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Bull's-eye

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A few weeks ago, we had guests visit us from Southern California, where Jeff and I grew up. They, like almost all our guests, asked us how we ended up in Sheffield, and it dawned on me that everyone seems to have this question, including people who live in Sheffield. Someone on our Facebook page suggested I share the story en masse, so here goes.

We threw a dart at the map.

If you believed me, that is about as arbitrary a way of landing somewhere as how we, in fact, got here. Truth be told, we didn’t care where we landed. The only thing that was important to us was the bed and breakfast we found. We literally looked all over the country, from east to west and north to south. We even considered properties in Canada on an island on Lake Superior that was uninhabitable for four months of the year because of snow and ice, and a property in Fes, Morocco, which was in ruins and would have required us to completely renovate it. So to say we weren’t necessarily concerned with geographic location is putting it mildly.

The more important factor for us was that the property we found fulfilled the list of criteria we had established. First, it had to be in budget. You can imagine that most properties on either the west or east coasts of the United States were pretty much out with that one. We also wanted an existing bed and breakfast that had at least four rooms, as we did not want to build or add on, nor did we want to try to appear before a zoning board to fight to convert a property to a bed and breakfast. It’s hard enough to get properties re-zoned commercial, but just imagine these two kookie Californians with all their Moroccan furniture coming to small town in the Midwest and trying to get a property rezoned. You can imagine, at first, it would have been impossible.

A third factor for us was that we intended to operate as both a bed and breakfast and a restaurant. Most historic homes don’t have more than one small dining room, and we needed additional seating and room for tables. When this property popped up and had the spectacular sun porch it has, we jumped on the opportunity. The property also needed to be located within a two-hour radius of a major metropolitan area. That is the typical driving distance for people who are travelling to bed and breakfasts. Sheffield is basically smack dab in the middle of Chicago, the Quad Cities and Peoria. Bingo!

Additional considerations included access to a highway making it easy to get to and from the property, and not being located in a touristy area. That may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. We didn’t want to be in an area that was already saturated with both bed and breakfasts and restaurants. There wouldn’t be a market or a need for one more. So being in a small town in an area that had the need for something like this was a key to making our business model work. Very often people think our location is a pitfall for us, but in reality, we planned it that way. There is plenty to do in this area for a two-day getaway to keep people occupied. And quite honestly, our target marketing is more geared toward getting people out of the city and their hectic lives. Most of those people want to just relax, read, eat good food and not have to do something every minute of every day. Our peace and quiet is as much an appeal as our food.

I often think people who grow up and live in an area all their lives become jaded as to the beauty and opportunity in that area. I know that was the case for us in California and even when we lived in Las Vegas. You are so used to your surroundings that they no longer seem like something that would be inviting to someone who is visiting for the first time. But really, Sheffield and Bureau County in general has a wealth of things to offer to people who are coming here for a getaway. There is really something for every kind of interest anyone may have.

We have abundant golf and outdoor activities with the Hennepin Canal and Mautino Fish and Wildlife Preserve. There is lots of shopping and antiquing for those who love that. There are numerous historical sites nearby for history buffs. Festival 56 appeals to those who are looking for live theater. We have spas for girls to get pampered; we have wonderful nurseries for the garden enthusiasts; we have live music on weekends at our local pub for music lovers; and we are even conveniently located to a couple wineries for wine lovers. Honestly, if you can’t find something to do in this area, you aren’t trying hard enough. Or as someone once put it to me who stayed with us, “It takes a boring person to be bored.” The next logical question people ask us is if we miss California. I can unequivocally say without hesitation, no. I miss my family in California, but I do not miss the rat race, the traffic, the cost of living and the congestion. We love living here, and we love that we are able to live out our dream doing what makes us happy. We also love that we have the opportunity each and every day to bring people to this area to see all that it has to offer. What we do isn’t about becoming rich. If that was the goal we should probably re-evaluate our business model. It’s about a lifestyle choice, and part of that lifestyle for us was to become a part of a community we care about and make a difference in it. We hope that in some small way we are doing that.

Monika Sudakov is the chef and innkeeper at the Chestnut Street Inn in Sheffield. She can be reached at monikaandjeff@chestnut-inn.com.

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