Last year the owner of the historic Center Lovell Inn in Maine held an essay contest to find the next owner.
Each of more than 7,000 would-be innkeepers sent in a check for $125 and a personal response to the question ‘Why would I like to own and operate a country inn?’ It was a pinch-me-it’s-so-good opportunity for the contestants who were vying for an elegant, 200 year-old mansion with seven guest rooms, 10 staff members, and a bustling bistro doing 100 covers a night in the high season. It also netted the retiring owner—who had acquired the business 22 years earlier through a similar competition—more than $900,000 in entry fees, an amount roughly equal to the property’s appraised value.
The win an inn story is now the stuff of legend.
A pittance and 200 words made a dream come true for a Brooklyn couple who were running a restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the feel-good story went on to make national headlines. Since then, dozens of copycat contests have popped up, giving essayists a crack at inns, restaurants, bars, bakeries, food trucks, and even one movie theater. Many of the property owners have sought out Bil Mosca, the former owner of the Center Lovell Inn who thought up the first iteration of the essay contest back in the 90’s and now makes a living as a contest consultant.
The transfer of the Center Lovell Inn was PR gold, but not everyone strikes it rich.
Some of the recent contests, lacking history and a compelling backstory, have found it difficult to reach the critical mass of entrants that’s necessary for the total of the nominal fees to rival a conventional sale. The Maine inn was awarded unencumbered, and the prize included $20,000 in first year operating costs for a smooth transition. In other contests where the entry fees fell short of the owners’ goals, the winners have found themselves responsible for transfer taxes, title fees, and outstanding debts and liens against the property.
Still, if you’ve ever fantasized about running a quaint bed and breakfast or a restaurant in a tropical paradise, the current crop of essay contests are a chance to make it a reality.
The Alsatian-born chef-owner of Der Essen Platz is retiring and his very popular and highly-rated (4.5 stars on Yelp; #1 in its Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri town on Tripadvisor) German-Continental restaurant is running an essay contest. Knowledge of schnitzel, klopses, sauerbrauten, and strudel are helpful, but if you need me to translate the restaurant’s name it’s probably not for you.
You can work the land on the 35 acre Rock Creek Farm in Virginia or make chèvre at the Humble Hearts Goat Farm and Creamery in Alabama. High Meadows Vineyard Inn in Virginia and the Deerfield Valley Inn in Vermont are looking for their new innkeepers in the bed and breakfast category that always seems to have properties up for grabs.
Tropical resort fantasies can be fulfilled by sending $175 and 300 captivating words to the owners of Outback Jack’s Beach Bar N Grille, an open-air bar-restaurant in the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica. If you prefer your beaches cool and fog-shrouded, northern California’s Mendo Bistro has been a labor of love on Fort Bragg’s Main Street for nearly 20 years. The chef-owner is devoting more time to teaching culinary students at a local college; convince him of your suitability in an essay and he’ll hand over the keys to this popular and profitable establishment.
Win Your Dream Life is the mother of all essay contests.
At stake is the $10 million Inn at Villa Bianca, a fully operational Connecticut hotel, restaurant, events venue, and catering complex. The 14 room inn sits on nine manicured acres complete with a wedding chapel, banquet halls, three ballrooms, a stand-alone Italian restaurant, and a fleet of limousines. It’s a turn-key operation with a move-in ready owner’s residence and $100,000 in cash to keep things running smoothly.
It’s the opportunity that all of you creative writing majors have been waiting for.