(from this week's Catskill Mountain News)
Take $35,000 and add on nearly three-quarters of a million and you get new life – life that is for an historic inn that was once the heart of its community.
This is Lee Little and Frances Jenkins’s dream for the venerable Hidden Inn in South Kortright. They want to spark a renaissance in this corner of the county. The pair are almost incongruous – one sleek and tanned with gelled hair, broadcloth shirt and khakis; the other sporting a contractor-at-work look: baseball cap, baggy shorts, T-shirt bearing the name of his construction firm – and a pair of square frame glasses like a downstate hipster.
Together they see the future of South Kortright not as some crossroads of state Route 10 and county Route18, but as a place for weddings and celebrations where people will stay overnight and others drive 35, 45 minutes for “a quality meal,” as Jenkins describes it. Both finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple.
Route 28 Resurgence
Jenkins, a second home-owner, works in investment real estate for the Sherman Group while Little runs Second Nature Construction and has already sparked a single-handed resurgence along the Route 28 corridor from Andes to Delhi with his family’s Fisk series of businesses: the auction house, antique stores and B&B. After the inn is up and running, the two will be responsible for more than 50 jobs in the county.
Before it closed a couple years ago, the Hidden Inn showed signs of wear as its previous owner struggled financially. But the stately old inn has now undergone a serious renovation. The bar’s walls have been stripped from heavy black paint to natural wood, showing its age like something in an interior’s magazine and the bar itself is new though hardly looks it. Made of reclaimed wood, it’s been carefully designed to match the walls’ age. There are antiques dotted around like Gould maps and the 19th-century piano made in Walton. The goal is to bring the inn back. Jenkins nods saying, “It had lost its way,” and in the kitchen Little waves his hands broadly explaining what the place was like when they bought it. “The roof was so bad the old pots and pans were full of ice.”
Now where those pots of ice once stood, the young chefs – all graduates from Delhi’s culinary school – are busy setting up the kitchen. The two sous chefs were part of the winning team that took a national prize last year, while the head chef Andrew Nichols also won awards while at Delhi.
Tattooed and hip, they’re full of excitement at the challenge and are channeling that image of a new era of chef keen to take on food as if it were a revolution, cooking dishes with ingredients as local as possible. Jenkins and Nichols talk about not having a walk-in freezer as if it were a point of political principle. No walk-in means no frozen foods. Everything will have to be fresh, Nichols explains. Their goal is for each dish to be seasonal with a small, edited menu that reflects the region’s strengths.
Little and Jenkins bought the place at tax auction with a low, “if-we-get-it-we-get-it bid.” Indeed they did get it, and then said, “No way in hell are we doing a restaurant,” Little explains. “But,” Jenkins finishes the thought, “with the right staffing and talent…”
Now they approach it to make money they both say emphatically – and more than once. Nearly five times in an hour they repeat that they see the inn as a business as if that were their mantra. Destination weddings will be the economic driver. The two see them as a huge growth area for the county. Jenkins does a quick calculation of what they can charge per head – far less than most other popular wedding destinations like the Hamptons or Vermont, and Little says, “The wedding crowd, now that’s our sacred cow.”
To make sure they can attract it and meet the demand for destination weddings the partners are planning on adding 40 rooms to the property, on top of the four they now have upstairs.
But that will be for next year. They own the two acres across the street. Jenkins proudly waves at the plot currently occupied by a gravel parking lot and overgrown weeds. The daisies and yellow vetch bob in the morning rain, waiting for the renaissance to begin. The Hidden Inn is planning to open on Fourth of July weekend.