In this exclusive interview about her journey to operate the best bed and breakfast in Galena, owner-operator-innkeeper, Susan Steffan took a look at the thrilling experience of the bed and breakfast world and how she has introduced a new country elegance to Farmers Guest House, while also maintaining their historic property in Galena; the second most friendly city in America.
This post originally appeared in The Urbanologist, by Max Grinnell on December 22, 2013.
In my line of work (urbanologist, traveler, college lecturer, etc) I spend a great deal of time on the road. It’s nice when I get to bunk down in a place as charming as Galena, Illinois with hosts as cordial and friendly as Susan and Don Steffan at their lovely B&B, the Farmers Guest House.
After a visit this summer, I reached out to Susan to ask her a few questions about what this lovely corner of Illinois, the B&B business, and some of the challenges they have encountered in the world of hospitality.
What led you to start a B&B in Galena?
We first stayed at a bed and breakfast on our honeymoon to Mackinaw Island in 2004. After that we would stay at a B&B whenever we travelled and began toying with the idea of having one of our own. In 2007 we went to an Aspiring Innkeeper Seminar, much like the one we host now, and determined that B&B ownership would be our next career. We studied the industry for a few years and made a “bucket list” of what would be our perfect inn. The search for the ideal B&B took three years but in 2012 we left our mainstream jobs and took the plunge.
What’s been the greatest challenge for you and Don as you’ve started this new endeavor?
Don and I were both in careers that involved less teamwork and more solitary effort. Working with another person and having to compromise frequently involved quite the learning curve. We also live and work 24 hours a day with each other. During the first few months we wondered if our marriage was going to make it; but now our relationship is better than ever. We know and appreciate each other more than ever before and have also learned that we are much better as innkeepers when we take “me” time and “us” time. Don goes bowling, I quilt and go antique hunting, and we both disappear with friends now and then to sit at a vineyard and watch the grapes grow. Most folks who ask what our greatest challenge was also ask what our greatest surprise was. What has surprised us is that we are having a great time and we don’t have problems with unruly or difficult guests. We would hear horror stories and get worried about how we would handle troublesome people but we just haven’t encountered those people. We love our guests and enjoy our new life as innkeepers!
What are your top 3 destinations in Galena, your “must-sees”, if you will?
This is hard to answer because there is so much to do and see in Galena and the surrounding areas. We have guests that return year after year and continue to find something new and entertaining to enjoy. But, when first time guests ask this of us, we always recommend strolling historic Main Street with all its shops, art galleries and tasting rooms; touring Grant’s Home, which is over 90% filled with furnishings from when President Grant lived there; and the Historic Galena Museum. However, we also highly recommend the many year-round outdoor sporting activities, not to mention our fine restaurants, brewery and distillery. And these are just the activities within walking distance!
For more information on Galena and Jo Daviess County, take a look at their excellent website. Here visitors can find information about cultural attractions, historic sites of note, and much more.