Innkeeper's Delight: The Wakefield Inn

Sometimes the best way to own your own restaurant is to have it at the heart of an inn

Photo by Susan Laughlin

Janel Martin admits she gets bored easily. Being the owner of an inn is surely the cure. She has run the Wakefield Inn single-handedly for the past five years, most assuredly since her recent divorce. She admits to the ultimatum - either me or the inn. She chose the classic 1804 Colonial with white clapboards and wrap-around porch. This is where her path had led and she wanted to continue the journey. Besides, with the poor economy, it would be difficult to sell the business.

As any inn owner knows, there are many day-to-day tasks to attend to and Janel takes it all on. At the start she decorated all the rooms, including designing and sewing the sumptuous draperies. Meanwhile, she maintains the gardens and flower beds, but just recently relinquished mowing the lawns. Bathroom needs tiling? No problem for Janel; she does upgrades during the long New Hampshire winters. Breakfast every morning for the guests? That's a cinch. Janel has a culinary degree. She has proven to be a Jack of all trades, but it is this latter task that is the heart of her passion.

Basically, the seven-room inn helps support the food service. Besides breakfast for guests, Janel opens the inn for dinner during the summer season on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings starting in June. A prix fixe five-course menu is offered with limited options but the menu changes each week. She strives to use local products, including produce from the Wakefield farmers market, cheese from Via Lactea Farm and, of course, herbs and some produce from her own garden. She managed to get peas, chard and beets in during the warm spell this past March. Her mother, living nearby, grows garlic and French shallots for her.

Janel is from the area, but left some 20 years ago to be a model. At more than six feet tall she may have been too tall and admits that most of the time she was just waitressing. At 30 she went back to school and got her culinary degree in Washington, DC, and later lived in Paris for three years, shopping the markets and practicing her French cooking technique.

Now guests are treated to French boules still warm from the oven and salmon wrapped in zucchini with a lemon beurre blanc served over handmade pasta. Guests claim that her lavender creme brûlée is the best they ever had.

photo by susan laughlin

During the shoulder seasons, Janel runs cooking retreats on weekends and a series of cooking lessons that are offered on Wednesday evenings. Groups also come in with their quilting projects and she is able to provide three meals a day if they wish, or two if they want to take time off to explore the area.

Other outlets for providing fine cuisine include very small weddings and wine dinners. Last year she had a Spanish-themed dinner complete with a Flamenco guitar player. The guitarist is world renowned but happens to summer in the area - the evening was a double treat for guests.

The inn has qualified as an "Environmental Champion" under the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association's program. In addition to energy-saving upgrades, Janel earned points for raising her own chickens with table scraps and recycling the manure into the flower beds with the eggs going into breakfast and fine sauces. That, and the use of Seventh Generation detergent for the inn's laundry. "I did have to give up on white tablecloths without using bleach, but the damask does match the décor better."

Is she super-human? Janel says, "Not really. I grew up on a farm where being self-sufficient is your workday. I really don't enjoy sitting down and watching TV."

Some of her genetic stew has passed to her two older daughters; one is enrolled in culinary school and the other has similar aspirations. Her youngest daughter, Olivia, just turning 7, is learning to bus dishes and charm guests. She actually grew up at the inn so the lifestyle is her reality along with her tall genes.

Janel has run the inn for five years now and is not slowing down. Hopefully, one of those daughters will be at her side when the time does come, and this pocket of hospitality and talent will endure.

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