Amy Eschenbrenner spent the first week of 2015 packing away her Christmas decorations. As owner of Blue Hen Bed & Breakfast in Newark, it was no small task, as the Delaware native had accessorized each of the three guest rooms of her 322-year-old farmhouse on Nottingham Road.
While she readily admits that clearing out decorations is not one of her favorite chores, she said that most everything else about being a successful B&B owner is rewarding.
“I liked B&Bs, but I never thought this would come to fruition,” said Eschenbrenner, who fell in love with the B&B concept when she studied in Europe during her senior year at the University of Delaware. “It was romantic staying in the castles and the bed-and-breakfasts, coming downstairs to eat with people you’d never met before.”
The New Castle County Chamber of Commerce named Eschenbrenner, who owns the B&B with her husband, Don, the 2014 Business Owner of the Year. It is an honor that made the scramble to get there worthwhile.
“It took us two years to turn this into a commercial property,” said Eschenbrenner, who bought the farmhouse in 2010 with some money from her 401(k), just before the economy tanked and she was downsized from her marketing job.
Business didn’t exactly take off when they opened. “There aren’t many B&Bs in the area, and a lot of the people don’t live there,” she said. “It was fits and starts. It’s like any other small business—you just don’t know.”
In fact, Eschenbrenner continued working as an independent marketing consultant in the IT industry before she decided that her best marketing efforts should focus on the B&B. Her business has grown, and she said, “Each year keeps getting better.”
Blue Hen Bed & Breakfast is a pet-friendly, three-bedroom home on the outskirts of UD’s campus. It draws customers regionally—some are relatives of UD students, others want to experience Delaware history by way of Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, or the Hagley Museum & Library.
With the success of the B&B, the couple now finds itself marketing strategically and diversifying, offering on-site painting classes run by Don, who is a certified Bob Ross instructor, and showcasing the property as ideal for weddings and showers.
Eschenbrenner is a champion of small-business owners. She was recently appointed to the Delaware Small Business Chamber board. She was also named Home Based Business of the Year in 2014 from that chamber and has received awards for romantic escape and best wedding venue from North DelaWHERE Happening.
The Eschenbrenners credit great guest reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook with some of their success—those positive reviews demand consistent offerings that include clean and comfortable rooms, superior service, and great food.
“You have to be ready to work hard, know that unexpected expenses will happen, and there will be many lean times,” said Eschenbrenner. “The support of my friends and family and business associates really made me proud and happy. They had such faith in me that
this could be ‘the little B&B that could.’”
Eschenbrenner said that she hopes to market some of her baking skills to local caterers and maybe even sell some of her canned goods. In the meantime, there are always guests to prepare for—and decorations to put away.
“I have a lot of plans,” she said.