"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

A twist on a B&B succession story

By on February 25, 2020 in Featured Homes with 1 Comment
New owners Don and Sandy Stanley, left, and long time builder/owners Paula and Bill Saunders pose in front of the big rock fireplace. The Leavenworth couples’ long friendship made the transition season of the B&B a smooth one.

Older buyers get a new adventure with nicest guests, and younger sellers now free to roam

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Mike Irwin

Grandma and grandpa, you guys are on a new adventure and I am very proud of you. Hope you are always happy. 

— Rowyn and Shayl 

This entry in the Granite Hills Inn guestbook comes from two little girls who visited for the first time last month.

Backed up to Icicle Ridge with gentle views to the east, the 2008 farmhouse-style B&B offers access to Leavenworth and Icicle Creek valley recreation and arts events.

Granite Hills Inn, tucked under Icicle Ridge outside Leavenworth, continues an old tradition and offers a delicious new twist. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. 

Those contradictions are possible because former owners Bill and Paula Saunders have graciously shared their years of expertise and care with current owners and close friends Sandy and Don Stanley, grandparents of the above guests.

Long-time visitors should enjoy the same comforts as always after being greeted at the door by their new hosts. They’ll feel at home again in the big living room, at the lodge-style single dining table, and with a choice of three rooms, two up and one down.

And first-time visitors will have no inkling of the serendipitous situation that made the recent (January 2020) transition so smooth.

When the potential story first cropped up, the assumption was that older jaded hosts would be selling the inn to young eager newbies. Not true. Nobody’s jaded or particularly old, but it’s a twist on a typical succession story.

Guests eat communally at this breakfast table but sometimes take their coffee early at the adjoining island bar, just like home, to chat with the chef.

Bill Saunders grew up in an innkeeping family. Haus Lorelei, now Barn Beach Reserve, was his family home, and the pleasures of caring for company led him elsewhere and back again for a career in hospitality. 

Paula, from a pioneer Upper Valley family and his grade school chum, also returned to their hometown after working away.

Shortly after they re-met in Leavenworth, they married. She cut hair in her own salon, he managed a hotel, they owned spa companies and in 2008 they decided to simplify life by designing and building their own bed and breakfast on a 1.20-acre parcel on Icicle Creek Road.

Meanwhile… Sandy had spent 24 years in Alaska. Her children were born there, and she had a good job, but when her parents retired to Leavenworth, she yearned to join them, by then more than ready for a change of place and pace.

In 1994, she followed a chance lead on a yellow 90-year-old Victorian house on a corner near the Wenatchee River, just up from House Lorelei. She bought it and started a 10-year career hosting weddings.

The Wedding Haus and her related catering and floral businesses were successful. But, Sandy said, “One day, my son said, ‘Mom, we never see you anymore,’ and I realized I needed to make a big change.”

So, at 48 Sandy sold the all-consuming businesses, went to college and earned her nursing degree. With regular work hours at a Wenatchee doctor’s office, she raised her happier kids. 

The two big master suites upstairs and this one on the main floor offer choice without too much traffic. A full weekend might involve three couples staying at the B&B.

Meanwhile… Life may not have become simpler for the Saunders at their new Granite Hills Inn, but it was certainly contained in a smaller package. The Inn is 4,000 square feet. A side room became Paula’s hair salon, and a 16 by 30 foot bonus room upstairs became a studio apartment for the owners.

They proceeded to entertain a houseful of company most weeks for about 12 years, working, they realized, a little too hard for their health. 

They were in their mid-40s. Hoping to retire from the B&B business by age 50, they invested in 10 acres on Fox Road, built a big new house and salon and put the Granite Hills Inn on the market.

That was 2017. The Inn didn’t sell quickly, so the new place (AKA Alpine Lodge) became a nightly rental guesthouse while Bill and Paula waited for a buyer. 

Nicely folded, fat fluffy towels and good quality personal products for their guests’ comfort are as important to the new owners as conscientious cleaning.

Meanwhile… Sandy had met and married Don Stanley, a retired law enforcement officer from Idaho, and they made their home in Leavenworth. 

Last October, intrigued at the idea of owning a B&B, she made an appointment with her friend and haircutter Paula Saunders to discuss Granite Hills Inn — the one in which the salon was located. (“No haircut today; let’s just talk about the B&B,” recalls Paula of the fateful phone call.) From that first conversation, both women agree, it was a done deal.

Don at first said, “No way!” but Bill said, “There’s a way,” and over several Sunday talks a friendly sale commenced. By Dec. 13 the salon was gone, and by Jan. 2 Sandy was learning to cook bountiful breakfasts.

That menu is one of the Inn’s strong draws, according to reviews. Sandy said she spent hours in the kitchen just learning the special recipes. “I even learned to make aebleskiver in the same pan Bill used as an 11-year-old.” Those are light and puffy Danish pancakes, and Sandy’s been since gifted with the legendary iron pan.

She’s kept Bill’s favorites and added her own (like a mushroom and caramelized onion omelet with blueberry crisp cakes). Breakfast dining continues to be family-style, and in late afternoon fresh baked cookies are set out for snacking.

The three en suite bathrooms have jetted tubs and double-headed showers. Beds have down comforters and stacks of pillows, and each room offers a gas fireplace for country ambiance but also a flat screen TV, internet, WIFI, and audio system for tech-ier pleasures.

Housekeeping three guestrooms is doable but takes time. Squeaky clean bathrooms are a priority (for owners, they’re the first “B” in B&B). And Sandy remembers, “Bill had to show me, a few times, exactly how to store and hang guest towels.”

Sandy and Don, at age 60 and 71 respectively, are thrilled to be full-time proprietors and hosts. They’re swiftly learning how to manage reservations, and they’ve been gratified with the pure niceness of their guests.

They have big plans for their new place: a gazebo on the big back lawn, an outside owner’s stairway, a bakery replacing the salon area, and more events like weddings.

“Sandy’s already softened the look of the place,” said Paula a bit wistfully, “with artwork and personal touches. And she bakes — I never had time to do that.” Bill said the Stanleys have exactly the right attitude for innkeepers and he’s sure they’ll do well.

And for Bill and Paula Saunders? 

Confident in the future of Granite Hills Inn, and also heartened by the success of Alpine Lodge as guesthouse (meant to be temporary), they have indeed retired. Under 50. 

They’ve divested themselves of their businesses and are now, as Paula said, “Free to roam the country… Untethered by responsibility.”

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  1. Thank you so much Susan, for a wonderful story and the chance to get us all together again and learn things about each other and Granite Hills that we didn’t even realize that we didn’t know! What a great day that was! And we are so very thankful and blessed to be Living The Good Life!!!

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