley Room in the Cottage Inn. When they checked in, I smelled cigarette smoke on their clothes, so I went over our policy of no smoking in the room (as clearly spelled out in their confirmation letter), and showed them the covered smoking porch with a swing and two chairs conveniently located right outside their door.

Did that matter? You guessed it, it did not. Not only did they smoke in the room, they cut a hole in the window screen so they could flick their ashes out the window! This infuriates me. We are in the service business. We go out of our way each day to meet every need we can for our guests. When “1 out of 100” does something as stupid and insensitive as this, I want to close the doors, and go live in a trailer down by the river.

But that feeling will go away. By evening we will have the room totally refreshed and cleaned (industry secrets, you know), and tonight’s guests won’t know of last night’s idiots.

The screen is another matter. That will take some time. I’m not proficient at putting new screen in an aluminum storm window, so I’ll have to take it off and find a local shop to replace the screen for me… One more item to put on the list of things to do.

Thanks for letting me vent. It is truly only 1 out of 100, or less, that causes this frustration for a B&B innkeeper. The vast majority of B&B guests go out of their way to respect and protect our property. My friends at the Springfield Hotel/Motel Association tell me that ratio is much worse for traditional hotels, so I should feel lucky and contented…but it still ticks me off…

Welcome to the world of innkeeping!


Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

Saturday, January 2, 2010


We made it through with flying colors here at the Inn. A wedding and two parties, including my daughter, Cat’s, kept the old Inn busy and full of Christmas spirit and family reunions. Pecan pies kept cropping up around the kitchen, just when we thought we had them all subdued and donated to those short of pie. Empty wine glasses lie undiscovered in the potted plants and porches, but by spring all will be found.

The house seems to like a party; the more the merrier. The first floor double parlor, emptying into the dining room on one end and the entry way on the other, holds the group like a warm handshake. One family gathering tipped the 100 count, with everyone in the house at one time it seemed, but the band kept them moving, and the food and drink never ran out, so a good time was had by all.

Thanks to those families and friends who chose the Inn for their holiday gatherings. We welcome you back each year.

Happy New Year to all,

Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806
Info: 417-864-6346
Reservations: 800-593-6346

The Walnut Street Inn

The Walnut Street Inn
the Inn is made up of three 100+ year old buildings.

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