September 2016: Small Business Startup

Maple Rock Bed & Breakfast

JASON HUNTER n WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES Audrey Roberts sits in the living room of her bed and breakfast, Maple Rock B&B, at 719 Old Potsdam Parishville Road in Potsdam on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

JASON HUNTER n WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
Audrey Roberts sits in the living room of her bed and breakfast, Maple Rock B&B, at 719 Old Potsdam Parishville Road in Potsdam on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

THE INITIAL IDEA 

After working the hospitality industry as a college student, Audrey Roberts always planned to own her own bed and breakfast one day.

“I just like the hospitality industry,” she said. “It was actually something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

That day came sooner than she thought, though, when she learned that her job as a
family consumer science teacher at Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES was being cut.

Her husband, Jake Roberts, said it was time for her to move on and asked her what she truly wanted to do. Her answer was to open a bed and breakfast.

“I said, ‘well, let’s make it happen,’” Mr. Roberts said. “People do this all the time, so why can’t we? It doesn’t have to be impossible.”

 

TARGET CLIENTELE 

Within five miles of downtown Potsdam, Maple Rock Bed & Breakfast is in the perfect position to be a small country inn, but to also have access to downtown life and the universities.

“We’re within minutes of the college, yet we’re in this country setting,” Mr. Roberts said. “It’s very peaceful. We have wildlife walk across the backyard. It has a very homey feel.”

The majority of the Roberts’ clientele are visitors to SUNY Potsdam, mainly parents of students or alumni.

Although, business was slow to pick up when it first opened in August 2015, Maple Rock is booked for all the big weekends in the Potsdam area, including graduation weekends in 2017.

“It allowed us to really hone the experience,” Mrs. Roberts said. “It won’t be long before we’re at max every weekend.”

A large spark in interest in the business was started by Mrs. Roberts’ cooking classes, which she began in January, starting with one a month.

“The classes generated huge interest,” she said. “I thought they weren’t going to take off.”

Mrs. Roberts now offers three cooking classes including a ladies class called “Tapas and Tatas” for groups of friends to share small plate dishes, a “Friends or Lovers” class for friends or couples to make a full meal with a paired wine, and a new seasonal class called “Burgers and Brews.”

Mrs. Roberts earned her certification in wine pairing and she sources many of her ingredients locally.

What makes the classes different, though, she said, is that it’s an experience where the participants cook the meal and then sit down and share it, similar to having a meal in a restaurant.

There are no similar classes in the north country, she said.

 

THE JOURNEY 

Maple Rock Bed & Breakfast means a lot more than simply a dream come true for Mrs. Roberts. It was a way to keep the property in the family.

Her great-grandparents built and owned the raised ranch at 719 Old Potsdam Parishville Road in 1974, and her parents, who live in her grandmother’s old property next door, later inherited the property.

Growing up, Mrs. Roberts said her and her brother’s favorite spot to play was the large glacial deposit located among the maple trees on the property near one of its ski trails, the inspiration for the Maple Rock.

In 2008, though, the ranch house burned to its foundation, which remained unused until the Roberts’ looked into building their bed and breakfast.

“It was essentially a foundation that nobody was going to do anything with,” Mrs. Roberts said. “I like the idea that it’s in the family. It has a good story.”

After approaching her parents about using the property and foundation to build her business, Mrs. Roberts and her husband began drawing the plans.

Maple Rock began as a seven-bedroom building, but was scaled down to five bedrooms after the Roberts learned that zoning and code regulations required a commercial kitchen for a bed and breakfast that accommodated more than 11 people and that went against Mrs. Roberts idea of a homey kitchen for cooking classes.

“It would have to be a waterproof floor, stainless steel, sterile,” she said. “It’s not the vibe I wanted.”

Construction began in December 2013 and the Roberts were supposed to be able to get in the building by August, but issues with the first crew sticking to a timeline delayed them until June 2015.

The delay caused other issues for the couple because they sold their house in anticipation that they’d move into Maple Rock. Instead, Mrs. Roberts said they were essentially homeless for nine months, living in her parent’s garage.

After construction was complete in June, Mr. Roberts, an English teacher at Potsdam High School, spent his summer break finishing odds and ends, including the decks and landscaping, before the formal opening ahead of SUNY Potsdam’s Parents’ Weekend.

 

IN FIVE YEARS 

The Roberts have no end in sight with plans for their bed and breakfast to make it more than just a place where people spend the night.

“We’ve got a lot of ideas, a lot of things we want to do,” Mrs. Roberts said. “I want it to be like an event facility.”

Mrs. Roberts plans to host baby showers, bridal showers and possibly even small weddings in a few years.

The couple also wants to make use of the landscape of their north country property by offering hunting packages and fixing up the trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.

Mr. Roberts said it would be nice to link trails on th eproperty with a larger St. Lawrence County trail system.

Mr. Roberts is looking into opening his own nano-brewery on the property to offer signature beers to the guests and possibly become a stop on a local craft brewery tour.

Mrs. Roberts said she plans to make Maple Rock at must-see “stopping point” while visitors are in Potsdam.

“Ideally, I’d like it to become a destination,” she said.

 

— Karee Magee