I first met Savannah in May of 2001 at the age of 49 when my boyfriend and I stopped to visit my son, who was attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, on our way to Charleston. We spent the night at theAzalea Inn, bed and breakfast, and at the suggestion of the owner, took a 90-minute trolley tour of this surprisingly beautiful, charming Southern city. Charleston paled in comparison, and Jake and I knew we would return one day to truly savor this “lady with the dirty face” once used to describe this historic port town.
Less than a year later, on March 17, 2002, we married and flew to Savannah for a seven-day honeymoon, having just missed the infamous St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, but in time for the Savannah Music Festival. We gave Savannah a week, wondering whether we had committed too much time and left knowing that we had not seen nearly enough.
By the end of 2002 we had relocated from San Diego to Jacksonville, Florida and began our quarterly visits to the city that had stolen our hearts, oh, and to see my son. Graduation came in 2004 and Savannah still held us in fascination. We celebrated my 52nd birthday in Savannah, at Azalea Inn, which had become our Savannah home, and in a chance conversation with the owners we learned she was for sale.
The Talk The entire drive home that weekend was consumed with possibilities: could we, dare we leave our jobs and embark on a new adventure at this stage of our lives? We were both successful in our lines of work as sales people and had owned our own businesses. With the right real estate transactions could we own the slightly worn Azalea Inn? We loved to entertain, and I love to cook, and to talk–Lord I love to engage in animated conversations and delight in the appreciation of folks satiated with my culinary excursions. After long discussions with our CPA, we determined we could move into a new life chapter.
Months of agony followed with delay after delay as the owners tried to reconcile years of back taxes, we worked to find a bank specializing in Bed and Breakfast financing, and we sold our other real estate. Finally, all the pieces were in place. We closed the deal on August 11, 2005 and Azalea Inn was ours! The night before the closing the previous owners informed me they were leaving town that night and therefore, breakfast was my responsibility! My first day as an innkeeper was going to start before I officially owned the inn.
Making it Our Own: That set the pace for the following five years – we rebranded the inn as Azalea Inn and Gardens, we gave her a much needed facelift, ramped up the menu, pushed her to eco-friendly status with indigenous plants and drip irrigation throughout the property and recycling a full two years before our city began curbside recycling, and now we are initiating a plan to expand our gardens to include a vegetable and herb garden on the property next door. Fresh, local, seasonal – a mantra of our kitchen.
Our five year plan to retire has expanded to ten -there is so much more to do, so much joy to be had in sharing this city and our home with the thousands of visitors we host each year. Our zest for this life has been rewarded with several prestigious awards from the bed and breakfast community and we are humbled by the praise our guests have shared with us. With children now grown and grandchildren arriving, we believe our passion for this life will keep us invigorated long after our great-grandchildren arrive.