The business: Bavarian Manor Country Inn
Date founded: 1931, by Karl and Anna Bauer
Number of generations: 3
Number of family members working together: 2
Owner: Suzanne Bauer-Oldakowski, granddaughter of founders, and her husband, Stan
What it does: A country inn with 18 rooms, plus an 80-seat restaurant that serves dinner Thursdays through Sundays
Why it’s succeeded: The building, which dates from 1865, originally served as a farm and health retreat. The current country inn was started by German immigrants Karl and Anna Bauer after they moved to the Catskills in 1931 from the Bronx, where they had a model-ship-building business. They bought the 100-acre property, eliminated the retreat, added a beer garden to appeal to their German clientele, and, later, they added a nightclub. They expected their only child, William, to join the business, which he dutifully did, and was joined by his wife, Johanna, in 1948. They added shows, dancing, and music at the nightclub, which made it a destination; they also added a chalet building at the bottom of the hill in 1965, which housed more guests and a winter bar known as the Rathskeller, when skiing became more popular at Hunter Mountain. William and Johanna expected their eldest child, a son, also to go into the business; he did, but it wasn’t a good fit. Suzanne, the middle child, went to work on Wall Street and helped out periodically, especially after her dad died in 1988. When she met her husband, Stan, a bartender and chef who didn’t care for life in New York City, the business was destined to continue. “We knew we’d better do this if it was going to survive, and we also knew we needed to run it more like a business,” she says. Johanna had also had a series of small strokes and needed their help. The couple moved in with her and their three children; a fourth was on the way.
But tragedy struck two weeks before they were to take over officially in 1996: a huge electrical fire destroyed the roof and the top fourth level of the inn. Sadly, they discovered there was no insurance to rebuild, but, by the next morning, neighbors and friends had shown up to help. The couple made changes while Suzanne also battled breast cancer. They stopped serving three meals a day, shuttered the chalet, which needed renovation, and turned it into an apartment building for 16, then sold their own home to raise funds. “It was incredibly humbling, but nobody got hurt,” Suzanne says. They’ve seen an uptick in business, which they believe is the result of becoming a country inn that serves breakfast rather than a hotel serving three meals a day. The couple divides responsibilities, with Suzanne handling the front of the house and Stan, the back. Two of their children may come on board. “We’re now on the historic register of places in Greene County, and know that this place means a lot to the community,” Suzanne says. “So it’s our role to keep it going forward.”
Other lessons learned: Trying to escape the all-consuming, 24/7 business. “You’ve got to get away, and we try at least twice a year for a day,” Suzanne says.
Biggest challenge: Dealing with all the paperwork the state and federal governments require.